Arts & Life

Pants Trend Makes A Red-Hot Statement

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What is up with all the red pants lately? Audie Cornish turns to Nick Sullivan, fashion director of Esquire Magazine, to find out. Sullivan confirms that red pants are a trend, with roots in the day outfits worn by members of the New York Yacht club.


They're everywhere - at least, it seems like it to the staff of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED - on the train, riding a bicycle, at the mall, the park, the grocery store. I'm talking about an eye-opening men's fashion trend: red pants.

So we thought we'd take the next few minutes to do for red pants what Meryl Streep, in "The Devil Wears Prada," did for the blue sweater.


MERYL STREEP: (as Miranda Priestly) What you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue. It's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean, and you're all so blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent - wasn't it? - who showed cerulean military jackets. I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers, and then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner, where you no doubt fished it out of some clearance bin.

CORNISH: Well, for our little exercise in fashion forensics, we're joined by the next best thing to Meryl Streep. It's Nick Sullivan, fashion director at Esquire. Hi there, Nick.

NICK SULLIVAN: Hello there.

CORNISH: So, to start, am I seeing things? Are red pants a thing?

SULLIVAN: They're definitely what you'd call a thing. In America, they've kind of been a thing for a very long time. But what we're finding at the moment is that men have been embracing bright-colored pants for - certainly for the last two or three seasons. Not just red but bright yellow, bright blue, bright green.

CORNISH: Help us trace it, then. I mean, where did the moment happen that led us to this point this summer when, you know, your regular - non-fashion pro could think they can work fire-engine-red pants?

SULLIVAN: Well, funny; it's got a long history - a very long history that - the red trouser in menswear. Our research has pointed out that Nantucket red pants, which have been a staple of preppy Americana for a long time, were derived originally out of the day outfits worn by members of the New York Yacht Club - which would make it incredibly preppy.

Of course, now preppy is everywhere in America, and it's no longer just the preserve of a small, privileged part of the Northeastern Seaboard. But in fashion terms, it's been part of this turn away from the monotony of the work suit. I think when everyone went through the recession, whether they kept their jobs or not, the last thing they wanted to do was look like they were going to the bank. And so there was an explosion in separates - you know, jackets and pants, but also in a new kind of confidence that was kind of a peacock-ish kind of embracing of color and pattern.

CORNISH: I want to get back to something you just said there about the recession, because we often hear about the lipstick index - the idea that women kind of make this luxury purchase when they can't spend more money. Are you saying that there is a similar psychology when it comes to clothes?

SULLIVAN: Well, I think there is because if you think about it, a pair of chinos is not going to really break the bank and particularly, brands like Dockers have embraced color like never before. And at a unit cost of under $100, that's something that men can get behind.

CORNISH: While I have you on the line, I want to get a sneak peek at what the next trend might be. Is there any other fashion trend that you think is going to make its way to the rack soon?

SULLIVAN: Well, predictably, it's sort of the opposite of what we're talking about now. There's a definite draining of color for next fall. There's a turn away from this idea that you can wear these sort of look-at-me kind of accessories - mad shoes with bright soles and sort of loud, plaid jackets - which has definitely been the mainstay over the last two summers. It's starting to sort of tone down already.

CORNISH: So by the time I convince my husband to buy these pants, you're saying they'll be out?

SULLIVAN: Yeah. But that's the way of the world.

CORNISH: Nick Sullivan, fashion director at Esquire, thank you so much for talking with us.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

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