Lightweight Pants for Work

lightweight pants for office2017 Update: We still like a lot of these lightweight pants for work, but you may also want to check out our more recent roundup of stylish summer dress pants for women.

Which are the best lightweight pants for a work — specifically, a business casual office? For some of us, the warmer months mean biking, hiking, kickball, competing in triathlons, and many more activities that are likely to leave us with a few scratches, bumps, and bruises. If you aren’t crazy about putting those bruises on display at work, and prefer to wear pants to cover your legs, which are the best for business casual summer workwear? Reader M wonders…

With all the sports and activities I do, I need to reconfigure my work wardrobe to be trousers-only. I bruise way too easily to wear skirts often, especially in the warmer months. I need to start almost from scratch with a business casual summer wardrobe, any suggestions? Thanks!

I bruise easily, as well, M, so I’m sorry to hear that. I think you’re right to want to cover your bruises for work — they can be a distraction for your colleagues as they start wondering how you got them. (This mountain-biker was even cornered by her boss who worried she was being abused.) If you work in such a small office that everyone you come into contact with knows that you’re bruised from sports, that’s one thing — but that doesn’t sound like the case for M.

So, some thoughts on lightweight pants for work in a business casual environment:

  • Cotton: For a more conservative business casual office, I would look for full-length cotton pants without lining. These are increasingly difficult to find, though, but given M’s situation with bruises, I’ll try to include them throughout. A few options on the market for full-length cotton pants are here and here. (Also check our roundup of washable pants from a month or so ago.) Ankle pants that look like they fit the bill are here and here.
  • Linen: For super hot days, find a pair of linen pants that fits well. Note that linen wrinkles (a cotton linen blend wrinkles less), and in my experience tends to lose its shape. The more linen the fabric contains, the less opaque it tends to be, as well, so make sure you inspect yourself in the pants from all angles before wearing them to work. Some ankle-length options are here and here. Full-length options: here and here. Pictured below: Halogen® ‘Taylor’ Linen Blend Ankle Pants (regular & petite), $69.
  • Textured cotton, or cotton piqué: Consider cotton pique pants — these are also lighter weight than regular cotton, but they hold their shape a bit better. Some options for you on the market right now: here, here, here, and here. Pictured below: Talbots Hampshire Ankle Pant – Curvy, available in eight colors for regular, plus, petite, and plus-size petites, $55-$109.
  • Seersucker: The bonus here is that a lot of these options have matching suit jackets. A few seersucker options right now are here and here. Full-length options: here and here. Pictured below: Brooks Brothers Red Fleece Seersucker Pants, available in navy and pink, $78.
  • Crepes and other flowy materials: Know your office well, but note that there are now a ton of relaxed pants in crepe and other flowy materials — perfect for hot days. I liked this pair from the Nordstrom sale; a few more options are here, here, and here. Pictured: J.Crew Collection Embellished Tux Pant, $198 at J.Crew.
  • Know your office very well, but: Consider a maxi skirt or a maxi dress. I’m generally opposed to maxi dresses for work, but in your situation it may be an option to explore. (Try one with a shrunken blazer on top for work — the structure from the blazer will dress it up a bit more).
  • Along these more casual lines: If denim is appropriate for your office, look for denim blended with Tencel, which makes it much more lightweight (and soft). Nordstrom has a bunch in stock right now; these Hart skinnies look nice.

lightweight pants for work

It now occurs to me that I have unwittingly collected only blue pants for the picture above. They come in other colors, I swear. Pictured: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4.

Ladies, which are your favorite lightweight pants for work? Which materials are your favorite, and what do you look for? 

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  1. Phooey to this.

    At the risk of outing myself, I bruise like nobody’s business. I am also an outrageous klutz. Let’s not talk about the time I tried to hop over a curb during my morning run and instead face planted on the bike trail before a morning’s worth of meetings. I still have the scars on my elbows and those bruises were EPIC.

    This doesn’t keep me from showing up to work in skirts or dresses during the sticky summer months. Seriously, it is too hot (and I don’t like pants) for me to worry about traumatizing my coworkers with my various bumps, scrapes or bruises. People may ask (in the same way I asked my coworker what happened when he came to work with stitches on his chin), but so it goes.

    Everyone has to make their own choices about what they’re comfortable with, but this sounds like one more way to worry about whether or not your body is “right” or “perfect” enough to be seen.

    • Anonymous :

      I agree 100%.

    • purpleanon :

      yeah, i generally just disregard the ever-present bruising when getting dressed (unless its really gnarly, like oozy road rash). i also have a birthmark that looks like a bruise and i would rather get a few weird looks or questions rather than worry about covering it all the time. and a co-worker showing concern shouldn’t be a huge insult or something embarrassing, just a chance to explain how it happened, and maybe appreciate that someone does care, and be glad that it is from something fun and not something terrible. that said, its nice to have summer pants options because sometimes you just don’t get around to shaving your legs, and the spikes are irritating when my legs brush against each other.

    • anonymous :

      I do not get what the big deal is about this. The post in no way encourages women to cover up what isn’t perfect. Some women prefer to cover up any of a number of things for a range of reasons. What’s wrong with a post that helps those women find what they’re looking for? Plus, it’s still the individual’s prerogative to cover something up because she’d rather cover up what she perceives as unflattering.

      • Did you read the line: “I think you’re right to want to cover your bruises for work — they can be a distraction for your colleagues as they start wondering how you got them.”? Nothing wrong with a post about lightweight pants for summer–sounds useful!–but this post is more than that.

        • Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to cover one’s own bruises, etc., but the idea that they *should* be covered at work because they’re “distracting” doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve never given that much thought to the condition of another person’s legs.

        • anonymous :

          No, apparently I didn’t. That’s dumb; just about anything can be a distraction for your colleagues. I still read it as more bad logic and general idiocy than body shaming, though.

    • Anonymous :

      Yep, I am also super clumsy & bruise like a peach and almost always wear dresses & skirts. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn pants in the last year. And I always have some bruise or another on my legs.

      • Sydney Bristow :

        I’m definitely the same way. I guess I just don’t care if someone notices my bruises.

        I also wear skirts/dresses with bare legs without shaving my legs very often *gasp*. I suppose I’m lucky in that my hair is pretty light on my legs, but if someone looked close they would could see that I didn’t shave. I just don’t really care enough to shave that frequently.

    • Baconpancakes :

      From May until October, I’m covered in bug bite welts, scrapes, and bruises. I never gave them a second thought. For my friends who do Tough Mudders and Spartan Races, however, I can see the necessity of covering up bruises, to avoid the awkwardness of explaining to people you’re not in an abusive living situation. (I’m not saying this lightly – it looks terrible and painful and inspires worry.) I have some friends who do those races, and almost every weekend they come back with bruises covering 1/3 of their legs.

      • Haha I actually bruise fairly easily but somehow managed to get through a Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder completely unscathed. However I have gotten pretty gnarly bruises and scrapes (including road rash over most of my face) from trail running.

    • lucy stone :

      Completely agree. I bruise easily and when I get a mosquito bite it swells up enormously (like size of a quarter) before going away. If a coworker is that into what’s on my legs v. my work, they are the one with the problem. That said, if somebody else WANTS to cover their bruises, that’s fine too.

    • Agreed. I am active and have a dog that shows her love by jumping on me. I am constantly bruised. I’m not going to cover up to avoid distracting someone.

    • Chiming in on this. I’m a rock climber and spaz and I’m constantly covered in bruises. Even limping into work isn’t uncommon. That doesn’t stop me from wearing skirts almost every day, especially in the summer heat. If that distracts people, I don’t consider that my problem. The thing is though, I don’t think it does. It would surprise me enormously to hear any of my co-workers say that it was distracting, and in fact I doubt many of them even notice. If someone asks why I have a bruise or a scrape, I tell them.

      If you want to wear pants, wear pants. If you want to cover a bruise, cover it. But don’t worry about anyone giving a rat’s @ss about it. Having a bruise is not unprofessional.

  2. Anonymous :

    I don’t care about covering up my legs, but I get awful chub rub, so I prefer lightweight pants in the summer anyways!

    What does everyone think of the new flowy crepey pant trend? I like them in theory, but they can end up looking like pajamas.

    • I’m way too pear shaped/thigh-heavy for the flowy pant thing, so I’m feeling really skeptical of it, but that’s probably my personal bias. It does seem to be pretty official and not going anywhere soon, so I’m sure more folks are going to start going for it. Was just in ON trying to get a pair of jeans, and about 50% of the pants in the store were the flowy ones.

    • Baconpancakes :

      I prefer pants for days when my Skimmies are in the wash. They’re so geriatric and unattractive, but literally changed my life in the summer. What I’ve learned: size down so they don’t roll up (they’re still loose enough to be comfortable, and don’t feel like spanx at all), get the long length (nothing you wear to work should be short enough to show at that length anyway) and they still may only last a year of heavy use. Totally worth the $20 replacement per pair to wear cute skirts and dresses all summer.

    • Actually one trend that I’m all over. They are so comfortable! And in my business casual office, totally okay. Just love. Especially great for those days when I’ve exceeded even my tolerance for unshaved legs.

      Conversely, I just walked back from lunch behind a gaggle of summer associates and was thinking that several of them were wearing skirts/dresses that were too tight and/or short, plus huge platforms, and it just looked bad. And uncomfortable.

    • I haven’t tried flowy pants but did recently buy a pair of flowy shorts and love them. First non-athletic shorts I’ve owned in years.

    • I realize I’m replying very late, but these pants are wonderful. I live in a very hot part of the world, and the drapey, flowy, or otherwise loose material is a godsend in the hotter months. When I happen to be back in the states, people Always ask where such pants are from and no one has ever looked sideways at them around the office.
      Also, I’m petite and hourglass so I originally shied away, thinking they would look best on taller or straighter figures. As with all outfits, if you keep an eye on your proportions, they can be really flattering!

  3. What do you think about the Beta Brand “yoga pants as work pants” offerings?

    I met a woman who swore by them and honestly her pants did not look like yoga pants.

    But I am really hesitant to pull the trigger on this. Any thoughts?

    • I don’t have the pants, but I have a blazer and a skort in the same material and have my eye on the dress. The skort absolutely looks office appropriate (it may help that mine is pinstripe, and is not pull-on like the current description but more fitted with a zipper). The blazer is more casual but that appears to be by design (I mean, it has a removable hood…). I wouldn’t hesitate to try the pants, particularly in the herringbone or glen plaid.

      • How is sizing? I have also had my eye on their stuff.

        • Their sizing charts are accurate in my experience. I think you’ll have the best luck with them if you are typically a size 12 or below, depending on how you’re shaped.

          The main downside to Betabrand is that their business model isn’t set up for instant gratification. I did have one item where my address changed between ordering and receiving it (but the customer service is excellent if you need to make a change while you’re waiting).

    • Haven’t tried them myself, but a friend who bought a pair said she wants to replace all of her pants with them. Doesn’t hurt to try them.

  4. I just got these pants from the Nordstrom sale:

    I never thought that drapey pants would work for me (I’m an hourglass shape, size 12) but I am in LOVE with these pants. They are so comfortable I wanted to wear them right out of the store. They are very different from my normal style but I splurged since they just felt like the best thing in the world.

    I normally wear a 12 but took a 10 in these, and they go about halfway down my calf (which I think is actually way more flattering than how they appear on the model).

    And I’ll take any and all suggestions on what types of tops to wear with them! Ha!

  5. I am so glad this topic was brought up! I hate wearing pants, they are always uncomfortable and unflattering on me. But, I’m also very active, and in the summer my legs are bruised and scratched. My office is pretty conservative and I have wondered whether I need to cover my legs and wear hose (shudder) during the summer. I am comfortable to go bare legged with bruises, so I’m glad to hear others feel the same way. I’ll never give it another thought again, thank you!

  6. Shopping challenged :

    Hooray! Links to big-girl pants! I love my “flowy” pants from Ann Taylor, even though they are short on me., but I generally don’t like short pants/cropped/ankle pants. I’m 5’8.5″, so they generally make me look like I sprouted up overnight, and I feel like I’m back in grade school wearing “floodwater” pants. Kat, thanks for posting about honest to goodness, down to the tops of your shoes long pants! Some day it would be nice to see pix of such on the blog, but for now, I’ll take the baby step. Sorry to sound so negative, but the rest of us want pants too, and the very strong preference for ankle pants (which end up looking like capris) just gets irritating after a while. That said, I love the bright blue.

    • Moonstone :

      I’m short and agree that it’s nice to see all-the-way-to-the-ground pants. I went shopping yesterday IRL and there was not a single pair of full-length pants that were not jeans.

  7. I don’t think covering up bruises is something one has to do to look “professional”. Humans aren’t plastic mannequins with perfect, smooth, poreless, bruise-proof ‘”skin” — they are biological organisms that get injured and bruised. Move your meatsuit through space and time, encounter gravity and other objects, get dressed for work in whatever professional attire you feel like wearing, and don’t worry about it. If someone is distracted by bruises, that’s their problem, not yours.

    I’m a fencer whose entire body is frequently covered with bruises so I often show up to work with bruised arms and legs visible. I don’t care if people are offended/distracted/concerned by them or if they speculate about whether I am in an abusive relationship. Women are already under so much ridiculous pressure to look polished and immaculate – why add the extra burden of asking them to conceal mild injuries?

    • I do get self-conscious about upper-body bruises because I’ve been asked before if I’m being abused at home. (Nope! Just a gym klutz.)

  8. I wear Beta Brand yoga pants to work–even to court! They do not look like yoga pants at all, and look very professional. My only complaint is that I have three pairs and each fits a little differently even in the same size (I have two pairs of the straight leg pants, and one is more straight than the other). Overall, they run small, so I took their advice of sizing up.

  9. Is this white people problems? Srsly. I just can’t with this.

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