It did not take long for me to start regretting this project. What seemed pretty simple turned out to be anything but. All I wanted was to find the perfect pair of black stretchy pants.
My talks with women young and old had shown me that this is a goal a lot of us share. So I committed to doing the legwork for all of you. Soon after, I was kicking myself.
For starters, trying on these things is a lot like the misery of searching for a flattering swimsuit or great jeans. You've really got to suck it up (and in) before setting out on this mission.
The first thing I did is try to define what I was looking for. My criteria didn't seem that demanding. I wanted pants with lots of give. Not leggings, not skin-tight running tights or traditional yoga pants. Not too clingy but not baggy either. Pants that you could wear for exercise but could also wear out and about without being humiliated. In short, something to live in all weekend and, maybe in a pinch, even wear to the office.
Years ago I had found the perfect full-service black stretch pants online at Nike. Like most of my favorite everythings (swimsuit, perfume, earplugs, towels, comfortable shoes, underwear) they've been discontinued. We all know that story.
And so began the hunt to replace those old black pants. After talking to a lot of women about this topic, it became immediately clear that many of you had tried and failed. You wished me luck.
Thank you for all the suggestions on where to look. I found myself visiting a lot of stores and websites that I'd never thought about or heard of.
Am I the last woman on the planet to set foot in a Lululemon store? I hadn't even heard of Athleta. And I had no idea that there's a whole line of Gap "active wear" called GapFit.
Weeks later, I've tried on more pants that I can count from all of those places — and more, many more!
But it was worth it. I found a real standout and a couple other good options. (Click "Captions" in the photo gallery above to see the information related to each image, or read it below.)email@example.com
Athleta Bettona Classic Pant
The clear winner. The jeans-style pockets with rivets give them a streetwear feel, but these pull-ons are stretchy enough for exercise. Love the fit. True to size. I'm tempted to buy another pair — if they ever go on sale.
Rating: 4½ stars (out of 5)
Details: $79, athleta.com
Gap gDance Pants
These are a little too fitted in the thigh, but the best of the Gap styles. They run small; go up a size for a better fit. All of the GapFit pants were more flattering than the more expensive Nike selections. These were the least expensive of the tested pants.
Rating: 2½ stars (out of 5)
Details: $54.95, gap.com
Nike Legend 2.0 Regular Poly Training Pants
Butt seams are oddly unflattering; too tight in the thigh and yet still bunchy in the back upper thigh. Crotch was way too anatomically correct. Runs small.
Rating: 1½ stars (out of 5)
Details: $70, nike.com
Some stores market these as Not So Tight pants and, compared with running tights, that's true. These were the only mostly cotton pants I tried and are really comfy but seem a little more "gym" than "wear everywhere." One of the two pairs I tried had an unfortunate "keyhole" shape at the crotch, but the other was better. I want to try Stonewear's new Breathe Pant that I spotted in the fall catalog.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Details: $68, stoneweardesigns.comLululemon Still Pant
If they weren't so very flared — not great for exercise — I'd rate these 3-1/2. The roll-down waistband is a nice option. They run a little large. Beware: The Lululemon website and the stock in stores is limited ever since they recalled a lot of their pants in March because the fabric was too sheer. And if you are tempted by the Out & About pants ($128!), they are not the wear-everywhere pants the name suggests. In general, I think Lululemon products are overpriced.
Rating: 2½ stars (out of 5)
Details: $98, lululemon.com
Lessons along the way
•Sizing is crazy and inconsistent. You might be a small or a size 4 in one style and a medium or size 8 in a similar style, sometimes even made by the same manufacturer.
•Because of the above (and variations in human anatomy), whether you buy online or in store, there will be a lot of trial and error.
•Athleta and Lululemon offer free hemming, a $10 or so savings if you don't wear a standard length.
•Stretchy pants aren't for everyone, but there are styles out there for those of us who have things to hide.
•Pay close attention to visible panty lines and the too-tight crotch, and bend over to test for sheerness.