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I finally caved and admitted to myself that I want leather pants. I'm looking for something black, mid- or high-rise, and under $200 (so probably fake leather, right?). Ideally, I'd try them on in person before I buy them — I'm in New York. Any suggestions? It's time to channel my inner Joanna Coles. —Hannah, 24, Manhattan
First off, congrats on making it there — I hadn’t admitted to myself that I want leather pants until I finished researching this post. I’ve always thought nice-looking ones would be prohibitively expensive, and while many of them are, there are some solid lower-priced options to talk through.
The best pairs are made from stretch leather, which is processed in a more involved (and thus more expensive) way than regular leather. Basically, super thin leather is bonded to an extremely stretchy liner, which helps the material retain its shape. In other words, it keeps skinny jeans skinny and avoids that baggy knee thing.
Leather pants for less than $200 is a tall order, but I’m happy and surprised to say we can deliver. The cheapest stretch leather pair I could find (that aren’t by some weird mystery brand on eBay) are $199 from H&M, and they literally went on sale this morning (they were $349). Those are followed by several pairs priced at $375 at & Other Stories. If you are a teeny size or want a wacky color, you might have luck on The Outnet for less than $400.
If you’re willing to go up slightly, our senior beauty reporter swears that her leather leggings from J.Crew don’t stretch out at all. While hers are a few years old, the brand’s current version costs $495 and comes in regular and petite sizes.
Going the pleather route, the things I’d worry about would first be looking cheap or shiny, then feeling really sweaty. Since I’m a pleather skeptic, I actually went to all of the fast fashion stores that made what looked like passable pleather pants and tried them on IRL. Skip Zara, H&M, and Topshop — they all looked cheap and tacky in person. Blank NYC was okay, but they might be too low-rise for you.
Of all the pairs I tried, these ones from Banana Republic were my surprise favorite. At $110, they’re not crazy expensive, and they’re such a good faux that the saleswoman was convinced they were leather. Like, to the point where we kind of got in an argument. Best part? My legs didn’t immediately turn into a sweat lodge.
A nice alternative between pleather and leather is waxed or coated denim. (I’ve got a waxed denim jacket from Allsaints that has garnered dozens of “I love your leather jacket” comments over the years.) Check in at your favorite denim brands because odds are they make a pair. Otherwise, Paige makes a cute mid-rise pair for $199, and Calvin Klein has a highish-rise version for $160 on Farfetch that seem to be on sale for $84 on the brand’s own website. I think these high-rise H&M coated jeans are pretty great, and they’re only $29.99. You can also opt to have a pair you already own treated with wax at somewhere like Denim Refinery (which will do it for $98).
After all that, though, I have to say: If I were you, I’d probably hold out for the real deal rather than go for H&M or BR. Scan our sample sale listings as well as discount sites on Black Friday for names like Drome, Rag & Bone, and Helmut Lang — all brands that make amazing leather pants you’ll keep way longer than any of the pleather options.