The Gentleman: Suiting Up

To Pleat or Not to Pleat

This week, the Gentleman had hoped to show everyone some photos from his End of Summer/House Warming party. After having the party pushed back a week, I had another disappointment on Saturday night: although the party was great, no one wore anything interesting enough to blog about! Do not fear, I have several exciting events that I will be attending in the coming months where there are sure to be stylish people, including a black tie dinner, that will be blogged about.

I was looking through my closet a couple of days ago and realized that I was desperately short on trousers. The only pants I own that I could wear during autumn and winter is a single pair of khakis and two pairs of jeans (one nice, the other less so). Of course, I own several pairs of suit trousers, but I try to avoid wearing those without their accompanying jackets in the hopes of preserving the life of the suit. In the coming weeks, I plan to pick up a couple of wool dress trousers to better complete my wardrobe.

Aside from material, the most obvious and important style considerations for trousers are pleats and cuffs. Of the two, pleats have become a bit misunderstood. Today, they are viewed alternately as too dressy or too frumpy. The Gentleman would like to clear up a few misconceptions about pleats and explain how they have their particular purpose in some gentlemens’ wardrobes.

Pleats are folds in the fabric of a pair of trousers that begin at the waist and vanish about midway down the thigh. Some men’s dress pants have a single row of pleats, others feature two rows of pleats (double-pleated), while still others have no pleats at all (flat front trousers). Today, flat front trousers are more “fashionable,” however, both pleated and flat front trousers are classic and each have their defenders. Because The Gentleman is more interested in what makes a timeless and practical wardrobe, he will not write off pleats just because they’re not trendy at the moment. Instead, we should examine the purpose of pleats and think about who they suit best.

Here is an example of each type, a pleated trouser and a flat front trouser:

Pleated Trouser: Brooks Brothers

Flat Front Trousers: Ralph Lauren

The first thing you should notice when comparing the two types of trousers is that pleated pants are worn a bit higher. This is the key to understanding the pleat. As may be intuitive, the waistband of a pair of pleated trousers is meant to be worn at a man’s waist. There seems, however, to be a misconception about where the waist is; it is about an inch below a man’s belly button, varying depending on the man’s height. Traditionally, men wore their trousers at their waist, but today many men wear their trousers sitting on their hips. This makes a big difference when it comes to whether you want to wear flat front or pleated trousers.

On most bodies, the waist is the narrowest part of your body and your hips the widest. If you wear your trousers at the waist, you’ll need them to flare out slightly at your hips and then taper down through the leg. Pleats perform this feat admirably as the folds open up slightly through the hips and then disappear through the leg. However, if you are wearing your pleated trousers at the hips as many men do today, you’ll be stuck with baggy folds of fabric below the widest part of your body, exactly where you don’t want it. I believe that men improperly wearing pleated trousers on their hips has led to the impression that pleats are baggy and frumpy, which has decreased their popularity of late.

If we understand that pleated trousers are meant to be worn at the waist and flat front trousers at the waist or the hips, the question becomes: where do you want to wear your trousers and which of the two styles of pants is the most flattering for your body type?

A man with a bit more weight in his middle will benefit the most from wearing pleated trousers at his waist. This is because his belly probably sticks out a bit more at his waist and the pants will sit there nicely and fall directly in an even drape to his shoes. The pleats will provide enough room and comfort through the hips without looking gigantic and baggy the way flat front trousers would. He will also avoid the problem of having his belly protrude over the waistband of his pants the way it would if they are worn on his hips, an increasing problem with today’s ubiquitous flat front pants.

A slimmer man need not fear wearing pleats either, but may benefit more from the cleaner, slimmer look of flat front pants. As they sit on the hips, the trousers will complement his slimmer physique more than pleated pants do. The only type of man who needs to avoid pleats are very tall, thin men. Sitting a pair of pleated trousers high up on a tall man’s waist extends his legs in a way that often makes him look silly.

When we understand the distinction between wearing trousers at the waist and at the hips, it becomes obvious why both pleated and flat front trousers are classic styles. They do different things for different men.

I’m certainly not a heavy guy, but I’m not as thin as I was in college. I’ve traditionally worn flat front trousers and probably will continue to, but when I try on dress pants in the next few weeks, I’ll take a few pairs of pleated trousers into the dressing room and give them a chance to make their case.

Next time: The Gentleman spends two weeks trying out two new pairs of fall dress shoes…

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2 Comments

Filed under The Gentleman

2 responses to “The Gentleman: Suiting Up

  1. Sara

    I opened this entry with a staunch anti-pleat attitude but you definitely lessened that up a bit! I now agree that when worn at the proper height, they definitely work!

  2. The Gentleman

    Thanks for the comment.

    I was actually firmly in the anti-pleat camp too before I did a bit of research on the topic. I’d seen gentlemen from the 1940s and 50s wearing pleats and looking quite dapper (Fred Astaire comes to mind) and knew that there had to be something to them.

    -Steve

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