Soft Pants v. Hard Pants

A friend told me that her sister — lucky enough to retire at a relatively young age — once said of our workplace, “I don’t know how you do it. Wearing those hard pants all day.”

You might be thinking that “wearing hard pants” is a euphemism for unpleasant or difficult work, like acrimonious negotiations or high-stakes decision-making in a fast-paced environment.  No, no. “Wearing hard pants” is quite literal — she meant the discomfort of wearing pants fashioned with a set waistband and made of a material with little natural give and no stretch fiber added to it.  The opposite of these are soft pants, made of knitted material or jersey fabric, with an elasticized or drawstring waist-band.[1]

Wool flannel trousers from Brooks Brothers
Smart, but unforgiving, wool flannel trousers from Brooks Brothers
The ultimate in soft pants: Eileen Fisher Stretch Ponte Pants available at Neiman Marcus
The ultimate in soft pants: Eileen Fisher  Ponte Pants

Hard pants were not the hardest part of working as a litigator — but she had a point.  At that time, stretch fabrics hadn’t been broadly embraced by manufacturers and designers.  Wool flannel pants were 100% wool and they are either looked great when you were standing or felt great when you were sitting — but not both.

Today, technology truly serves mankind.  Stretch fabrics are the rule rather than the exception and it is amazing what a tiny percentage of lycra or elastane can achieve.[2] So now when a colleague tells me that he doesn’t want to wear dress trousers because they’re uncomfortable, I have no sympathy.  I tell him to pull himself together and buy some new pants. [3]

Edmund Hillary and Tenzign Norgay ascending Mt. Everest in hard pants
Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay ascending Mt. Everest in hard pants
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,
Cowboys ranching in hard pants

But lest you think I have no heart, I do understand that some days it is nice to wear very soft things to work. On those days, my no-fail outfit is Eileen Fisher: merino wool knit pants (straight leg) and an open cardigan (washable merino wool) worn wrapped over a sleeveless silk blouse or wool shell that matches the sweater and — here is the key — a great belt. This ensemble is almost as good as wearing pajamas to work. Just make sure the belt is adjustable so you can loosen it as the day goes on.

Ann Demeulemeester
Ann Demeulemeester
Jil Sander
Jil Sander
Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren

Ann Demeulemeester belt at YOOX; Jil Sander belt at YOOX; Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren belt at YOOX

Photo credit: Cowboys, State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

1 thought on “Soft Pants v. Hard Pants”

  1. HaHa. I remember those days. In So Cal I had to wear tailored clothing everyday at my law firm. Later I went into healthcare and only wore scrubs!! Easy and comfortable.

    I love the blends that are in clothing today including wool with spandex.

    Great article.


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