Printed Britches (How to Wear them & Not Look Like Wallpaper)

by Tracy James


"Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking." OK, so Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada had a point. But it wouldn't be spring if we weren't ditching our dark winter duds for bright prints. While florals (feminine to funky) certainly abound for spring/summer 2015, a variety of other patterns are splashing their way across garments this season. Of those garments, my hands-down favorites are the cute, semi-dressy shorts in stores now. (Full disclosure: I have a bit of a shorts addiction, owning no less than 20 pair.) Not comfortable in shorts? Not to worry...there are just as many super chic printed pants out there that offer the same advantages as the shorts: eye-catching style and fabulous comfort.

A print with a black background makes these shorts easily transition from day to nighttime wear. Feather print shorts and top from Fab’rik Homewood

A print with a black background makes these shorts easily transition from day to nighttime wear. Feather print shorts and top from Fab’rik Homewood

I love mixing prints and textures. This BCBG top and shorts combo at Belk at The Summit has a a bohemian vibe, but is also simple and polished. One quality I like about shorts is that they are unfussy.

I love mixing prints and textures. This BCBG top and shorts combo at Belk at The Summit has a a bohemian vibe, but is also simple and polished. One quality I like about shorts is that they are unfussy.

Palazzo pants are back! Resist the urge to go matchy-matchy, and instead, pair printed palazzos with a neutral top. And to keep proper proportions, select a fitted or slightly cropped top (as shown with the Flying Tomato boho hippie palazzo in magenta). Image credit: shopwsw.com

Palazzo pants are back! Resist the urge to go matchy-matchy, and instead, pair printed palazzos with a neutral top. And to keep proper proportions, select a fitted or slightly cropped top (as shown with the Flying Tomato boho hippie palazzo in magenta). Image credit: shopwsw.com

Shorts with pockets? Bonus!! Heels with shorts? If your gams are game, go for it. In keeping with the summery feel, stick to open-toe styles, like sandals and wedges. Animal print shorts and flowy crop top from Fab’rik Homewood.

Shorts with pockets? Bonus!! Heels with shorts? If your gams are game, go for it. In keeping with the summery feel, stick to open-toe styles, like sandals and wedges. Animal print shorts and flowy crop top from Fab’rik Homewood.

My affinity for printed shorts and pants is in part because I like fashion that defies predictability. When I work with clients who are style beginners, I initially teach them to "paint by the numbers," so to speak. Solid-colored wardrobe staple bottoms, paired with printed tops. But once they have that down, I offer tips and tricks to spice things up - how to mix patterns, create creative color combos, etc. Or, simply reversing the initial formula, and selecting printed bottoms and solid tops. There's something about boldly printed shorts and pants that seem slightly impractical and thus frivolously fun. As if to say, "Take THAT, boring black pants and khaki shorts!"

A great example of how to make printed britches office-appropriate: a slim-cut pant with a ladylike heel and something tailored on top. Remember, when it comes to pants length, ankle = yes! Cropped, never! Image credit: crushculdesac.com

A great example of how to make printed britches office-appropriate: a slim-cut pant with a ladylike heel and something tailored on top. Remember, when it comes to pants length, ankle = yes! Cropped, never! Image credit: crushculdesac.com

Don’t think this trend can only be worn by the younger gals. Paired with the right elements, it can be rocked by women of any age. Image credit: gurl.com

Don’t think this trend can only be worn by the younger gals. Paired with the right elements, it can be rocked by women of any age. Image credit: gurl.com

Flat-front shorts, like these from Trina Turk at Belk at The Summit, are usually the most flattering. Only choose shorts with pleats if you have a slim middle. Some mistakenly think pleats camouflage girth, when in fact they add volume.

Flat-front shorts, like these from Trina Turk at Belk at The Summit, are usually the most flattering. Only choose shorts with pleats if you have a slim middle. Some mistakenly think pleats camouflage girth, when in fact they add volume.

A question I often receive is, "Can women with pear-shaped figures wear print on the bottom?" The answer is YES. To borrow a phrase from my mentor stylist Tim Gunn, I am a "make it work" kind of girl. Dressing to flatter involves camouflaging those areas we aren't crazy about and highlighting our attributes, and while there are many tricks of the trade to achieve this, in most cases, keeping proportion in check is key. Therefore, if you are pear shaped, a slim ankle or track style printed pant, paired with a loose top may be a better bet than a loose, flowy palazzo pant. That said, I am a big fan of wearing what you love and makes you happy, so if you love the printed palazzo pants, wear 'em! Just pair with a shorter, more fitted top to avoid looking overwhelmed or tented.     

Funky, snake-print, palazzo pants from Fab’rik Homewood. What are palazzo pants anyway? Palazzos flare out evenly from the waist to the ankle, and are therefore different from bell bottoms, which are fitted until they flare out from the knee and also from gauchos, which only extend down to mid-calf length. Harem pants are yet another loose style, but they have a snug cuff around the ankles. $54 at fab’rik in Homewood

Funky, snake-print, palazzo pants from Fab’rik Homewood. What are palazzo pants anyway? Palazzos flare out evenly from the waist to the ankle, and are therefore different from bell bottoms, which are fitted until they flare out from the knee and also from gauchos, which only extend down to mid-calf length. Harem pants are yet another loose style, but they have a snug cuff around the ankles. $54 at fab’rik in Homewood

Track pants, just like the name implies, are simply gussied-up versions of what you wore to run cross country in junior high. They offer a bit more options for tops—wear tucked, untucked or half-tucked, loose or fitted. If you have wider hips or tummy trouble, you may want to pair with a blousy top that covers these areas. Fashion is all smoke and mirrors, my friends! Image credit: MichaelKors.com

Track pants, just like the name implies, are simply gussied-up versions of what you wore to run cross country in junior high. They offer a bit more options for tops—wear tucked, untucked or half-tucked, loose or fitted. If you have wider hips or tummy trouble, you may want to pair with a blousy top that covers these areas. Fashion is all smoke and mirrors, my friends! Image credit: MichaelKors.com

Easy breezy: these silk pants by Haute Hippie in a soft floral are in a silhouette many figures can wear. Image credit: luckyshops.com

Easy breezy: these silk pants by Haute Hippie in a soft floral are in a silhouette many figures can wear. Image credit: luckyshops.com

When it comes to shorts, many ask about proper length. Inseams range from 3" to full Bermuda, and your choice is a personal preference based on age, leg shape, etc. The 3" and 4" inseams are the most prevalent, but if you are more comfortable in a longer length, selecting a slim cut will keep the look current.

‘Tweens and teens can wear shorter, fitted styles. A high waist and demure top tempers the short length. Image credit: gurl.com

‘Tweens and teens can wear shorter, fitted styles. A high waist and demure top tempers the short length. Image credit: gurl.com

Remember your favorite Umbro shorts? These are the grown-up version, in cute prints on silly fabric with a comfy loose fit and drawstring or elastic waist (which, hopefully it goes without saying, is worn with an UNtucked top). Pictured: shorts by Dance & Marvel and TCEC, from Mia Moda

Remember your favorite Umbro shorts? These are the grown-up version, in cute prints on silly fabric with a comfy loose fit and drawstring or elastic waist (which, hopefully it goes without saying, is worn with an UNtucked top). Pictured: shorts by Dance & Marvel and TCEC, from Mia Moda

Simple, but chic, formula: printed short + solid-color tee. A half tuck works great with shorts, especially those with drawstrings. Image credit: lovely-pepa.com

Simple, but chic, formula: printed short + solid-color tee. A half tuck works great with shorts, especially those with drawstrings. Image credit: lovely-pepa.com

So pick the printed britches that speak to you - floral, abstract, graphic, painterly - there is an option for everyone. Find the one that best expresses your own personal style. 

Note: this article was originally published on 5/7/15 as a guest post for StyleBluerprint