The Most Comprehensive, Definitive Guide to Ponte Pants Ever

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You know how when you try to explain a dream to a friend and you're all, ...so I was in a barn, but it wasn't a barn really, more like a cottage, only it had a hayloft, except it wasn't exactly a hayloft as much as a tiny platform with gigantic bales of hay, but the hay was actually strands of hair, but not really hair, more like fur...?

That's how it is when I try to explain ponte pants. And I spend a lot of time trying to explain ponte pants, because you, my loyal customers, have a lot of questions about them:

Are ponte pants leggings? Or pants? Why do I need to size up on ponte pants? When you say they're not very stretchy, do you mean they're like denim? When you say they fit kinda like skinny jeans, do you mean they're that tight? When you say they're not as tight as leggings, do you mean they're loose? What's the difference between ponte pants and my usual leggings? What are ponte leggings? Are they just regular leggings? Or are they more like pants? What's the difference between ponte leggings and ponte pants? And what the hell is ponte, anyway? Is it a style? Does it describe the fit? Is it pronounced "PON-tee" or "PON-tay?" Is ponte some kind of new sport, like, 'I'm gonna go play ponte. Have you seen my ponte pants?'

Seriously, folks, I've heard them all. And I answer the best I can, but sometimes I end up just confusing you (and myself) even more with my kinda-like-this-ing and kinda-like-that-ing.

So I decided to sit down and create a definitive written guide to ponte pants that will answer all of your questions in a way that makes perfect sense.

What is Ponte?

Officially known as "ponte de Roma" or "ponteroma" in sewing-geek circles, ponte (pronounced PON-tee) refers to the way a fabric is constructed. Literally translated from Italian, "ponte de Roma" means "bridge of Rome."

Ponte is a weft-knitted, interlock-based, double-jersey fabric. If you're a textile student, you probably know exactly what that means.

If you're not a textile student, please allow me to break it down for you:

Weft knitting is when you knit loops along the width of the fabric. (The opposite is warp knitting, which means your loops run vertically down the length of the fabric.) Most knits used to make clothes are weft knits.

Jersey refers to a type of knit fabric that's constructed using knit stitches, or "plain" stitches, on the front and purl stitches on the back. The front side of a jersey knit is smooth and flat, with fine lines running across it, and the back is more textured, and you can't really see any ribs. Most of your T-shirts and leggings are probably jersey knits.

Interlock knits are similar to jersey knits, except instead of using a purl stitch for the back, they're constructed using knit stitches on the front and back. This means that both sides of an interlock knit look the same: smooth and flat. Because of this construction, interlock knits are more tightly woven than jersey knits and are therefore a bit less stretchy.

Double jersey is jersey that's double-knit. Double knitting requires two needles and two sets of yarn, which results in a fabric with twice the thickness. When jersey is double-knit, the textured purl stitches are sandwiched together facing each other, with the knit stitches on the outsides of the fabric. So, much like interlock knits, double jersey knits are smooth and flat on both sides.

And that's how you can tell whether a fabric is a ponte knit: they're smooth and flat on both sides, and you can see fine lines running across on both sides.

Typical Fibers Used to Make Ponte

Long ago, ponte knits were characterized in part by the fact that they were 100% polyester. Nowadays, most ponte knits still contain some polyester, but usually in combination with rayon, nylon, or spandex.

Here's a rundown of some of the qualities of those four fabrics:

Polyester is super strong and highly durable. It will never shrink, wrinkle, or stretch, and it dries really fast. If you ever worked in fast food during the 80s or 90s, then you're probably more familiar with polyester than you'd like to be.

Nylon is durable and strong as well, but it's soft against the skin.

Spandex is also durable and strong (ponte must be indestructible!) and super stretchy. It hold its shape brilliantly, and when blended with other fibers in a ponte knit, you know your pants or leggings aren't going to end up bagging at the knees and sagging at the butt. Lycra is the brand name for Du Pont's version of spandex.

Rayon is considered a natural fiber because it's made from wood cellulose. It's soft and comfortable and doesn't retain body heat. It won't wrinkle, and it dries fast.

Yeah, But What Does All of This Mean in Practical Terms?

Okay, so ponte pants are constructed from a double-jersey knit fabric, typically made with some combination of two or three fibers that most often include rayon, nylon, spandex, and polyester.

The terms ponte pants and ponte leggings are used interchangeably. Ponte pants are a pant-legging hybrid, and at Carrie's Closet, "ponte pants" simply refers to clothing made from ponte that you wear on your legs. Most of my ponte pants are constructed like leggings, and I call them "ponte leggings."

But what you really want to know is, "what's the diff between my regular leggings and ponte pants?" Well, here you go:

Ponte pants don't feel slinky and clingy like leggings. They're thicker, they have more structure, but they don't have as much stretch as regular leggings. If you take a pair of skinny jeans and a pair of standard leggings and put them in a dark room together with a little wine and some Barry White on the hi-fi, their resulting offspring will be ponte pants.

They hold you firmly in place. And by "you," I mean your fat. Listen, if you have a hard body without an ounce of fat, that's great. But most of us have "more to love," and the thick firmness of ponte pants holds it in kinda like a girdle, except ponte pants don't cause organ damage or leave angry red indentations on your skin. You know how when you wear your regular leggings and sometimes you notice that some of your more "padded" areas kind of jiggle or sway when you walk? Your "padding" won't jiggle and sway in ponte pants. So think of ponte pants as a much less expensive and much more comfortable alternative to a tummy tuck and butt lift.

They hide your junk. Ponte pants are nearly as soft, flexible, and comfortable as your single-jersey knit leggings. One major difference between the two is that when you wear your ponte pants to the grocery store and bend over to pick up your kid, no one will see your butt crack or special girl parts saying hello to them through the fabric.

They keep you warm. Your single-knit jersey leggings aren't going to keep you very warm in the winter, but the double thickness of ponte pants will.

You can wear them almost anywhere you would wear "normal" pants. Ponte pants fit snugly like leggings, but not so snugly that they reveal every bone in your knees and dollop of fat on your thighs like leggings do. You can wear ponte pants to work and look perfectly professional, or you can sizzle 'em up for a hot date and absolutely kill it, but unlike other work pants and hot-date pants, they're comfy enough that you won't be distracted with visions of how good it's going to feel to peel them from your body the second you walk in your door.

Sizing Your Ponte Pants

This is where it can get a little complicated. I've learned from processing many a return that while ponte pants resemble leggings, they're not as forgiving in terms of making room, so I usually recommend that you go up one size when purchasing ponte pants.

But since measurements can vary widely among different brands, before you settle on a size, dig out your favorite pair of plain old leggings, and go up one size.

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  • Carrie Paxson