Flare Up

As Sienna Miller Shows, the Harem Pant Is Not for Clowns

They may make most wearers look like a circus-bound Aladdin, but the harem pant can look chic rather than ridiculous.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Just when it seems like fashion has finally eschewed a trend—chokers, for instance, or the Ugly Shoe—some stylish A-lister tries it on again, prompting Vogue to make a fuss (it’s back!) and other fashionable influencers to reintroduce it into their wardrobes.

So it went with harem pants, those unflattering, billowing things that make most wearers look like Aladdin crossed with a clown, largely absent from fashion influencers’ minds until Sienna Miller stepped off a plane in a pair on Thursday. As stylish A-listers go, Miller can do no wrong—particularly in the eyes of Anna Wintour, who has long been charmed by the British actress. She could put on a hat that looked like a Truffula tree in Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax and fashion-watchers would swoon over how witty it was, how cleverly offbeat and chic, chic, chic.

Indeed, hours after she was blinded by the flashing bulbs of Daily Mail paps at Los Angeles International Airport (they managed to get a video, too, in which an understandably peeved Miller warns them to keep the cameras off her daughter), Vogue.com praised her “lo-fi take on minimal style.”

Her boxy white tee “made for a deceptively simple but clever play on proportion,” the site remarked, “amplified through Miller’s high-waisted, wide-leg culottes, which gave her ensemble fashion-forward flourish.”

So there you have it: Harem pants haven’t been “fashion-forward” since 2014, but thanks to Miller they’re back on trend.

To be sure, the distinction between wide-leg culottes and harem pants is easily blurred. The famous fashion muse Loulou de La Falaise favored wide-leg culottes; the white pair she wore when she married her second husband, Thadée Klossowski de Rola, in 1977 have more of a harem silhouette than others (they are billowy at the cuffs, but not the hips). But the traditional culotte dates back to the ’30s and has a straight leg that flares below the knee. Miller’s black pair are more harem than culotte because they puff out at the hips.

Variations on wide-leg culottes have been extremely trendy for several seasons now (flared denim pants that cut off at the shins were everywhere last spring and summer), and were showcased in the critically praised fall 2016 collections of Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, and Monse. Monse came closest to a harem silhouette with a pair of velvet, salmon pink culottes that billowed at the hips. And while culottes reappeared on runways for spring 2017, the harem pant was largely absent. Pants were slouchy and flaired and sometimes even drop-crotched, a harem signature, but the MC-Hammer-meets-Middle East-bedouin look was not in vogue for womenswear.

Even if Miller’s harem pant outing was a fluke for the actress—a pair of trousers selected purely for comfort while traveling, with the added benefit of providing potential extra storage space—we can be sure that others will mimic the look, just as they did when she donned variations of the trouser in 2009 while promoting GI Joe.

Indeed, Miller has championed the silhouette off and on over the years. While her own style has evolved to be more streamlined and minimalist since her peak boho-chic days in the mid aughts (she’s more likely to wear Burberry now than, say, Isabel Marant), she clearly hasn’t ditched bohemian dressing altogether.

It’s only a matter of weeks—or days—before other stars break out their old harem pants, and fashion glossies feature them as part of a trend story titled “Gypsy Woman” or some such.

If only it were as easy for the rest of us to pull off the style without looking like Shakira circa 2005.