Red Pants & the Perfect Jewelry

The fashion world is seeing red—plenty of red—when it comes to women’s pants this season. Lipstick-red pants, in all manner of materials, from denim to silk to leather, are coloring the pages of the fashion publications. What do red pants have to do with jewelry? Read on.

Red pants are not for the faint of heart. They require body confidence and the desire to show off the shape of—and draw viewers’ eyes to—the lower half of one’s body. Because of their bright hue and the relative space they cover as part of an ensemble, they dominate a look. Their visual impact is extremely high. Jewelry, then (as well as the other components of the ensemble), needs to take a back seat (pardon the pun) where red pants are concerned. At the same time, well-chosen jewelry can add polish to a look.

Illustration: From the September 2011 issue of Vogue, photos of Stella Tennant, writer Miroslava Duma, and London street style featuring red pants.

The ubiquity of bright color since its first glimmerings in 2010 establishes the likelihood that this is a trend with staying power. Sarah Mower writes in the September 2011 issue of Vogue: “I’m apportioning seismic importance to this new color wave because of the way it’s permeated tailoring—jackets, coats, and trousers, which have been set to default black since the Eighties. It’s something to do with the way the much-vaunted revival of minimalism, engineered by Phoebe Philo’s first Céline collection, has merged with maximalist color. That’s not a revival-it feels new, a point of no return.” Mower continues: “Fail-safe black now seems dead, dull, fusty. It’s a pity about all the suddenly redundant pieces in my wardrobe, but there’s nothing to do but get myself a new coat, pants, and plenty of sweaters, in plenty of colors. I’m not worried that this is a five-minute fad, though. When the fashion seismograph registers a wave like this, the change it’s bringing will run for years.”

Color-block dressing, popular since last spring, and typified by the current ad from Benetton above, seems to be waning somewhat as editors and stylists counsel a somewhat more conservative approach to wearing brightly hued pants. The general rule of the season is to wear red (or other brightly hued) pants with neutrals such as black, white, grey, camel, or taupe, or prints that repeat the crimson color. Against a background of bright red, metallic fabrics can also act as a visual neutral.

The September 2011 issue of InStyle urges a conservative approach to adding additional hues when wearing bright pants: “This is a lot of color, so for the rest of your outfit, choose quiet shades that won’t compete. White, pale gray, and cream work well.” InStyle also suggests wearing a top that’s “crisp, simple, and tucked in” and that if the wearer is “uneasy with the highlighted back view,” then “throw on a long tunic or a blazer. For a dressy option, try a metallic jacket.” Finally, InStyle recommends that the wearer “tone down shoes and jewels,” admonishing readers:  “When it comes to rings and other adornments, restraint is key. Opt for one architectural piece.”

In the October 2011 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine O creative director Adam Glassman also recommends a longer top as a styling tool: “Control the amount of color you’re showing with a long tunic, jacket, or, as shown here, poncho.” For a dramatic look, he suggests wearing bright color with metallics: “There’s a time to blend in and a time to stand out. If you really want to light up a room, don’t pair a shiny top with black; brightly colored pants have lots more pop.” The red pants pictured, from Timo Weiland, are paired with a shiny silver top and dangling silver-colored earrings of unidentified provenance.

Here’s an example of red pants accompanied by a long grey overcoat that avoids a highlighted back view, shown in the October 2011 issue of Glamour. The entire ensemble is from Gucci except the shoes, which are from Louis Vuitton.

The September 2011 issue of InStyle adds a navy Tommy Hilfiger blazer and Suno silk chiffon blouse in a subtle print to bright orangey-red pants to create what the magazine terms an “office-appropriate outfit.” The statement necklace of metal, rope and fabric, rendered in subtle neutrals with a touch of gleam, is from Orly Genger by Jaclyn Mayer. The ensemble is finished with a bag from Ivanka Trump Handbags, platform pumps from Schutz, and eyewear from Tiffany & Co.

The October 2011 issue of InStyle features four actresses wearing red pants: Rachel Bilson in Erdem, Katie Holmes in Isabel Marant, Jessica Szohr in Cacharel, an Eva Mendes in Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet, and comments: “Swaths of scarlet, vermilion, and cherry are lighting up not only skinny jeans but also tailored and wide-leg pants in twill and silk. Their impact intensifies when paired with black, white, or a soft floral. Think of them as gray flannels with a fever!” Katie Holmes wears a pendant necklace, but that is the only identifiable jewelry; the focus of all the ensembles is on the pants.

Rachel Bilson’s stylist, Nicole Chavez, shares her tips on wearing brightly colored pants in the September 19, 2011 issue of People, which features a photo of Bilson in the same ensemble that appears in InStyle. Chavez suggests: “Keep it modern. Don’t get too colorful! Wear a bold pant with a neutral top or add a great patterned shirt that coordinates with the color of the pants, as we did with Rachel.” People identifies both the pants and blouse as Erdem. 

Rachel Bilson’s look appears a third time in the November 2011 issue of Glamour, which recreates the look with pieces costing under $50 each, including a Timex watch and gold-tone drop earrings from Courtney Lee at AccessoryArtists.com.

An important exception to the tone-it-down rule for red pants appears in ensembles of head-to-toe red. In this case, a bright punch of gleaming gold or shining silver at the ears, neck, wrist, and/or fingers can provide a soothing respite from the intense hue, essentially acting as a visual neutral.

Anne Christensen, executive fashion director for Glamour magazine, writes in the publication’s October 2011 issue: “I’m Loving the Lady in Red Look,” adding, “This fall, clothes are all about standing out. Follow my lead and embrace this bold head-to-toe look.” Her choice of jewelry: a substantial gold (actually gold-tone metal) link necklace from Fallon.

The August 2011 issue of Elle pictured a look of solid red except for white ankle boots from Giuseppe Zanotti for Balmain. The model wears a leotard from Capezio, Guess jeans, and a knitted fox-fur jacket from Michael Kors Furs. On her American Apparel suspenders she wears a vintage cat head pin from Melet Mercantile. She also wears a Y-shape feather drop necklace from Isabel Marant, a snake ring from Tom Ford, and an 18k gold ring from Beladora.

A seismic shift in color palette requires a reconsideration of one’s jewelry. When red pants are combined with neutrals, coordinating prints or metallics, one bold, architectural piece of jewelry such as a statement necklace, cuff, or eye-catching earrings will finish the look. Although red pants will be the first thing a viewer notices, jewelry must be visually strong enough to work with the ensemble. With a head-to-toe look of saturated hue, use jewelry liberally to provide a visual counterpoint and add a dash of unique personality. When wearing red, this is no time to be a shrinking violet in your choice of jewelry.