I’VE ALWAYS HAD a complicated relationship with pants. My misfortune in having a body with both curves and somewhat vertically challenged legs tends to guarantee fitting-room angst when I’m trying to find trousers.
The skinny-jean frenzy was absolutely my worst nightmare; I liken wearing them to being strangled from ankle to stomach. The more forgiving boyfriend jeans make me feel stunted; and tailored cigarette pants give me what I call triangle legs. Trust me, it looks as bad as it sounds.
There is hope on the horizon, however, for my problematic form. Hip-balancing flares, those jeans and pants that widen to varying degrees from the knee down, seem poised for a full-fledged comeback. Granted, designers have flirted with wider pant styles for a few seasons now and certain denim brands have offered them for many years. Flares have also been creeping onto the runway: Joseph Altuzarra included them in his resort collection in 2014, while Céline designer Phoebe Philo showed ribbed-knit flares last fall. Both Ms. Philo and Louis Vuitton designer Nicolas Ghesquière did them for their resort collections, currently in stores. And for the upcoming spring, flares, bell-bottoms and boot-cut pants will be everywhere—from Giambattista Valli and Emilio Pucci to Derek Lam and Balmain.
While flares are symptomatic of fashion’s current 1970s obsession—as evidenced at Saint Laurent, Gucci and more—there is absolutely no need to wear them as if you were a Bubble Yum-chewing extra on “That ’70s Show.” Jens Grede and Erik Torstensson, founders of cult denim label Frame, modernize the look by styling their “Le High Flare,” a high-waisted flared silhouette, with a simple white T-shirt or a half-tucked, button-up shirt.
“For us it was instinctive,” they wrote in an email. “There was a turn toward a more bohemian mood, rooted in ’70s sportswear, and the flare is an essential silhouette of that era, so we set out to update it.” True to their word, the jeans are kept quite clean. Let’s just say, you’ll find no embroidered rainbows here.
For those who are feeling a bit timid about revisiting this newly revived silhouette, denim is an ideal, easy place to start. Along with Frame’s flared pair, there’s MiH’s wildly popular Marrakesh jeans, with slimming front pockets, which are surprisingly flattering on most body types. (I know because I have a pair.) “Flares balance out the hips to create the appearance of a slimmer silhouette, and the high rise streamlines the tummy,” said MiH designer Chloe Lonsdale. The Marrakesh was the focal point for the brand’s recent ’70s-inspired collaboration with Net-a-Porter.
Those wanting to make a higher-end designer commitment will be spoiled for choice. “[For spring], I bought flares literally everywhere I could,” said Justin O’Shea, buying director for online retailer MyTheresa. “From Saint Laurent, Acne Studios leather, Peter Pilotto…”
So many choices from so many brands may prove helpful. As with all pants, finding great-looking flares is all about landing on the right fit. Stylist Stevie Dance, a self-professed flare fanatic, has all of her flared jeans tailored, not just in length but also in the waist. “I like vintage denim, so I often fix the fit,” she said.
Ms. Dance also brought up a pivotal decision when it comes to flares: which shoes do you choose? “You also have to tailor flares to the shoe you are going to wear them with,” she explained. While she typically wears hers with Converse sneakers (“a brilliant combination”), she will alter other pairs for high-heeled boots so that the hem falls mid-ankle.
MyTheresa’s Mr. O’Shea is also a proponent of wearing flat shoes with flares. “I think a very natural and casual look is the best,” he said. He suggested shoes with a slight ’70s slant—gladiator sandals, espadrilles, platforms or sneakers.
But of course, part of the allure of flares is their magical leg-lengthening properties when paired with very high platform heels, which are obscured by your pant legs and can add several very flattering inches to your gams. It’s an illusion, yes, but one that leaves you looking quite smashing.
The best advice may be to buy at least two pairs—one to wear with heels, another to wear with flats. The investment could well be worth it: The more overt ’70s-redux versions might burn bright and fade out in a few months, but a classic pair of flares is likely to have, ahem, much longer legs.