Dress pants and trousers are often neglected when it comes to fit. While the jacket receives most of the attention, a well-fitting pair of pants is a piece of art. While some legs are easier to fit properly than other, certain aspects of a nicely fitting pair of pants can be achieved by anyone. In today’s guide we discuss how pants should fit, what mistakes you should avoid and what you must pay attention to, in order to end up with perfectly fitting pants, khakis or trousers.
When do Pants Fit Well?
In general, you want your trousers to fit well but what exactly does that mean?
- They shouldn’t be too loose and baggy, nor skin tight.
- 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
- They must have the right circumference around your waist, seat, thigh, knee and ankle.
- You want clean lines and as few wrinkles as possible
- Pleats should not gap.
- The most difficult part of the fit of pants is the back view when you do not wear a jacket.
- In my experience, pants that sit on the natural waist have a more flattering fit than pants which are cut low.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Common Pants Fit Issues
If you see these kinds of wrinkles, your pants are too tight in the seat. Have the seat seam opened up if you have enought fabric reserve.
Interestingly, when you stand you won’t notice any issues, however when you sit, you end up with bunching rolls of fabric in the fly area and lap. Even a perfectly fitting pair of trousers will show some wrinkles when you sit, that can’t be avoided. If you wear pleated pants, you will see more wrinkles than on flat-front pants. If you think you have too much material in this area, consult with an alterations tailor. The cause for this issue can be manifold.
If you can see these wrinkles in pants, chances are the wearer has a very upright posture and the pants were not adjusted properly for him. You may also see that the trousers may cling to the wearer’s legs in the back. It’s difficult to fix on existing RTW trousers because the issue is the angle of the seat. However, if you commission a custom garment, be it MTM or bespoke, you should speak up to the tailors if you see this defect.
It may not look like it at first, but the reason for the rope creases is a tightness in the seat seam. It has to be let out and reshaped with a heavy iron. Also, it could be that your suspenders / braces are pulling too much. Make sure to loosen them a little first to see if that fixes the issue.
Horseshoe folds occur, if the underside of the trousers is cut too close to the wearer’s thigh. You may also see diagonal creases on the inside of your thighs and your pants will probably stick to the calves. You will see this defect on men with an erect posture and strong calves. It’s not an easy fix but essentially, you need more length in the front of the trouser, so the back looks normal.
If you can see wrinkles like this when you are seated, chances are your pants will restrict the wearer in the area of the knee when walking. The issue is once again the proper seat angle, and you will definitely have to consult a good alterations tailor.
Creases geneally start in the croth area and continue vertically left and right of the fly. If you encounter these folds, the trousers are too big for the wearer. Have it adjusted in the seat, crotch and side seams.
Types of 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?