Here we are again — another day, another treatise on why you should venture outside of your comfort zone, stylistically speaking. Today’s [unlikely] hero item? Pedal pushers, the ultimate neither-here-nor-there pants.
The Oxford Dictionary defines pedal pushers as “women’s calf-length pants,” though Vogue holds that true pedal pushers hit slightly higher (just below the kneecap) than your classic capris (which stop right around mid-calf). Still, they’re essentially the same thing.
Pedal pushers, capris, XXL bike shorts — whatever you want to call them, the form-fitting cut-offs were originally designed for cyclists who needed free range of motion/not to get grease all over their full-length bottoms. In the 50s and 60s, Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn — known for their simple, sophisticated tastes — styled the cut with classic turtlenecks and tees. Britney Spears wore a lavender pair in one of her famous 90s-era “Got Milk” ads. There were capris in J.Lo’s mid-2000s clothing line Sweetface. Needless to say, the style was huge among tweens. (Limited Too, anyone?)
In 2014, Phoebe Philo gave pedal pushers her high-fashion stamp of approval. Whilst graciously dodging a red carpet interview at the Time 100 Gala, the former Céline designer encouraged the Cut’s reporter to “Look at all these fabulous people here. You should be talking to them. Look at Martha! Look at Martha’s outfit. Write about that. It’s fantastic.” Martha (Stewart) was wearing gold bedazzled pedal pushers.
In 2016, pedal pushers made an unexpected appearance on the Spring 2017 Dior runway. But it was only last September that they really made their comeback.
Pedal pushers were the surprise hit of the Spring 2018 shows. Purveyor of downtown cool Maryam Nassir Zadeh styled a black pair with a lime green bikini top, brown leather belt and light pink trench. Jacquemus went a similar skin-showy route, pairing black bottoms with a draping, chest-baring blazer. Khaite kept it real simple, showing black capris with a strong-shouldered white blouse and black slides. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dolce & Gabbana did a sky blue, mega-high-waist, veggie-print pair (accessorized with dangly carrot earrings, natch). At her Chloé debut, Natacha Ramsay-Levi gave her white denim cut some edge with an asymmetric hem tee, knee-high camo boots and a leather moto.
Celebrity style soothsayers are already on board with the trend. While the aforementioned designers (save for D&G) stuck with black or white pedal pushers that might easily replace our everyday jeans, Kim Kardashian West, Kristen Stewart and Bella Hadid seem to feel that a modern capri look calls bold prints (plaid) and fabrics (sequins, velvet). Per Hadid’s stylist Elizabeth Sulcer, “Pedal pushers are flattering because they show off your legs in a different, more discreetly sexy way and they look great with heels.” Note: they also look great with a (structured or oversized) button-down, polo, jacket or overcoat that offsets their thigh-hugging silhouette.
Sadly, mass-market retailers are a tad behind on this one — you won’t find the slightly odd trouser length in many places yet. For the moment, we recommend going the athleisure route with Lululemon, Nike, etc. Below, we’ve rounded up a few first-out-the-gate options.