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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Style Icons: B&Tailor

As I’ve moved forward in my style journey, I find myself looking toward more contemporary dressers for inspiration. There’s nothing wrong with looking at old pictures of Jimmy Stewart or Laurence Fellows illustrations, but the fact remains that those sources are finite!

That’s why I’m drawn to contemporary guys that have a bit of vintage flair, like Bryceland’s. But while they can skew more workwear, the guys at Seoul’s B&Tailor find ways to keep vintage style (across different eras) alive in an elegant and modern way.

B&Tailor and Chad Park were the subjects of one of my first blog posts that covered contemporary style. Stumbling across their account was a big moment for me, as it showed me that there was still a place for high rise trousers, pleats, and wide lapels. Started in 1980 by Jung Yul Park, the brand has already made quite a name for itself, taking fittings all over the world and even creating a casual RTW line called Chadprom, no doubt named after his son Chad. To most of my friends, they are a great source of inspiration and a bit of an aspirational goal for clothing.

It probably helps that Park’s sons Chad and Chang have worked hard to brand the company, with Chad being the face of B&Tailor, expertly shot by Chang for their Tumblr and Instagram profiles. With natural light, somber expression, and fantastic clothing, the pictures rack up engagement on all social media, presenting an almost streetwear-esque way of making clothing look cool. As the brand has grown, they’ve also included more pictures of their other staff, consistently making their associates style icons in their own right. But let’s look at how their style specifically appeals to me.

Like with Brycelands, the vintage appeal comes down to two things: the design of their tailoring and the way they choose their accessories. First, let’s explore the jackets. The jackets are cut with an extended shoulder, featuring a broad chest and nipped waist, echoing the draped figures in the 1930s and 1940s. Of course, this isn’t something new as the English have been doing that for a long time; the real charm is in their lapel treatments.

Their standard notch is quite wide (looks like it approaches over 4 inches), with a notch placed quite low compared to most brands. B&Tailor goes a step further by making the notch’s “mouth” go pretty wide (almost a full 90 degrees) yet without making it go too far into the body of the lapel. The resulting “droopy notch” not only makes the chest appear fuller but it appears to be lifted directly from the detailing on a 30s-40s suit. For their peak lapels, they maintain the width but again place the peak low. While models definitely vary, Chad and the rest of the B&Tailor crew tend to favor a peak that juts out far from the collar, recalling both vintage designs and the treatment favored by Polo Ralph Lauren in its early days. Whether it’s a notch or peak lapel, the lines are accentuated with a slightly lower lowered buttoning stance for a classic look (which is pretty 1940s to me).

The high rise is standard for B&Tailor (a trait that extends to even their Chadprom denim), which is always a sign of classic style. In fact, the rise seems higher than most, appearing to sit a little above the navel. Pleats are also a welcome sight among their tailoring, which when combined with a fuller leg, makes for an “old school” look. Most of the complaints about vintage style usually concern how baggy trousers can look, but luckily B&Tailor ensures that they are expertly tailored, done with a shivering break to prevent pooling at the ankle and a hearty cuff.

While we can talk about the cuts and designs of their suits, the real style comes in how they wear it and how they spruce it up with accessories. If you go on any of their social media platforms, you’ll see that they always prefer long collars, whether it’s pinned, a button-down, or a spread; in general, a longer collar makes for an “older look,” evoking the spearpoint collars. They match their shirts with a variety of great sevenfold ties, in foulards, abstract prints, and colorful stripes. Like I said before, wearing these with a striped shirt brings to mind the styles of the 1930s-1940s where there was a lot of similar styling. The look can be a bit bold for some (especially compared to the minimal approach from Brycelands), but they carry the look with confidence.

They also have a few novelty pieces that I feel are directly lifted from casual 1940s-1950’s styles. One example, in particular, is their Hollywood waist trousers, complete with “dropped loops”. This design, which is essentially a continuous waistband with loops placed fractions of an inch below the top, was a trend in the mid-1940s until the 1950s, worn by young men with extremely thin belts. It strikes me as particularly interesting move since most gentlemen today prefer suspenders or side tabs for keeping their trousers up.

Keeping with this casual vintage design, they’ve also done a few runs of cuban collar shirts, which have been increasingly popular during the past year. While they are technically known as cuban collars to most, I’ve always called them “loop collars” since vintage pieces have the top button fastened via a loop rather than a normal buttonhole cut into the fabric. They wear them their tailoring, which makes for a cool, sartorial-casual look that skews more vintage-inspired due to their fuller cut.

They also have a few idiosyncrasies that make their style unique; at some points, they experimented with multi-stripe vintage fabric, which was the norm back in the Golden Era (flat, plain suits weren’t common). They’ve also created cropped sweaters and jackets that are just begging to be worn with high rise trousers. Their love of turtlenecks even brings to mind some 1960s-1970s inspired looks. A big one is their latest preference for designing DBs that can be rolled to a 6×1 configuration. While these were a trend in the 1930s-1940s, it’s most commonly seen from Armani in 1980s-90s, emphasized further by their bold (power?) tie combos. B&Tailor keeps this vibe going by wearing their high waisted, light wash denim with their tailoring. Who would have thought that the 1980s-90s have a place in classic menswear?

I could keep writing about the observations that I’ve seen from B&Tailor, but the best thing to do is to look at the pictures and see it for yourself. There’s something about this brand that seems old school and yet not anachronistic at all, as they take their cues from different eras and mix them together to create such a unique look not just with the sartorial designs, but with the styling. Even Chad Park’s glasses skip around with different styles. In any case, I think they’re a good source of inspiration, not only for regular wear but for a great indication of making vintage-inspired style look wearable (and elegant) in the modern day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.