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Great strides: Trousers back in the style spotlight

No longer overshadowed by dresses or denim, trousers have stepped back into the style spotlight for autumn. Carola Long reports on a trend that's set to run wild

When it comes to easy-to-wear fashion, do you want the good news or the good news?

"Real clothes", namely classic, flattering designs that don't make the wearer look like an extra from Dynasty, are back, and so, therefore, are trousers. Of course "back", in fashion terms, doesn't mean we all threw our trousers on a bonfire and refused to buy any more until they were deemed le dernier cri again; rather that for autumn trousers are a major focus. And the difference between this season's styles and the existing harem, carrot or peg shapes, is that autumn/winter's infinite variety of looks have been honed, tweaked and reinvented to pant perfection.

"It feels right to throw the spotlight on pants this season," says Holli Rogers, buying director of Net-a-Porter. "Dresses have dominated the runways for years, so the shift in focus feels like a natural evolution in the fashion cycle. The trend has been bubbling under the surface, but for fall and resort we've got every incarnation: straight-leg, skinny-leg, cropped styles, leggings, high-waisted, silk, sequin, cashmere, corduroy, leather – you name it." It's not easy to define the particulars of so many nuanced styles without them sounding like a very specific coffee order at Starbucks – take, for example, the skinny-straight flare in opulent brocade at Rochas, or the skinny crop with a bootcut kick at Balenciaga.

The key shapes on the catwalk were mannish and tapered (Chloé, Dries Van Noten), graduated flares (Chloé, 3.1 Phillip Lim) which tapped into images of confident, liberated Seventies women such as Lauren Hutton or Bianca Jagger, cropped bootcut (Céline, Prada, Balenciaga), straight with a barely there flare (Gucci), and tapered cigarette pants (Stella McCartney).

What many of these styles have in common is that they are unashamedly grown-up and smart. Unlike the ripped Balmain jeans which tapped into a desire to look like you're off to a gig rather than the office, tailored trousers create an instantly pulled-together, go-getting look. "Personally I'd like to go for a trouser rather than a jean at the moment," says Matches' private shopping manager Catherine West. "It gives that casual-luxe look that is perfect for work and going out."

However, while the classic look might have come to the fore, there are still plenty of options for anyone wanting something more obviously edgy. Isabel Marant's cropped red-leather trousers have a waiting list at Matches, where Catherine West suggests wearing these ankle-high styles with a small stiletto for a fresh combination of the rocky and the ladylike. "Don't go all-out rock, but mix it up," she advises. When it comes to off-duty styles, Holli Rogers says, "you still can't beat cargos from J Brand and Current/ Elliott. Right now, slouched wool or jersey pants are great transitional pieces teamed with high strappy sandals, and the harem style is still relevant." In other words, anything goes.

As long as it fits like a dream, that is. After years of skinny jeans, which aren't exactly designed to enhance most female forms, cleverly tailored trousers can create the illusion of longer legs and a shapely bum.

There are impressive cuts on the high street too, particularly at Gap, which has triumphed with its Premium Pant Collection of 8 styles from £35, including the Modern Boot, Relaxed Cropped and the Really Skinny versions. Team with wedge ankle boots, and a silk blouse or a plain, grey T-shirt for minimum effort and maximum results. Now that's investment dressing.