In Fashion, what is a Tapered Leg?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In fashion, the term “tapered leg” refers to a pant style that is tight-fitting, or tapered, around the ankle. Many pants that incorporate this design element are tight throughout, as is the case with so-called “skinny” styles, where the tapered leg accentuates the pants’ slimming look. The style can also be found in pants that are baggy around the knees or thighs, as is common with some styles of "relaxed" pants, equestrian outfits, and certain military uniforms, and is popular in any instance when the pants are likely to be tucked into boots. The tapered ankle helps the wearer easily fasten taller footwear without leaving bumps or bobbles.

A woman wearing jeans with a tapered leg.
A woman wearing jeans with a tapered leg.

Fit Specifications

In most cases tapered leg pants have ankle openings that are no bigger than the wearer’s foot, which makes for a tight, flat appearance. Getting into these sorts of pants can sometimes be a little bit tricky, though. Manufacturers often use this element on garments that are made out of stretchy material already, like leggings or jeans made with spandex or other elastic fabrics. This way, the wearer can pull the pants on without worrying about rips or tears.

A tapered leg style is common with military uniforms.
A tapered leg style is common with military uniforms.

Some designers also add zippers or buttons to the ankle openings. Most of these are designed to be functional, but typically also add a bit of style or flair to the garment. Pants with ornate ankle openings are usually meant to be worn with low-cut shoes, since anything that sticks out can make it difficult to wear boots or over-the-ankle footwear.


“Skinny jeans” are one of the most common types of pants to feature tapers. These jeans fit very tightly all along the leg. In contrast to “straight leg” jeans and pants, which tend to have a standard ankle opening that’s basically the same circumference at the knee and thigh, garments in the “skinny” category are cut to hug the body’s curves, often resembling leggings or tights more than pants. They are usually hemmed at the ankle as any other pants would be, just more narrowly.

One of the most extreme examples is the kind of pants that musician M.C. Hammer made popular in the late 1980's and early 1990's. "Hammer pants," as they came to be known, are very baggy throughout the thigh and upper calf area but quite fitted about the lower calf and ankle. Other iterations include equestrian pants, which tend to be tight at the waist and ankle but more flared at the mid-thigh, and certain military pants, particularly those worn by European soldiers in the Second World War. Many of these were quite fitted through the calf and ankle, but featured exaggerated flares at the thigh. These were typically designed to be worn with combat boots, which made the tapered leg all but essential.

How These Pants Are Worn

There are many different ways to wear tapered pants, and a lot depends on the style of the garment generally. People will often choose this sort of pant when they want to wear boots that come up past the ankle, since the tight foot openings helps avoid bunching. Pairing simple flats or tennis shoes can help give the illusion of longer legs, and wearing pumps or high heels with this kind of pants often also has an elongating effect.

Tapered jeans may be designed with tight jeans.
Tapered jeans may be designed with tight jeans.
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments

@betterment - That is good, but I guess you're out of luck if you want to wear bell bottoms or flared jeans instead of tapered leg pants. I haven't seen those around very much in the last few years.

I'm glad that for right now, you can find both tapered leg jeans and bootcut jeans in stores. I really like to wear skinny jeans with tapered legs with boots, but sometimes I want to wear a pair of flats and I think they look better with bootcut jeans. So I guess I do the opposite of what I'm supposed to do with my jeans since I don't usually wear boots with boot cut jeans.

Either way, I think it's nice to have options. I hate wearing the same style of pants every single day. It gets really boring after awhile.


@DylanB - My boyfriend is the same way. He won't wear mens tapered leg jeans, but that's just fine with me. I think they look a little weird on men unless the guy is a really stylish and fashionable guy. My boyfriend is more of a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy.


@sunflower34 - I'm 5'2", which I think is fairly petite. I wear skinny jeans a lot, but I usually wear them with heels. I think if you wear womens tapered leg jeans with high heels, it can definitely make you look a little bit taller.

Honestly, I think the best thing to do is to try a bunch of different styles of jeans on. I was really resistant to tapered leg jeans, but when I finally tried a pair on and realized how good they looked, I was hooked. Now I have several pairs.


@DylanB – I guess it just depends on the guy. I know a lot of guys who are musicians, and they love wearing tapered leg stretch jeans to be cool.

However, I know some t-shirt wearing guys who prefer to dress casually and who hate tapered leg jeans. They think they look too feminine.

Many men prefer relaxed fit jeans that fit a little loosely all over. This means there are no tapered legs.


My husband refuses to wear men's tapered leg jeans. He thinks they look really dorky.

He only wears bootcut jeans. I guess that's a guy thing. Is it normal for guys to have an aversion to tapered leg jeans?


Skinny jeans are the best kind of tapered leg jeans for women, in my opinion. I love being able to tuck them into my boots, which I wear all the time.

There is another advantage to them in the winter months. They fit tightly enough that I can wear sweat pants over them to keep extra warm. If I'm going to be walking around outside, I layer up like this, and I don't get cold at all.


Tapered leg jeans are one example of how fashion styles really do come back around. I remember wearing them in the eighties, and I started wearing them again in 2010.

The funny thing is that during the mid to late nineties, they fell totally out of fashion. If you wore tapered leg jeans then, you were probably being whispered about behind your back.

I see nothing wrong with tapered leg jeans. To me, the fit around the waist and hips matters more than the fit around the legs. As long as the hip area isn't baggy or overly tight, I'm not too concerned with the look of the legs.


@elizabeth23- I agree that some styles are more attractive now, but that doesn't promise they'll look attractive on you when you try them on.

I personally like tapered leg stretch jeans. A tiny bit of stretch can help if you have big hips or a large behind (like myself), but still want something to define your legs.


I really think more tapered leg trousers and jeans look very dated. For a long time, they were only available in misses' departments of stores, and also were either pleated or very relaxed around the waist, earning them the not-so-nice nickname of "mom jeans". Some styles have come out in recent years that are more stylish, but I still cannot quite get interested in them.


sunflower34- Typically, tapered leg pants look better on women who are taller. Tapered pants really emphasize the legs and can make you look even shorter. I suggest staying away from tapered pants.

Instead, try boot cut jeans or jeans that have a slight flare to them. These types of jeans will help to give you more proportion to your smaller frame.


I am a short, petite woman. I struggle finding jeans that look good on my body type. Do tapered leg pants look good on women who are shorter than 5'2"?

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