Stretch pants are back this season, and all eyes are on the ankle. Right, the ankle, because the question this year is, are in-the-boot pants In and over-the-boot pants Out, or the other way around, and why?
Stretch pants were pretty much out of style as long ago as the 1968 Olympics at Grenoble, or shortly after designers got their first look at the quilted warmup pants racers were wearing, and quickly turned them into a new ski fashion available to everyone. Today the warmups are standard gear for most skiers, who pushed their stretch pants to the backs of their closets, literally breathing easier, they had gotten so tight.
But while the skiing public was warming up, racers and ski bums clung to their stretch pants or blue jeans. Racers will be the first to tell you that fashion has to be functional, and the In look can always be traced to them. What they choose and adopt will set the style for the following season. When the French ski team wore racing stripes in 1960 at the Squaw Valley Olympics, everyone got into racing stripes. Shortly after Billy Kidd broke out his Captain America helmet, everyone was wearing stars and stripes. And recently a skier, who got a look at the yellow Superboots on the opposite page, was heard to say, "Well, now I'll have to get yellow boots." (If he can't afford jet boots, he can paint his old ones and do what the little kids have been doing—fastening plastic sewer pipe to the backs.)
All of which brings us back to the question of pants inside or over the boots. The answer is that outside pants are In. Spider Sabich, winner on the tough ISRA (International Ski Racers Association) tour last winter, wears his pants outside and explains the drawbacks of the old inside-the-boots pants this way: "Tight foam boots have no give to them, and any seam or wrinkle will cut into your skin. I used to have to cut the inside strap or heel out of my pants to eliminate seams or ridges, and then I'd wrap a thong around my ankle to hold them down. With these boots we wear only a light sock so we can feel the snow."
As usual, ski wear designers took note and realized that they had to figure out how to stretch a pant over the boot—and secure it there, to keep the snow from getting underneath. The solution in many cases has been an oblong opening at the ankle called a hold-down slot. It is made to accommodate a boot buckle which will in turn hold the pant securely over the boot. Head's new hold-down slot is a metal-reinforced aperture that can be custom-fitted over any boot buckle. Roffe, which outfitted this year's U.S. Olympic ski team, has a lightweight multidirectional mesh stretch sock inside the pant. It reaches to the top of the boot and a horizontal stretch-fabric stripe around the ankle of the pant hugs the boot. Ernst Engel, who designed the first over-the-boot flare ski pants in 1964, this season has applied for worldwide patent rights to a new Ernst Engel Connection. It consists of a metal hook fastened to the bottom on each side of the trouser leg, to be hooked onto a corresponding metal bar attached to the soles of ski boots.
Inside-the-boot pants arc still being made and bought, though. How come, and who is wearing them? Wini Jones, Roffe's young designer who probably outfits more racers and hot-dog skiers than anyone in the U.S., says that it is primarily the kids, the ones who are going to be great skiers but currently get their kicks showboating, who are the ones asking for the inside-the-boot pants. As she points out, "If a young skier goes out and spends anywhere from $150 to $250 for a pair of the new high jet boots, do you think he wants to hide them under his pants?"
There are more than 25 styles of ski boots on the market this year, which should draw enough showboaters to keep inside-the-boot pants manufacturers going. For a change, though, the fashionable thing will be to feel no pain with over-the-boot pants.