The last two years helped me realize a lot of things, not least of which is the value of a stretchy waistband. Pre-work from home days, I owned a few pairs of pants that didn’t have a button closure, but most of them were sweatpants that I usually reserved for days spent lounging at home on my couch. When my entire life turned into lounging at home on my couch and those pants became my everyday staple, I developed a newfound appreciation for the kindness they showed me. My stretchy waistbands allowed me to feel free. Unlike my stiff jeans and tight trousers, stretchy waistbands did not make me feel constricted when I sat for hours on end, each passing minute digging deeper into my stomach. Instead, they molded around my body, comforted me, and never made me feel bad about myself or guilty about my sedentary life.
So when the time came to return to the office and real life, I suddenly found myself in a predicament. I did not want to go back to real pants. I did not want a button enclosure near my stomach. I wanted to feel free and untethered and, most importantly, comfortable — but I also did not want to look as disheveled as I did during all of 2020, in which I rotated between three matching sweatsuits for six months straight (I was, clearly, not one of the people who got #alldressedupwithnowheretogo).
And so, I went pants shopping — or more specifically, stretchy pants shopping. I wasn’t looking for sweatpants, but rather pants that felt like sweatpants but looked like nice pants. Pants that you would wear to a meeting with your boss; pants you would wear on a date; pants that could still make you feel powerful, but felt as freeing, forgiving, and skin-grazing as a pair of your favorite comfy sweats. I knew that pants like these existed somewhere, and I was determined to find them — and thankfully, there was plenty to behold. Keep scrolling to shop some of my favorite comfortable-yet-elevated pants with a stretchy waistband — plus, three key styling tips.
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#1: Choose a flared silhouette
If you’re nervous about wearing pants with a stretchy waistband to the office, first make sure that the waistband isn’t visible. Yes, it’s really that simple. It’s true that sometimes a stretchy waistband can look too casual and out of place in a more buttoned-up environment, so my solution is to pair them with an oversized shirt or blazer. Your coworkers and friends will be none the wiser.
And if you’re really trying to deceive people into thinking you’re wearing polished pants, opt for a form-fitting, flared silhouette — they look most similar to trousers from afar, and are the easiest to style. All you need is a slightly-longer top, and you’ll be deceiving everyone into thinking you’ve actually made an effort today.
#2: Try a matching set
To instantly elevate any comfy pant, pair it with a matching top. I kept seeing matching plisse or ribbed sets in either a tank top or t-shirt paired with loose pants, and loved how elevated they looked. I prefer a looser fit on top, but you could also get a matching tank top or cardigan to pair with your stretchy pants.
#3: Skip the sneakers
Nothing makes pants with a stretchy waistband look like sweats more than pairing said pants with sneakers. If that’s your vibe, go for it. I’m all about that look for a weekend or a more casual event, but if I’m trying to look more polished while enjoying the perks of a stretchy or drawstring waistband, I always make sure to pair the pants in question with a more elevated shoe. A loafer usually always looks good, or you could even try heels. Also, a pair of loose, buttery-soft, vegan leather drawstring pants are a great alternative for actual sweats — and almost just as comfortable.
#4: Opt for a Bright Color
When all else fails, distract everyone by choosing comfy pants in a bright color. They’ll be so intrigued and enamored by the shade, they won’t notice the pants are for lounging (at least, that’s what I tell myself).