Now that theater and travel are starting to open up, I realize that I need a basic pair of black pants — something between jeans and wearing a dress — but the choices are many and confusing. I would like a classic pair I can wear with flats or booties with a low heel, washable and in a style that will last for years. Skinny or wide-legged? Belt or not? Help! — Rosemary, Pleasantville, N.Y.
The perfect pair of black pants is, like the perfect white T-shirt, one of fashion’s holy grails. It floats, seemingly just out of reach in our imaginations, the answer to all our wardrobe ills if only we could find them.
The perfect pair of black pants, after all, can take you pretty much anywhere. Toss a sweatshirt on top, sneakers on your feet and stroll down the street to buy milk or walk the dog. Add a blazer or a dressier shirt and some boots and go to the office. Throw on a tuxedo or a sequined top and high heels and attend a black-tie event.
That’s why the stylist Elizabeth Saltzman told me that even though she swore off black clothes during the pandemic in order to “see life in joyous color,” she made an exception for her favorite black trousers.
“They are a classic and a staple,” she said. And the permutations are endless.
Indeed, every season seems to bring yet another bounty of black pants. Search “women’s black pants” on Amazon or Nordstrom or Macy’s and thousands of results appear, in pretty much every combination: flared and pegged, high-rise and low-waist, leather and nylon, stretch and tailored.
It’s both alluring — the perfect pants, they’re out there! — and overwhelming. How to choose?
Victoria Beckham seems to include black pants in every collection she makes, and often takes her runway bow in black pants and a white shirt or a giant sweater, so I asked her how she decided which pair to wear.
“I have a firm favorite that has remained in my wardrobe for over six years now that I would recommend,” she said. “They are straight-leg with a slight taper, slightly cropped and noncrease.” She said they went well with both loafers and stilettos, and she recommended choosing a pair with belt loops, since they give you the option to tuck or not tuck.
Whether this cut works for you, the most important takeaway is that she has been wearing the same pair for six years. Just as you can wear pretty much any style of jeans today, you can wear pretty much any style of black pants. If a shape makes you feel good and gives you confidence, that’s all that matters.
That also means that any investment you make can be amortized over time. Divide the price by the number of potential wears times years, and what might at first seem very costly might look more economical.
Ms. Saltzman recommends starting with Theory, and says that the “Outerknown’s Emory pants are a personal favorite.” J. Crew and Cos also have a variety of options. Also, there’s always the Aritzia “Effortless pant.” The name pretty much says it all.