What Are High-Waters Pants? How To Wear Them.

High waters pants, also known as flood pants, are a style of pants that sit higher up on the leg, ending just below or above the knee. While once seen as dated or foolish, high waters pants have come back into fashion in recent years as a trendy, retro-inspired look.

In this complete guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the history, styling, and wearing of high waters pants.

A Brief History of High Waters Pants

The term “high waters” first emerged in the 1850s in America to describe pants that no longer properly fit their wearer, usually because the person had grown taller. During this era, pants typically had a much higher rise and baggier fit, so someone quickly outgrowing their pants would end up with a comically short fit that looked like “high waters”.

While initially an accidental fashion mishap, high waters pants became a purposeful style statement through the late 1800s and early 20th century. Different stories exist for how the style got its “high waters” moniker – some believe it refers to the Great Flood of 1913 that devastated the Midwest, while others think it nods to the high water lines painted on steamboat hulls.

Regardless of the origins of the name, high waters pants rose to prominence as everyday workwear in 1920s America before falling out of fashion by the 1950s and 1960s. The style saw a revival in the 1980s and 1990s as part of retro and nerd-chic fashion. Today, high waters pants are back in vogue with both men’s and women’s fashion as a versatile and on-trend cropped pant style.

Defining High Waters Pants

So what exactly are high waters pants? Here’s a quick definition:

  • High waters pants – A style of pants with a shortened inseam that ends significantly above the ankle, usually hitting mid-calf or just below or above the knee. Also known as “flood pants.”

High waters pants intentionally have a cropped fit that shows off more of the leg and ankle than traditional full-length pants. They typically have a rise that hits at or just below the belly button, giving them a distinct high-waisted style even if not designed as proper “high rise pants.”

Compared to capri pants that fall below the knee, high waters are cropped even shorter. And while cropped pants have a similar ankle-baring length, high waters have a much higher rise and distinctive retro vibe.

Modern high waters pants come in nearly any style – denim, corduroy, twill, linen, activewear, suiting, and more. The unifying trait is the cropped flood length.

How to Style High Waters Pants

High waters pants offer a smart, polished way to show some ankle and leg – but styling them the right way is key. Here are some top tips for wearing high waters pants stylishly:

Go monochrome – Sticking to one color palette helps keep the look streamlined. Try black high waters with a black turtleneck or white high waters with a crisp white button-down.

Choose the right shoes – Shoes that expose some part of the ankle and foot balance the cropped pants. Loafers, monk straps, Chelsea boots, and low-cut sneakers all work well.

Watch the break – A slight break (around 1 inch) at the hem looks sharp. Too much stacking can look messy. Have pants tailored if needed.

Cuff for casual flair – Cuffing the hem adds a laidback vibe to denim or chino high waters. Keep cuffs narrow for a neat look.

Tuck in tops – Tucking in button-downs, sweaters, and tees showcases the high waistline and proportions.

Add some texture – Pair smooth, sleek high waters with tops in knits, tweed, leather, or patterns for visual interest.

Mind the occasion – Save high waters pants for more casual daytime affairs rather than formal business or evening events.

Wearing High Waters for Different Occasions

Another key to stylishly sporting high waters pants is picking the right pair for different occasions. Follow these tips for occasions ranging from casual weekends to dressy dates:

Casual Weekend Wear

Go for dark denim, khaki, or colored chino high waters paired with casual tops like t-shirts, hoodies, tanks, or casual button-downs. Sneakers, loafers, or sandals complement the laidback vibe.

Office Attire

High waters pants can work for smart-casual and business casual offices, but steer clear of overly distressed or light-wash denim. Pair with a polished button-down or blouse and blazer or cardigan. Loafers or oxfords are office-friendly shoe options.

Cocktail Party

For dressier occasions, choose tailored high waters pants in a luxe material like wool, linen, or crepe. Metallic sheens or patterns like checks, houndstooth, or pinstripes also add flair. Pair with heels and a nice top.

Date Night

Dark-wash denim or smart trousers paired with a button-down, polo, or fitted sweater creates a sharp date night look. For footwear, opt for loafers, Chelsea boots, or clean sneakers. Finish it off with a stylish watch or pocket square.

Casual Travel

High waters pants are perfect for keeping comfortable and stylish while traveling. Choose durable fabrics like denim, twill, or performance blends paired with t-shirts, polos, or sweaters. Sneakers or slip-on shoes get you through security with ease.

Why Wear High Waters Pants?

Beyond just being on-trend, high waters pants offer several advantages:

  • Show off shoes – The cropped length highlights your footwear.
  • Cooler in warm weather – More exposed skin helps you stay cooler.
  • Athletic flair – The sporty vibe pairs well with sneakers.
  • Retro charm – Channels a quirky, nerd-chic aesthetic.
  • Elongates legs – The high waist and cropped hem make legs appear longer.
  • Streamlined silhouette – A clean, polished line unbroken by stacking.
  • Visual interest – The proportions create a distinct style statement.

So if you’re looking to shake up your pant rotation with a summer-ready style, try out high waters pants! Just shop for the right rise and inseam, pay attention to fit, and style them thoughtfully for the occasion. With the tips in this guide, you’ll be rocking high waters in stylish flair.

Have you worn high waters pants before? What tips or tricks do you recommend for nailing the look? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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