How Pants Should Fit

Most of the time, menswear aficionados focus on the construction and fit of jackets and neglect the pants. While a coat has much more details and a greater degree of workmanship a well fitting pair of pants is not just comfortable but it looks the part. While it is manageable to get a pair of pants that is close to perfection, a truly well fitting pair of pants remains unusual. Hence, today’s post is about the fit of pants.

When do Pants Fit Well?

In general, you want your trousers to fit well but what exactly does that mean?

  1. They shouldn’t be too loose and baggy, nor skin tight.
  2. They must have the proper inseam length, which means neither too short nor too long. A slight break is great but not required. A big break means your pants are too long
  3. They must have the right circumference around your waist, seat, thigh, knee and ankle.
  4. You want clean lines and as few wrinkles as possible
  5. Pleats should not gap.
  6. The most difficult part of the fit of pants is the back view when you do not wear a jacket.
  7. In my experience, pants that sit on the natural waist have a more flattering fit than pants which are cut low.
  8. No matter how well a pair of pants fits, over the course of the day it will move. A belt and side-adjusters will help to keep it in place, but only a pair of suspenders can guarantee a great fit all day long.
  9. Some people like wider cut trousers, others like a trimmer cut but both can fit well. Of course, a pair or very trim pants will have to be slightly shorter as a break would just look awkward. Moreover, it is harder to achieve a perfect fit with slim trousers.
  10. Lightweight fabric trousers will wrinkle much more quickly and look like they do not fit as well as an identical pair of pants cut from heavier wool or tweed fabric that drapes and hangs well.

At the end of the day, you want to look good, and that means clean, elegant lines and as few wrinkles as possible.

Perfectly fitting suit

Perfectly fitting suit and pants with a clean line and minimal break.

What Style Is Right For You? The one That Suits You

Skinny trousers may be en vogue right now, but they are only suited to men with narrow waists, thin legs, and a medium height. That’s pretty narrow! Furthermore, recent trends suggest to avoid high waisted trousers, pleats and other “old-fashioned” styles, but the fact is that these features flatter most gentlemen, especially if they are not the slimmest anymore.

Modern-classic with perfectly tailored, pleated pants

Modern-classic with perfectly tailored, pleated pants, turn-ups/cuffs a basically no break. These are not too short, but it is simply a stylistic choice

Components of Pants

Each component of a pair of pants will directly affect the fit.

  • Waistband: the strip of fabric sits around your midsection.
  • Front & Seat: the area around your butt, between the waistband and upper thighs
  • Rise: the measurement between the legs from the front of the waistband to the back; Low rise sits on the hip, mid-rise between the navel and hip, and high rise sit at the natural waist ( close to the belly button or directly on it)
  • Cut: the style of the trouser with regards to how close-fitting it is to the body
  • Inseam: the finished length of the legs of the pants, measured from the inside seam

Unfortunately, of the 5 major fit points on a pair of pants, only the last one, length, can be easily adjusted by an alterations tailor. Most modern pants are cut and sewn with little excess fabric, meaning that very few measurements can be altered on pants, with the exception of the hem. Only vintage or bespoke pants *may* have enough excess fabric to take out the seat and legs. You can never change the rise.

As a result, it’s important to find pants that fit you as well as possible from the get go. Bear in mind. If you buy something that was not tailored for you, it will always require alterations.

Mid brown Peacoat, skinny olive khaki pants, contrasting sockls

These chinos are too tight around the knees and wrinkle a lot

How Pants Should Fit

When you try on pants, the protocol for assessing rather fit can be rather quick, even if the list seems long. Remember to wear the relevant accessories with them, such as a shirt, belt, braces, socks, and shoes, so that you can determine not only if they fit well but also if they suit the desired ensemble and the other items you’ll wear with them. Make sure to sit, stand, lean over, put on your shoes, and any other motions that you go through regularly.

If you are trying on dress pants, bring dress shoes and not tennis shoes or driving mocs because otherwise, it is much more difficult to find the right length.

  • Waistband: The waistband should sit comfortably around your waist, but snug enough to keep your shirt tucked in
    • Too tight: the waistband gives you a muffin top or is restrictive
    • Too big: you can pinch more than an inch of material around the waistband, and it slides down after a few steps. If that’s the case, have the alterations tailor make the waistband slimmer. Also, you need a belt to hold them up, or you can leave a bit of room and opt for suspenders. Some men like suspenders because the pants effectively rest on the shoulders, and even if you walk all day or if you lose some weight, the pants will still fit very well. You can even have a slightly loose waistband and gain a little weight, without problems.
  • Front & Seat: the area around your butt should allow you to sit comfortably
    • Too tight: x-wrinkles appear around the fly and/or your pockets gap. When you sit, you feel constricted in the thigh.
    • Too big: excess fabric begins to wrinkle or hang in folds around your seat and upper tights
  • Rise: the rise, whether it’s low, mid or high, should suit your comfort standards and stay in place when you move
    • Too tight: the fit is uncomfortable and your pleats gap
    • Too big: if the pants tent excessively or fold over in places
  • Cut: the cut should flatter your waist, thighs, and calves, all the way down to the ankle; assess how the fabric drapes due to the cut. If your calves show through, you need a wider cut.
    • Too tight: the fabric clings awkwardly to the knee, seat, or calves, and forms wrinkles or creases
    • Too big: the material bags or folds around the seat or upper thighs; the width of the pant leg is so wide that it makes you appear out of proportion, and it covers a large portion of your shoes.
  • Inseam: Pants length is a matter of preference within boundaries. Most older men wear their pants too long, most young men too short. The classic look ranges from no break in front and back to a slight break in the front.
    • Too short: the entire ankle is exposed
    • Too long: if your pants have a break in the back, they are too long.

Types of Pants

Allen Edmonds chukka boots in sand paired with houndstooth flannel 3-piece suit

Dress pants shouldn’t be too tight due to their more formal nature

Dress Pants

If you decide to opt for turn-ups aka cuffs, the amount is up to personal preference. The classic spectrum is between 1.5″ – 2.5″  (3.75 – 6.25cm). While cuffs or turn-ups are often the standard with dress pants these days, going cuffless is always a bit more formal.

As mentioned above you can either go with a break or without. In my opinion, the best way to handle the question of a break is to opt for a slanted hem. That means the back is longer than the front. That way, the back ends just above the heel of your shoe, and the front has not or just a light break.

Pants with two inward pleats and a continuous waistband

Pants with two inward pleats and a continuous waistband

If your pants are cuffed, avoid a break because otherwise, it looks ill-fitting. Unfortunately, it is not possible to have true turn-ups cuffs with slanted hems. Hence, if you want slanted cuffs, your tailor will have to create faux cuffs, which requires additional fabric. Hence it is usually something you can only get from a bespoke tailor. If you get bespoke trousers, the tailor can . If they’re not, then you ideally want a small break where the pant sits perfectly at the top of the dress shoe. The rise of trousers should sit above the hip bone or higher, in a mid- to high-rise, so that they pair well with a suit jacket. Low rise skinny pants of recent trends, when too extreme, throw off the proportions of a suit, elongating the body and shortening the legs.

If you are a slim chap, you can get away with flat front pants but if you are a seasoned gentleman or if you have fuller thighs, go pleated; it will be more comfortable and look more flattering. Personally, I prefer two inward pleats, sometimes with a continuous waistband.

Always bear in mind that thinner fabrics look less flattering than heavier ones on pants.

Business Casual Outfit by Hogtownrake - Single Breasted Blazer with popover shirt, cotton pocket square, khakis and brown tassel loafers

Business Casual Outfit by Hogtownrake – Single Breasted Blazer with popover shirt, cotton pocket square, perfectly fitting khakis/chinos and brown tassel loafers

Chinos and Corduroys

Chinos and cords generally sit at around the same spot as dress trousers, directly above your hip bones. Recent trends have seen chinos sold in a low-rise version that’s become popular, but if you do wear them to work, we suggest a more classic cut. It will look far better with a shirt tucked in than the low cut styles.

Tan corduroys with cordovan boots

Tan corduroys with cordovan boots

Although both cords and chinos can be worn closer to the body than dress pants, the cotton material will clearly show when the trouser is too snug. As far as the break goes, if you’re wearing a traditional or conservative cut, it’s a good plan to go for a slight break. However, if you do enjoy the look of skinny chinos you can skip the break entirely.

Denim Jeans

Since jeans are the most popular pants on the planet, there is quite a range of styles that can be chosen. They should be worn in a mid- to low-rise, though some men with love for vintage clothes will swear by high rise denim.

For larger men, you may find it’s more comfortable to wear the jeans at the same height as your dress trousers. When it comes to the fit, jeans – unlike some other pants – should stay relatively consistent down each leg of the trousers. They should ideally taper as they go down the leg, so you don’t end up with jeans that hug the hips but are baggy in the calves. When it comes to jeans, no break to a full break is ok, but most men wear them too long, sometimes even stepping on them when walking. Simply have them hemmed to the proper length at the alterations tailor.

Also, the slimmer the jeans are, the less break you should have.

Brown work boots with denim jeans

Brown work boots with denim jeans with a break

Final Tips for Great-Fitting Pants

Don’t buy “goal” pants. Yes, you may have a goal to lose a few pounds, but there is no reason to tie up money in your closet that you can’t – and might not be able to – wear. Don’t buy these even if they are sale because chances are they will never fit.

Navy pants, burgundy vest and tweed jacket - business casual in the fall

Pleated pants can be a subtle, and even modern, way to add interest to an outfit

Don’t be afraid of pleats. They may not be trendy at the moment, but pleats have their uses. Not only are they well suited to more formal attire such as morning wear and double-breasted suits, this feature is perfect for any man with muscular thighs or a few pounds on the hips. If you wear your jackets to the proper length as in, not the trendy short jackets that only cover half your seat, then pleats are a good option.

Crockett & Jones Chadwick 2 Monk Strap with silver buckle, blue linen pants and blue and navy striped socks

Cuffed blue linen pants add a touch of sophistication to casual fabrics such as linen

Likewise, don’t be afraid of cuffs or turn-ups. A pair of solid-colored, flat-fronted pants with no cuffs can look rather plain, especially if paired with a simple single breasted jacket or other solid materials. Cuffs add interest to otherwise simple ensembles and add a point of interest, especially with dark pants.

Inseam and waist measurements are essential

Inseam and waist measurements are essential to know offhand

Know your measurements. We’ve recommended this many times before, but knowing your real measurements is always helpful with regards to obtaining great fit. It’s also easy to think you’re one size when you are in fact another. If you’re not a fan of trying on ten pairs of pants in the store, then keep your measurements handy and order online. That way you can try on the pants in the comfort of your home or better at your alterations tailor with a proper mirror so you can see how the pants fit from all sites.

Don’t take pants size at face value. Think you’re a 34″ waist? The measuring tape may read 34″, but pants labeled with 34″ waist measurements are often not a true 34″.  Menswear, like women’s wear, has become susceptible to vanity sizing, so a 34″ may measure a 35″ or even 36″ or just 33.5″. Sometimes you can even encounter size fluctuations from the same brand!

Color, texture and hats at Pitti Uomo 88 - photo by Pitti Uomo

The Peacocks of Pitti Uomo favor extremely short and tight pants that won’t work for most men

Length is crucial. We can’t emphasize this enough that length is key. A properly hemmed pair of pants will balance the proportion of your entire look, and they can draw the eye to the other details of your ensemble, such as socks or shoes. Learn how to combine shoes, socks and pants here.

 

 

Pants fit but are still wrinkly? The fabric is the likely culprit. Fabric, in general, is growing increasingly lighter with time as preferences for lightweight, non-restrictive clothing increases.

The downside of lighter fabrics is the loss of “drape” or the ability of the fabric to hang neatly over the body. Lightweight fabrics cling to socks and underwear and don’t have enough weight to straighten themselves out again like a heavier fabric would. If a pair of pants is still unattractively clingy or wrinkly even though you know they fit well; the fabric is likely the source of the issue.

Lightweight fabrics often drape poorly

Lightweight fabrics often drape poorly and perpetually look wrinkled

Conclusion

Pants are underrated although a properly fitting pair of pants is the epitome of elegance. Make sure to pay attention to your fit and always have them altered if you buy off the rack.

What are your pants fit challenges? What kind of break do you prefer on your trousers?

Summary
How Pants Should Fit
Article Name
How Pants Should Fit
Description
A detailed look at how men's dress pants, chinos, corduroys, and jeans should fit including tips and trips on looking great.
Author
Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette
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23 replies
  1. Brady J. Frey says:

    For me, the problem is calves. I have a perpetual problem with calf sizes in dress pants. I played sports most of my life, and am athletic in build. At times, slim or ‘tailored’ off-the-shelf pants will look great around my waist, but tighten on my calves (or catch on my ankle socks). I will not go near skinny. Regular cuts may be baggy, thus resorting to tailoring, or trying to find a subtle taper. I’m at the point where I’m thinking anything but made-to-measure in the dress pant arena is a waste of money for me, unfortunately.

    Reply
    • Matt D says:

      As much as I hate to admit, I’m going toward Van Heusen’s “stretch fit” pants. Especially given the alarming lack of competent tailors. Tailoring like a great many things, has become a dying art. After playing ice hockey for many years, I hear you, my lower legs are totally out proportion! And quads force you trousers up every time you sit down…

      Other than bespoke..?

      Reply
  2. David van Schaik says:

    Are the pants with the inward pleats worn with the burgundy vest bespoke? I am thinking of getting dressier pants just made for me from now on as modern trends ruined all proper aesthetics. As a 20 year old with bigger thighs and buttocks than most men (although I’m not fat), I have so much trouble finding pants that drape like they should around my waist and thighs. One question I also have is with pockets. How much stuff do you put in your dress pants’ pockets? Men these days put their large cellphones and clunky wallets together in one pocket even which makes the waist area look out of proportions. Nowadays we don’t wear jackets all the time in which we could store our phones and wallets more properly.

    Reply
    • PJ says:

      Don’t put anything in dress pant pockets. Ever. Use a stylish e.g. Mulberry over the shoulder messenger type man’s pocket bag.

      Reply
  3. Don says:

    Glad to see that you advise a little break on the length…..the sloppy, too long look never looked right. Glad to see pleats too, I’m glad I saved my pleated slacks from years ago, they always looked so right

    Reply
  4. suzanne says:

    I’m so sorry you did not talk about men with larger waistlines. It is wonderful you give us great guidelines for the thinner man, which I admit apply to larger men, but they themselves have special needs. Please address them. Thank you ..

    Reply
  5. Andrew Gregg says:

    Greetings,
    Although some think it unfashionable, I still prefer pleats, a full break, and standard cuffs. My suits are worn with braces and standard dress shoes. I am sixty years of age, 6’2″, 200 lbs. None of my colleagues dress professionally, despite the fact that their career arcs would benefit if they did. I guess those trouser preferences have evolved over forty years of enduring fashion vicissitudes from leisure suits, aircraft carrier lapels, skinny leather ties, shoulder pads, platform shoes, and “Casual Fridays.”
    Regards,
    Andy Gregg,
    Palm Springs, CA

    Reply
    • Matt D says:

      “aircraft carrier lapels” Lol! Too funny.

      Perhaps you can share Sven’s “100 Things That Improve When You Dress Nice” list! Casual Friday should remain for those that *earned* it. Landing big accounts, winning big cases etc. Not just because it’s Friday. I think that’s where the wheels feel off.

      We understand when you get called into the firm on a short notice/Saturday etc. It happens. But constantly looking like we caught you doing lawn work? FWIW, I still prefer pleats on pretty much everything, save for the tux!

      Reply
  6. Bill says:

    How does the saying go? The enemy of perfection is acceptable. This is how I Now approach the alterations of my trousers. Ideally, I would prefer absolutely no break with the cuff just touching the top of my shoe. The problem, as your article properly points out, is that trousers move and sag throughout the day. Invariably, the “perfect” length I had hoped for often looks poor fitting. Therefore, I now have my dress trousers altered with a 1 3/4″ cuff with a slight break. I find the fit is better and the slight added weight of the cuff causes the pants to drape well. I also often alter trousers to be worn with braces. Honestly, I find this is the most comfortable way to wear trousers. For chinos and other less dressy pants, I often go with a slightly narrower cuff of 1 1/2″. This tends to look better with the more slim cut casual trouser.

    Reply
  7. Rollo says:

    I think you are missing something about the rise of pants. If you have a long torso/short legs, yo need to wear a higher rise pant to balance your proportions. If you have long legs and a short torso you should go with a lower rise so that you don’t look like a stump on to legs.

    Reply
  8. Robert Jones says:

    In the UK, where I live, it’s become almost impossible to find well-cut trousers (pants for us mean underpants of course, and this can introduce a certain amount of mirth into discussions with US readers/writers). It’s not just the trousers, but a well-known firm here showed an advertisement featuring young men (they always ARE young men, even though the young have less disposable income! ) in jackets which hardly threatened their buttocks, so short were they, waistcoasts that floated at least 2 inches above their belts, and trousers in line with the pubic bone, never mind the hip-bone. Who on earth they thought was going to buy this absurd combination I don’t know, but it certainly wouldn’t be me. I can sometimes buy jackets that will fit – it may be worth mentioning the mass-market Skopes brand, which still offers jackets with room to breathe, but I’ve had trousers made to measure in recent years – because while my real waist, ie below the ribs but in line with the navel, is 40″ (and unfortunately has been for some ten years) if I bought trousers with a 40″ waist that weren’t specifically high-rise (and try getting those off the peg!) I could never do them up; so a “waist” measurement for lower-fitting trousers could be anything, given the approximate fit in which manufacturers indulge, from 42″ – rather tight – to 44″ – generally too loose.

    As for alterations tailors – they’re almost impossible to find outside of the bigger cities, and they seem to be dying out even there. I should be delighted if you would bring your crusade for better, comfortable, elegant clothing, in which this country used to excel, to England: I know that we can access your website of course, and I often do, but if only you had an outlet in this country and exercised greater influence over mens’ tailoring here, some of these trends for skimpily-made clothes designed to fit a drainpipe and in fabrics that wouldn’t survive the ravages of a stiff breeze might be challenged. Well, I can hope!

    Reply
    • Dean says:

      Hello Robert,
      Try Oliver Brown and Cordings of Piccadilly. Both are in London and online if the big smoke is too far. Failing that might I suggest buying from the US or Australia as they run standard sizing up to 44″. Both countries run a size larger which can be a flattering experience, though I must admit that Oz is a bit of a sartorial dustbowl, so unless you desire board shorts we should be given a wide berth.

      As for tailoring. I now do my own. Needs must Mate, needs must.

      Reply
    • Les says:

      Mostly agree with your comments. If you are near Bristol there are at least two very good alterations tailors.
      I now use David Minns at Brown in Town for my tailoring, trousers and shirts have never fitted so well. Not likely to buy these items of the peg ever again.

      You might want to checkout Simon Cromptons blog, PermanentStyle.

      Kind regards

      Reply
  9. Andrew Brown says:

    The universal problem tall men with long legs share are pants not having a long enough inseam that supports the addition of cuffs.

    Reply
  10. Mickey G says:

    Good article and thank you for your opinion on the cuffs. I like them but felt they were out of fashion. Changed my mind on that one. Pleats are great, however if you have put on a few kilos then they just advertise the fact. As for denim, I like the crumple look, except around the bum. I also feel you should never iron jeans, if so, they will lack street credibility, still, nothing is better than putting on freshly laundered jeans that feel a little tight a first, but then become a second skin. Not too tight, but not too loose.
    Thank you Mr Schneider, love your work.

    Reply
  11. Belgraviadave says:

    Lots of excellent advice here. The one thing missing is zipper length advice. For rise, follow the this formula and you can’t go wrong. Waistline one inch above the navel X 18/52. For the zipper, multiply the rise by 12/18. Stamford Clothiers in Leeds, England will make trousers in a traditional cut with the right rise at a fair price.

    Reply
  12. Jerry says:

    I particularly like the fit of Dockers D2 cut pants however, they are not available in other than cotton or cotton blend. Are there dress pants, preferably wool or wool blend, with a similar cut to of the Dockers D2?

    Reply

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  1. […] Let’s say you get a suit that is wider on top that has wider lapels. You also want wider pants. If you go with a slimmer lapel, let’s say about 3 inches, make sure your pants are also cut […]

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