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Whether discussing the latest fashions or perusing women’s clothing catalogs, you’re likely to come across the terms “capri pants” and “crop pants.” In casual conversation, you may hear these terms used interchangeably, which is understandably confusing to a would-be fashionista. So what’s the difference between the two?


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Some people think of them as long shorts, some refer to them as “three-quarter pants,” and your grandmother may have called them “pedal pushers.” The bottom line is that capris are pants that fall anywhere from one to several inches below the knee. They’re meant to be worn in warm weather, and are a more conservative but still casual alternative to shorts.

Crop Pants

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Technically, crop pants are pants that end anywhere from below the knee to above the ankle. By this definition, capris qualify as a type of crop pants. However, the term “crop pants” is more often used to refer to pants on the longer side--those that end one to a few inches above the ankle. These can serve as a happy medium between capris and full-length pants. Just make sure they’re short enough to avoid giving people the impression that you may have just outgrown them or that they shrunk a little too much in the wash.

Figure Flattery

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Capris show off more of the leg than crop pants do, so if you want to show off your gams, capris are the way to go. If you don’t consider your calves to be one of your better features, opt for crops. The most flattering length is one that ends at the narrowest part of your leg. For capris, this is above the swell of the calf. For crops, this is above the ankle. Either way, avoid pants that end midway, at the widest part of your calf. Other don’ts to keep in mind: Cuffs and pleats are generally best avoided. Cuffs make the leg look shorter, so they’re advisable only for those with long legs. Pleats form a pooch at the belly, and as TLC’s Stacy and Clinton of the TV show “What Not to Wear” often advise, no one needs that.

Occasions for Wearing

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Both capris and crop pants have made significant headway on the fashion scene in recent years, and are designed in a variety of styles and fabrics that make them suitable for many occasions. Generally speaking, however, capris are considered a more casual option because they’re more akin to shorts. Crops, being more closely related to their full-length counterparts, are more conservative, and therefore more appropriate for business and dressier occasions.

The Bottom Line

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The choices available with regard to hem lengths are wider today than ever before, and the rules for wear are loosely written. The best choice is the one that makes you feel most comfortable and shows off your body type to its best advantage. When everything else is equal, choose the one that makes you smile the most when you look into a mirror.

About the Author

Christine Pingleton

Writer and editor Christine Pingleton has authored hundreds of articles for national magazines and websites on a variety of topics including travel, home improvement, business and careers, gardening, and pets. She enjoys editing both fiction and nonfiction books and holds a degree in journalism from Ball State University.