A Guide to How Trousers Should Fit

Embdeddded photos: Peter Zottolo
All slideshow photos: Dylan & Son
After last week’s article, I received a couple PMs, DMs, and emails from various people asking how trousers should fit.  The short answer is that they should lay straight down and fit comfortably. The long answer is, well, longer. Getting trousers to fit correctly is not simply a question of making them comfortable.  Sweats are comfortable.  So is spandex.  When cut correctly, trousers can feel just as cozy, but swathe you in elegance that sweatpants will never have. Meaning you can actually leave the house in trousers.

Let’s start with the bottom and work our way up:
1) The width of the leg opening should cover about 1/2 – 3/4 of your shoe, more or less
Varying too much either way can make your foot either stick out like a ski, or be completely engulfed and unseen. The length of your trousers should be just enough to kiss the top of your shoe in the front and hit the middle of your shoe’s heel in the back.  Of course, this will vary from shoe to shoe.  Chukkas, oxfords, or heavy boots, being more substantial with a heavy sole, are vertically higher and cause the front of the pants to fold, or break.  Streamlined oxfords or loafers sit a bit lower.  Personally I like to have my trouser legs hit the top of my loafers with no break, meaning the front of the trousers stop right where they hit the vamp.  This way, heavier shoes have just a just a shiver of a break.  The crease should fall straight down and bisect the shoe in the front.  
2) The trouser should not bunch at your calves
This is extremely difficult with slim trousers, but can be addressed with bespoke.  The trouser maker will either cut or iron the trouser following the natural curve and stance of the wearer.  This allows the line to fall, curved yet unbroken, down the back of your leg.  Having your pants constantly grabbing your calves – or worse, cupping under your seat – is almost sure to happen if they’re too tight.  This in and of itself is reason enough to either widen your trousers or go bespoke.
3) Your trousers’ thighs shouldn’t be so tight as to flatten the crease
If you’re trying on a pair of trousers and notice this is the case, I’d suggest sizing up and taking in the waist.  If sending in measurements for made-to-measure, write down the width of your thigh and add at least 2 inches.  Some companies are still trying to squeeze men into sausage casings, so I’d recommend erring on the side of caution and going roomy – you can always have them slimmed down.
4) Pay attention to the seat and rise
A) If your seat and hips are too tight, you won’t have the ability to move freely and your pockets will gape.  Too loose, and you’ll end up looking like you’re hiding a diaper.  A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to put your hands in your pockets easily.  If you can’t – loosen up, bro.  Additionally, the front and back rise will ensure the pants hang properly.  If the front rise is too short, you run the risk of moose knuckle; too long and the pants will start to have horizontal folds.  If the back rise is too long, the fabric might start to bunch under your seat; too short and it’ll start to separate your cheeks.  
B) The length of your rise should be high enough so that the top of the trousers sit at your natural waist, which is right around your navel.  The low rise trend is thankfully in its death throes; more and more are wearing trousers at their proper waist and doing so stylishly.  Doing so lengthens the leg, makes movement easier, and when worn with a buttoned jacket, covers your shirt and provides a seamless transition of fabric from top to bottom.  Just don’t go too much farther north than your belly button or you risk Urkel cosplay.
5) Be realistic about waist size
As far as the waist goes, I’m realistic.  I love it when bespoke trousers fit perfectly with no belt loops or braces, but overindulgence does happen, and you’ll be thankful for an extra inch or two.  When doing so, some opt for belt loops, but I much prefer having brace buttons and side pull tabs put in.  When wearing trousers with a suit, having the trousers hang from your shoulders allows them to fall and drape beautifully, in a straight line (braces generally attach and sit directly above your feet).  Plus, cinching your waist with a belt can be uncomfortable, and adjusting it after you eat can be more trouble than its worth.  However, if you’re wearing trousers without a jacket, braces can seem a little flashy.  One option is button tabs, but they can be a bit fussy.  Pull tabs are the perfect way to fine-tune the waist of your trousers.  Mine are halfway between the waist and leg on the seam; it binds a little less than having them solely on the waist.
This is admittedly quite a bit to digest, but can easily be seen and appreciated in pictures.  A well-fitting trouser is a sight to behold.  Some of the best examples I’ve seen online are from Dylan & Son, a tailoring house in Singapore, examples of whose work can be seen in the slideshow below.  Their Instagram feed showcases some amazing trousers, not just ones they made for themselves but for various customers with less-than-ideal proportions, bowl legged stances, and everything in between.  Explanations and descriptions can be found on some posts, giving a glimpse into the art and science of clothing the anatomy.

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Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.
This entry was posted in Style, The Tailors' Thread by Peter Zottolo. Bookmark the permalink.

About Peter Zottolo

Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.

10 thoughts on “A Guide to How Trousers Should Fit

  1. A bit odd that almost none of the examples in the gallery meet the first criterion of proper width at the ankle or length. Otherwise, most of them look very nice.

    • My thought exactly. All the advice here is perfectly reasonable but does rather reflect the current fashion for ultra tapered pants that are on the short side. There’s nothing worse than the elephant ankle look which extremely common here in the US but showing an inch of sock is equally absurd. Luciano Barbera’s mid Atlantic rule is hard to beat. How long will the ultra slim, short jackets/pants look last? Hard to tell. It’s essentially fashion and thus will ultimately go out of fashion. Don’t invest too much money in fashion bespoke suits. Dress pants really need to cover about 2/3 to 3/4 of your shoe depending on your height although going down to half is okay for casual kit like moleskin. The no break rule suggested by Mr Zottolo is a pretty good starting point because you inevitably end up with the tiniest break as pants slip even with braces.

      • Everything you say sounds reasonable, John. I’m not a fan of ultra slim trousers either, at least not in a classic sense. The fashion world has more latitude and in that context I believe a slim cut can work quite well. Still, who of us lives in the fashion world? On the other hand, a while ago, on Dylan & Son’s instagram, they showcased a pair of trousers based off the wider 30’s and 40’s silhouette. Not exactly my cuppa, but still, they looked and draped amazingly well.

  2. Not hugging calves while being slim is probably hardest for RTW, though some of the Paul Stuart and older Ralph Lauren model does it pretty well.

  3. This is an excellent reference and starting point for many. I certainly have a pair or two that are too slim and grab my big calves when i sit and i have to “shake” to get loose. Its horrid.

    I would make the following two comments:
    – for athletic guys with big thighs, go with a pleat, flat front is just never going to fit as well or look as good
    – most of the trousers shown are too short for my taste. In the real world, people are walking or sitting most of the day and little extra length makes the trousers function, look and feel a lot better, in my opinion. I am far from a full break guy, but some break when standing (more than a shiver) really helps alleviate the high water look when in motion.

    • Concur on the length issue: I find that no-break trousers that look A* in front of the mirror tend to look short when “in motion” – a touch of break fixes that.

    • I agree; a bit of break is perfectly fine. Also, when leg openings are wider, they can be a bit longer, since the front crease sits lower on the shoe’s vamp.

  4. Trousers that are too long is an epidemic that is just everywhere. Trousers that are too long ruin a look.

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