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!
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.