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Pleated Trousers: the Styleforum Guide

I think it’s safe to say that pleated trousers, like the Skynet sentinel-turned-Resistance protector, are back. Actually, they’re still shunned by the greater “menswear” (found on Youtube of all places), but for guys in the know, they’ve never really left. Despite what people say, pleats are functional, stylish, and can certainly have a place in your wardrobe. I’ve begun wearing them, not as simply a “throwback” but because I genuinely like the fuller cut and the aesthetic difference they provide.

Now, pleats are a fairly modern invention in the world of classic menswear. Though old renaissance and revolutionary trousers were puffy and employed micro pleats, the “modern” suit as we knew it was originally very slim. You can see this reflected in the late 1800s through the early 1920s; trousers were “stovepiped” (meaning slim), had a slight crop/shivering break, and no pleats. Vintage suit ads of the 1910s and early 1920s would show an overall slim silhouette that would almost put shame to the H&M of 2009. In my experience, the main time we saw pleats would be on plus fours/knickers; if they were present, they came in the form of micropleats, hardly the ones we employ today.

Things changed during the late 1920s and 1930s, as menswear began to embrace a broader, masculine silhouette: jacket shoulders became slightly extended and padded (not as much as the later decades) and this draped cut was not flattering over slim trousers, which then became wider, with some models incorporating pleats. English tailors preferred forward pleats, while across the pond they opted for reverse ones. Not only was this just a natural evolution of suit silhouette, but it was necessary as swing dancing and other “casual’ activities grew in popularity. Simply said, people needed room to move!

pleated trousers guide how to wear

The popularity of pleats and pant width grew in shrank in size–but were always present–until almost disappearing completely during the 1990s after reaching their peak of popularity. Wide, triple pleated pants (worn at the hips for some reason) marked the almost-death of this take on trousers, as fashion bloggers (and vloggers now) only continue to shun pleated trousers, not only saying that they’re old school but actually make you look uglier and less flattering. Those statements, oft spouted in every free guide they peddle, couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, pleats have never really gone away, being worn by both seasoned gentlemen and younger men in the classic menswear world. It’s easy to see the draw of this tailored detail: everyone knows that it provides more room in the thighs, but to me, it also acts as a visual additive.

Gurkha style pleated trousers pants men

Gurkha style by @thefilodapper

Pleats on trousers accent the sharp crease, making them much more interesting than simple flat fronts. I think that the recent popularity surge of Gurkhas only added to this phenomenon due to their deep forward pleats, wide waistband, and use of overlapping belts. They’re a bit different than regular pleated trousers and work great with tailoring and with casual looks. Personally, I like side-tabs with my pleated trousers to maintain a clean, minimal look.

The secret to pulling pleated trousers off lies in good tailoring. Firstly, you need a high rise. Pleats on hip-hanging pants simply don’t work, as they make you look very bottom heavy and contribute poorly to your proportions. Next, you’ll have to realize that pleats don’t always result in baggy pants. If you’re going MTM or bespoke, you can always ask for the trousers to be slim, just with the addition of pleats.  Even if you want RTW, most places have been following the trend, offering pleated trousers that are nowhere near as roomy as an 80s power suit. Ensure that the trousers have a slight-to-no-break, and you’ll preserve the straight line the crease and pleats create.  

Further Reading: a Guide to How Trousers Should Fit

Today you can find pleated trousers in a bunch of different treatments. Grey pleated flannels/worsteds are probably the classic choice, but I think it’s worth exploring with pleated chinos and linens for maximum comfort; a dyed seersucker wouldn’t be totally out of place in the hot summer sun, with or without a matching jacket. You don’t even have to always wear them with a tie! You can always request pleats from your preferred tailor or MTM service (Luxire is a good way to customize your own) but there are a few places that I’d recommend. I’ve included a pleat inspiration album so you can hopefully see the appeal that pleats have.

Ralph Lauren

pleated trousers ralph lauren

A lot of my pleated trousers are old RL ones that I’ve purchased on eBay. Some are Polo and others are purple label, but they really get the job done with a high rise, full cut, and generous pleating.  The only changes I make are usually a gentle taper through the thigh and a hem if necessary. I can’t speak too much about their current offerings, but there are some decent offerings on their website that have been updated for a more contemporary fit.


Rubinacci

rubinacci pleated trousers sale

Rubinacci has been extremely popular for RTW gurkha style trousers.  They don’t make them in traditional dress fabrics, but their different shades of cotton should be enough to fill out your wardrobe.  They’re a bit on the casual side, but that’s nothing a good textured sportcoat and blucher won’t fix!


Stoffa

stoffa pleated trousers pants

Stoffa has been known to make great MTM field jackets and aviator zips, but their trousers are rather noteworthy.  While there is a degree of customization on fit, the brand has a house style that opts for a slim-straight leg that can be offset with sharp (yet a bit shallow) pleats; you can always choose to go with one if you haven’t graduated to double-pleats just you.  Like Rubinacci, they offer cottons to experiment with, though Stoffa also has linen and flannel swatches for you to choose from if you want to get dressy.


Suit Supply

pleated trousers menswear

Suit Supply is typically one of the places to go when you’re first starting out in menswear, as they offer some of the classic details you can’t really find at the mall.  Think wide lapels, soft shoulders, side tabs, and patch pockets to name a few. While they have typically done extremely slim, flat front trousers, they’ve experimented with pleats a few times.  Their Jort line is probably the best model, with a high rise, full button fly, side tabs, and double reverse pleats. If you find pleats on their regular models, I suggest sizing up so that the leg opening is a bit roomier.


Scott Fraser Collection

If you really like the gurkhas but want to go straight into the more casual side of pleated trousers, the Scott Frasier gaucho trouser is something to consider. With a high waist, wide opening, and a single lead construction, they are a very clean/minimal trouser, if not eccentric; they’re begging to be worn while relaxing around the beach.  If that isn’t your speed, he also has a “traditional” trouser that comes with dropped belt loops.


The Armoury 

As a retailer of fine clothing, it makes sense that they stock a variety of trousers, some of which are pleated.  All of these are cut with a high rise and a slim-straight silhouette, as to prevent you from looking too too “old school” with your grey pleated trousers. The Ring Jacket AMP-02 features a single pleat and are a great entry before moving onto their Rota selection.  I’m much more intrigued by their pleated Pomella RTW, which has a self-belt, calling back to the gurkha closure. They’ve also introduced Osaku Trousers which are double pleated and use Daks (button) side adjusters.

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Ethan Wong
Ethan Wong lives right in the middle: he’s too modern for the vintage scene and yet too vintage for classic menswear. When not at work, he spends his time writing and taking pictures for his blog, Street x Sprezza, which is all about bringing vintage style into the modern day. With a large collection of thrifted vintage and contemporary clothing, he often wonders when his closet will finally implode.

27 Comments

  1. Reply

    CHIN-CHEN LEE

    August 1, 2018

    I don’t get gurkha (also don’t get hollywood waistband…)

    RL is probably few of the US retailer that offer forward instead of reverse pleat.

  2. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 1, 2018

    With all due respect to Mr. Wong, it appears that he is asserting that there is a gap between the wearing of full-cut pleated trousers in the 1920’s-30’s and the so-called resurgence of the same today. As a 70 year old, I have never known a period in my lifetime where men in my age bracket have worn any other fashion staple. The existence is quite pervasive. Pleated trousers are to us as Cracker Jacks and Hot Dogs are to an American Baseball game. We accessorized our Custom Tailored trousers with genuine Alligator/Crocodile belts.
    One fashion “Faux Pas” that was not tolerated in the 1950’s-60’s was trousers without at least a slight break at the cuff. That’s like unto a Sailor wearing bell bottom Dress Blue Uniform Trousers with “peak a boo” white socks showing. That should have been be a Court Martial offense… LOL
    As a retired tailor, I still occasionally design and tailor full-cut pleated trousers with an original unique twist to the belted waist that I created in the 1970’s.

  3. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 1, 2018

    Correction: In reading further into Mr. Wongs discourse he acknowledges that “pleated trousers have never really gone away”. I believe they have fallen into the “New Age Sepulcher” of “Old School Carbon-Dated Relics”.

  4. Reply

    g

    August 5, 2018

    this article as well as the one on how slacks should fit are quite good. what’s missing is a little info for men who have a bit of a tummy. everyone here seems to be flat tummied and in shape. this is not the case for the general public. while I have taken my waist down to a 35 from a 38 I’d like some info on better fitting slacks, above the waist? below the waist? pleats? etc.

  5. Reply

    John

    August 5, 2018

    High rise and pleats are fine… in pictures.

    IRL, it makes you short.

  6. Reply

    Buck

    August 5, 2018

    Interesting article. Fashionable or not, pleats really only work on certain body types. As a man with a long upper torso and very short legs pleats just don’t look good on me. They tend to extend the upper body and make me look even shorter than I actually am at 5’10”. Through trial and error (and a good tailor) I’ve learned that a flat front on my body solves a lot of these problems and actually makes my legs appear longer or at least ”normal”. Oh, and no cuffs on the trousers for me as well. The curse of having short legs!

  7. Reply

    SSSPERF

    August 5, 2018

    Well, happen to wear pleated pants 90% of the time. They look really nice on my skinny frame(5’10” 150 lbs.). They add a nice touch of design in front as opposed to no design at all ie. flat fronts. It’s all good, though. Also, 85% have nice cuffs as opposed to strait leg again adds some design down below. What’s not to like? I pay little attention to trendy just good solid timeless attire with a trend toward updated vintage stuff like the old Rooster 2″ squared off ties.

  8. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 5, 2018

    To respond to “G”s comment, pleated trousers are especially suited for men with a bit of a tummy. If the pleat is drafted correctly starting from the cuff or hem and vertically expands to the waistline it can draw undue attention away from the unwanted bulge at the waist. However, a “lazy pleat” that only extends from crouch to waistline will never lay flat or properly.
    Flat front trousers obviously draw attention to the largest pot on the stove.

  9. Reply

    Glenn

    August 5, 2018

    Pleated trousers have come and gone several times times during my life time. I have worked in the menswear industry for the past 55 years and have worn every conceivable combination of plain and pleated trousers. The 40’s and early 50’s featured easy fitting pleated. The young men of that era adapted their dads style by pegging or draping (tapering the lower leg from the knee down to make a small bottom opening). The jivey ivy late 50’s and early 60’s fashion freatured plain front and tapered bottom. They were offered in three rises-short, medium and long. The more fashionable wore a longer rise than necessary to get them to fit above the natural waistline. The fashion aggressive early 70’s had a short love affair with pleated styles, but it was not until later in the decade when flaired bottoms started to die out that pleated really got on a roll. The new pleated style was not the full fitting 50’s idea. It was relatively narrow thigh with the bottom opening the same width as the knee (slim thigh, wide bottom). In the 80’s and 90’s as the jacket models grew wider and roomier, the trousers followed suite. By the mid 90’s pleated styles had enjoyed a 20 year run as the dominant trouser and the new generation of stylers were clamoring for the flat front styles to differentiate themselves from their dads. We have now reached the end of that 20 year run and the new generation of stylers are embracing pleated once again as they , for the most part, have never worn them. I have an archive of stylish trousers from the mid 70’s up to today that I would be happy to share through photos with anyone interested in the style, details and fit changes that have occurred. What goes around comes around.

  10. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 5, 2018

    Actually, high rise trousers and pleats do not make a person appear short. A long torso, short legs and flat front trousers that rest on the hips and expose the socks makes one appear short. It also makes them look like a dork. LOL

  11. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 5, 2018

    If, in the grand sweep of things, it all comes back around; I shudder to think that men will ever go back to wearing mini-skirts and skin-tight pants. Women might consider that retrogression both repulsive and encroaching.

  12. Reply

    Glenn

    August 6, 2018

    Mr Johnson, I would not be suggesting that all bad fashion ideas in menswear should or will enjoy a resurgence. The Scots have kept the kilt alive for a 1,000 years so men’s skirts have never been without supporters. I am just stating that every generation seems to have their own preference and that as the jacket fit changes, in order to make the trousers compatible, their shape must also adapt. You are correct that pleated trousers do not necessarily have make one look short, and choosing the right shape for your body type is imperative. I do believe that change is inevitable in clothes as historically that has been the case. Mr. Wong is correct in his assertion that there have been gaps where the large majority of men didn’t wear full cut pleated pants. With most, it comes, it goes.

  13. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 6, 2018

    Glenn you are absolutely correct, “with most it comes and goes”, however, for those of us who resist “certain” elements of change “consistency” is the mustard on the hot dog. I have all ready set aside my pleated trousers, navy blue suit coat and skinny neck tie for my funeral, (unless the Lord’s rapture of the Church precedes my physical death) and hope my next of kin will honor my wishes. LOL

  14. Peter Zottolo
    Reply

    Peter Zottolo

    August 8, 2018

    Raleigh and Glenn, would you consider an article just of you guys going back and forth? It’s non-sequitur stream-of-consciousness at its best.

  15. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 8, 2018

    Peter, your proposition while tempting would take away the joy of unprovoked and non-contrived exchange and would pressure both of us to willingly participate in a “strong man p_ _ _ _ _ _ contest”, of which neither of us would benefit except perhaps yourself. I believe there is already an abundance of male ego flung in the wind of which I need to bring myself in check. I have great respect for Glenn and his opinions and experiences matter to me, as does yours.

  16. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 9, 2018

    Glenn, it s true that the Scots have kept the wearing of “Kilts” alive for a thousand years and it is an attractive historic garb. My reference to the “mini-skirt” and “skin-tight garment” (leotards) on men was more frivolity than fear of a return, although, some guys do wear both today (runway models). Kilts are not mini-skirts as they end at the knee and are generally pleated. Greek and Roman Gladiators wore short skirts of leather and metal which was often above the knee. I dare say that the damsels busied themselves trying to determine what color “panties” the Gladiators were sporting. LOL. Actually, what I consider ridiculous is the 16th century bulging bloomers worn by Statesmen like Sir Walter Raleigh. I would prefer to see him dressed in a Sharkskin Leisure Walking Suit. LOL We share the same name but quite different in clothing style.

  17. Reply

    Glenn

    August 9, 2018

    Raleigh, I think Peter is poking fun at the old men for being “off message” in our exchange. Peter, sorry for irrelevant exchange.

    • Peter Zottolo
      Reply

      Peter Zottolo

      August 13, 2018

      On the contrary – the exchanges are delightful. Carry on.

  18. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 9, 2018

    Glenn, old men like me welcome the term desultory as it applies to our direction in conversation, for it frees us from structured discourse. Peter, an exchange is only irrelevant when nothing of value can be taken from it. Since the wearing of clothing is quite subjective, there is as much diversity in opinion as there is actual garments. I believe three primary factors, among others, govern men’s clothing selection: “era”, “collective style” and “personal choice”.

  19. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 11, 2018

    As a relative newcomer to the Styleforum I decided to comb through dated articles and found one that I was compelled to both read and respond to. It was authored by Peter Zottolo on Oct. 5, 2016 and titled “There’s No Such Thing As Dress Jeans”. Given my age and past experiences, I could not help but laugh. If the text book or even Webster’s Dictionary definition is applied to “Jeans”, than he is absolutely correct. (A heavy strong twilled cotton used in making uniforms work clothes). However, if a cultural or expanded definition is used than his experiences has limited the reality of how denim was used and evolved. In the 1960’s when I was in High School in New Orleans, La., pleated denim dress slacks was worn with Oleg Cassini Knit or Strassi Knit shirts to Concerts and other fashionable events, although, tailored sharkskin or silk & wool outfits was highly prized. The casual wearing of rugged Jeans was a matter of culture, with Anglo teenagers generally sporting Levi’s Jeans and African American youth in Sears Roebuck Jeans. Dry cleaning was preferred for the “dress” jeans to maintain fit and sharp pleated creases. In the 1970’s polyester/cotton blend denim was quite popular as it allowed for a semi-permanent crease and 100% polyester denim provided a permanent crease. Mr. Zottolo indicated that he attended high school in the 1990’s, which is a period in clothing styles that I find rather depressing…LOL
    Therefore, to Mr. Zottolo’s conclusion, “Dress Jeans Do Not Exist”, I believe it depends on whether you accept the narrow view or the culturally expanded view. I currently have listed a few custom tailored pleated “dress” denim trousers on my eBay site.

    • Peter Zottolo
      Reply

      Peter Zottolo

      August 13, 2018

      Both the narrow view and the culturally expanded view are correct, in that they also correlate to mine: dress slacks are not jeans, even if they are denim. Feel free to wear them, but be aware that very few will mistake them for being cultured.

  20. Reply

    Gaspar Roberts

    August 11, 2018

    @Raliegh Johnson – what’s our ebay user name? I’d be interested in taking a look at nice pleated jeans.

  21. Reply

    Buck

    August 12, 2018

    A dork? You’re quite the gentlemen.

  22. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 12, 2018

    Buck, a long torso and short legs does not make one a “dork”, especially when using the best methods to mitigate an issue that you did not create. Each of us has his/her own perception of what clothing style is best for us and as long as we are personally satisfied and doing the best with what God gave us to work with, that’s all that really matters.
    Most of us would be better people if we spent more time working on the “inward man” rather than the “outward perception” anyway. I say this with myself in mind.

  23. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 12, 2018

    Gasper, I don’t know that it is wise or proper to provide my user name in this forum, however, if you search on eBay for “custom tailored pleated denim slacks”, I’m sure you will discern which are mine by the copious description.

  24. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 13, 2018

    Peter, if both the narrow view and the culturally expanded view are correct, I will continue to wear them and call them “Dress Jeans”, accept when I wear them to work, then I will call them “Dress/Work Jeans” (two birds, one stone). LOL I am honestly not concerned with the approval or disapproval of those who might consider what I wear non-cultured, as that is a value judgement that I reserve for myself. I would imagine that you do the same. “Cultured” is quite a relative term, as it is viewed through the prism of ones social and intellectual experiences and while the dominant culture might write “the book”, providence is always waiting in the wings to either confirm or contradict what is written.

  25. Reply

    Glenn

    August 14, 2018

    I will join into the “dress or not jeans” debate. The term “dress jean” came from women’s brands of the late 1970’s. Brands such as Gloria Vanderbilt and Calvin Klein coined the term to make jeans acceptable in situations where they had previously not been. The denim rage of the 70’s had been predicated on the washing of denim to give it a well worn and faded appearance. Also, during that period, jeans had all types unusual sewing details-patch work, pin tucking, leather and embroidery- and back pocket treatments. The”dress jean”was clean, dark and lacked embellishments other than a simple back pocket stitch design that identified the brand. They were worn with fancy tops and high heels. They were, for the most part, a five pocket style. The men’s jean barons quickly latched on to the term and produced the same idea and used the same terminology. In the 1950’s and early 1960’s denim was sold in its raw form-no washing or rinsing. A new pair was very stiff and took the better part of the school year to break them in. There were 3 major suppliers of jeans at that time-Levi, H D Lee and Bluebell which made Wranglers. They mostly made 5 pocket styles in a variety of fits. The 6o’s counter culture adopted denim as their bottom of choice and by the late 60’s, early 70’s an entire fashion industry had emerged with denim at the forefront. This is when you started to see all things denim. Suits, jacket and pants were all executed in indigo dyed fabrics some of which were denim. Raleigh’s pleated dress jeans are most likely pants made from denim or indigo dyed twill. The argument over whether or not there is such a thing as “dress jeans” is an unsolvable riddle. Are they jeans if they are made from indigo dyed fabric in trouser shapes? Are they jeans if made from denim and styled as trousers? Are they jeans if they are made into 5 pocket styles but not made from denim? Or can only 5 pocket styles made from denim be called jeans?

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