Should Men Wear Pleated Pants

Should Men Wear Pleated Pants?

British born actor Cary Grant (1904 – 1986) walking outdoors wearing a pinstripe jacket and a hat, 1940s. (Photo by Getty Images)

For some, the very mention of pleated pants is enough to evoke flashbacks to the worst menswear fashions of the ‘80s and ‘90s. With current trends favoring flat-front cuts, the question of whether you should wear pleats today is often answered with a resounding “no.” It’s time we shed our existing negative perceptions and rethink pleated pants; you can definitely wear them, and we’ll tell you how.

What are Pleated Pants?

In the world of menswear, pleats can be defined as gathered folds of fabric located below the waist, in the area known as the rise, or simply the front, on a pair of trousers. On flat-front trousers, as the name states, the fabric in this area is smooth. Pleats can either be forward facing, in which the folded fabric points inward, toward the fly of your pants, or reverse—pointing in the direction of the pockets. The British style generally favors inward-facing pleats whereas pants in a more Italian, specifically, Neapolitan style usually face outward. In terms of which is better, forward pleats usually receive less criticism as they tend to remain flat, while outward ones may open and stay open, resulting in ballooning fabric. The number of pleats that you have can vary: usually, one or two, though some men have experimented with three and even four pleats.

Double inward-facing pleats on Styleforum.

Double inward-facing pleats on Styleforum.

Why Do Pleated Pants Have a Bad Reputation?

The short answer is that they are simply out of style. In line with the material excesses of the ‘80s, pants from that decade often displayed an excess of material in the form of pleats. Because pleats gather extra fabric in the rise area of a pair of pants, below the waist, if too much fabric is added there it can result in unsightly ballooning in the groin area. Some poor trouser designs also expanded this concept, rather literally, to create more room throughout the pants, especially in the legs. This resulted in a baggy, voluminous garment stereotypically identified with middle-management drones wearing big khakis on casual Friday.

on Johnson wearing pleated pants (and a large shouldered jacket) typical of the 1980s.

Don Johnson wearing pleated pants (and a large shouldered jacket) typical of the 1980s.

However, if you look at menswear fashion illustrations, advertisements or actors from earlier eras, you’ll often see fuller garments and an abundance of pleats that make them look sharp. Cary Grant wore suits with pleated pants as did Sean Connery in the role of James Bond. Thus, the disdain for pleated pants nowadays stems from the overall preference for slimmer and more fitted looks rather than anything inherently wrong with pleats. Some of the scorn is a matter of generational bias. Pleated pants are weighed down with the connotations of being traditional and stodgy, what your parents or grandparents wore, the garment of old men, as opposed to the youthful minimalism of slim, flat-fronted pants. Gentleman’s Gazette readers, who enjoy classic style, are less likely to reject pleated pants on the basis of traditionalism, but those who do prefer contemporary style will also find versions that appeal to them.

Vintage illustration of suits featuring double pleats from Kuppenheimer, a menswear retailer based in Chicago, photographed by John Blah.

Vintage illustration of suits featuring double pleats from Kuppenheimer, a menswear retailer based in Chicago, photographed by John Blah.

Pleated Pants Today

Some of the issues of past decades have been solved simply by putting pleats on an otherwise more close-fitting pair of trousers, and beginning around 2016 we began seeing these on the designer menswear runways. However, regardless of the vagaries and vacillations of fashion from decade to decade or year to year, it is always possible to find moderately cut pleated pants that are in the “Goldilocks zone”–just right–neither too slim nor too loose fitting and thus timeless. When seeking enduring style, it’s hard to go wrong, no matter your age,  by taking the middle ground, just like choosing a moderate lapel and tie width instead of going too skinny or too wide.

Simon Crompton of Permanent Style wearing Ambrosi pleated pants with a moderate cut

Simon Crompton of Permanent Style wearing Ambrosi pleated pants with a moderate cut

So, Who Should Wear Pleated Pants?

Because of the extra fabric directly below the waist, those who want more comfort and ease of movement of the lower body would be wise to wear pleats. One situation that demands this is if you have some weight around your middle; pleats can help disguise this where more fitted flat-front pants would emphasize the shape of your belly. This is especially true if you wear your pants at your natural waist rather than low on your hips. The extra fabric provided by the pleats and the visual details they offer is enough to hide the size of your waistline.

In the case of Sven Raphael Schneider, he favors pleated pants for a reason that many men experience: they have thicker thighs that are simply not accommodated by modern, slimmer cuts.

Traditionally, pleats are recommended for thicker body types.

Traditionally, pleats are recommended for thicker body types.

On the other hand, it’s usually said that if you have a thin build, pleated pants are a risky proposition because wearing them will give you a baggy, unkempt appearance. However, this is only true if you go for cheap, mass-manufactured pleated pants that are loose all over. If you are lean and like pleats, you can pull off the look by emulating the Italians, especially the style of Naples. They wear pleated trousers with well-fitted legs and often in lighter weight fabrics that avoid a heavy, blousy look. The key is, again, to ensure the cut of the pants is not too full. Otherwise, the result will, at best, give you a definitively retro appearance or, at worst, make you look clownish.

Blogger Blue Loafers shows how pleated pants can look good on a thin frame if properly fitted.

Blogger Blue Loafers shows how pleated pants can look good on a thin frame if properly fitted.

If you frequent menswear forums and comment pages online, you’re likely to encounter the complaints of men who have developed large thighs or seats from working out and are trying to find well-fitting trousers. A simple solution for these guys might be to try wearing pleated pants. The fact that this isn’t usually proposed as an option speaks to the average person’s negative bias against the style. Hopefully, we can counteract this perception.

Interestingly, pleats can be useful both if you sit for a long time and if you are highly active. Long-term sitting, besides than increasing your risk of dying, can be more uncomfortable with the greater constriction of flat front pants. They eventually feel snug. On the other hand, if you have a job where you get up and down a lot and are moving about, the opening of the pleats can give you some extra mobility. Lastly, although it has been a rather taboo subject, it should also be mentioned that if you simply want more room for your privates, pleated pants will do the trick.

Paul Lux wearing trousers with open pleats.

Paul Lux wearing trousers with open pleats.

How to Wear Pleated Pants

In addition to choosing an appropriate overall fit, there are several things you can do when wearing pleated pants to enhance their appearance.

 

Start with Lighter Fabrics

To my eye, pleats look best on lighter-weight fabrics. The heavier weight of a material like flannel contributes to the sense of volume created by pleats and can lead to a more old-fashioned look. It can certainly still be done with winter-weight cloth, but proper fit is even more crucial. A cuff can also help add weight to the hem of heavier-weight pleated pants for a trimmer look.

Opt for Fewer Pleats

Single pleats on dress pants blend into and continue the crease that runs up the center of each leg. This creates a longer and sharper line than in flat front pants, where the crease is broken by the smooth rise. So, single pleats are safe, but double pleats can look more relaxed or may be required if your body type demands them.

Single pleated pants present an elegant continuous crease from hem to waistband.

Single pleated pants present an elegant continuous crease from hem to waistband.

Pair Pleats with a High Rise

The contemporary style of wearing pants at the hips with a low rise is more suitable to flat-front trousers than pleated ones. The added fabric and the pleats themselves generally create a higher rise on the finished garment, which requires wearing them around your waistline. Worn in this way, they also do their job of flattering and disguising a stomach that isn’t perfectly flat.

Pleated pants should be worn high on the waist.

Pleated pants should be worn high on the waist.

…with or without Cuffs

A search of images online will show a roughly 50-50 divide of pleated pants with or without cuffs. The idea behind getting cuffs is that they add visual weight and emphasis at the bottom of the trousers to counterbalance the appearance of pleats at the top. Cuffs do make the pants a bit more informal and some might see them as more traditional; for a more contemporary look, omit them.

Tailor Them with No Break

Given the potential associations of pleated pants with retro style, you’ll want to avoid a break to look modern. A break at the bottom of your trouser legs can enforce the perception of pleated trousers as sloppy looking. Moreover, a break, as the name suggests, interrupts the continuous crease down the front of your pants legs that a pleat can give you, so if you want to emphasize that sharp look, avoid a break. Lastly, if you decide on cuffs for your pleated pants, as with any pair of cuffed trousers, the convention is to have them just touching the top of your shoe.

Salvatore Ambrosi and Atte Rytkönen wearing suits with cuffed pleated trousers and no break.

Salvatore Ambrosi and Atte Rytkönen wearing suits with cuffed pleated trousers and no break.

Combine Pleated Pants with a Jacket

If you’re cautious about pleats, the easiest way to wear them would be with a jacket, usually as the bottoms of a suit. The jacket minimizes the visibility of the pleats but lets them do their job. They’re still a feature but not too obvious, and it looks like you could very well be wearing flat-front trousers if your jacket is buttoned. With a suit, you may want to go with inward pleats, because of their association with greater formality, and no cuffs. If you are bolder and want a stronger emphasis on your pleats, I recommend observing what the Neapolitan tailors do, especially Salvatore Ambrosi. Wear them high waisted with side adjusters along with an unbuttoned sport coat to carry a sense of summer sprezzatura or invoke a Mediterranean vibe. Alternatively, really flaunt your pleated pants by wearing them with a shirt alone, either a polo or a dress shirt with the collar unbuttoned and the sleeves rolled up.

Pleated trousers and a shirt with no jacket at Pitti Uomo

Pleated trousers and a shirt with no jacket at Pitti Uomo

Conclusion

Though it may be difficult to get the man on the street to choose pleated pants, those with a true appreciation of style and an interest in variety know their value. Ultimately, although pleated pants are especially suitable for specific body types, nearly any man can wear them–it’s just a matter of getting ones that fit well and trying them on yourself. Perhaps, if you don’t have them yet, you can broaden your wardrobe and expand your style. Are we “preaching to the choir”? Do you already enjoy pleated pants, or are they something you would take a pass on? Share your views!

 

Summary
Should Men Wear Pleated Pants?
Article Name
Should Men Wear Pleated Pants?
Description
For some, the very mention of pleated pants is enough to evoke flashbacks to the worst menswear fashions of the '80s & '90s; but it does not have to!
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Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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26 replies
    • Grayson Russell says:

      About to lose faith in you. Pleats have never been out of style & should always be cuffed. I personally prefer British pleats.

      Reply
        • Rob Perry says:

          Yep. Pleats fell out of favor during WWII when war needs beat out fashion needs. Plain fronts are for jeans and work chinos. Pleats are always in style, but not always the fashion. The close fitting suits of today are the fashion, and don’t necessarily partner well with pleats. That said, clothes should have some drape, not look like a fabric condom.

          Reply
        • Tim Cogswell says:

          I distinguish a difference between style and fashion. To me a particular style changes little (pleats, cuffs, lapel widths, gouge lines, button stature, etc.); what goes in and out of fashion is what changes. Thus, there are style dressers and fashion dressers and I am a style dresser (classic, traditional). People who desire the “latest” are fashion dressers. Sometimes I am in fashion; sometimes not… but what I wear does not change.

          Reply
          • Gerhardt van Schalkwyk says:

            You are so right. Being a style dresser means that you are always well dressed and do not look silly when a particular fashion falls from grace. Besides having a wardrobe full of clothes you do not want to wear anymore.

            Reply
  1. Andrew Gregg says:

    Greetings,

    I enjoy wearing pants with both single as well as double pleats. While flat front trousers are more popular presently, pleats give men another style option, which we really need. Pleats also lend a dressier look to one’s outfit. Jeans and chinos, decidedly casual choices, underscore their less dressy appeal inasmuch as they do not have pleats. Suits that have pleated trousers signal a nod to elevated style as well as comfort.

    Best regards,

    Andrew Gregg,
    Palm Springs, CA

    Reply
  2. Harvey Pincis says:

    Of course pleated trousers (being British) are not just classic, but comfortable. I am not overweight by any means, but while I am indebted not to the 80s and 90s, but in fashion to the 1920s and 30s, I also wish to be able to relax, even in formal attire. I think at the end of the day, if one is comfortable it will show and the fashion will work. If not, whatever one wears will look awkward and ‘wrong’.

    Reply
  3. Randall C Perry says:

    In my wardrobe for a thin fellow, I ALWAYS have pleated pants along with flat front – both trousers and walking shorts. You ask: Are we “preaching to the choir”?…NOT for persons of Style rather than fashion.

    Reply
  4. Martin Muchitsch says:

    Sir,
    I now have a few trousers without “pleats” (because you can´t buy any these days…); Nevertheless I agree with Mr. Russell and still think trousers for the elegant, stylish (“british”) man must have pleats and cuffs; you need a good tailor to make them right, of course, but they “look better” and certainly “feel better” when you are wearing them; and a “good tailor” will avoid all the “style excesses” that media promote and make suits and trousers you can wear for decades; kind regards, Martin (Vienna, AUT)

    Reply
  5. Alistair E Scott says:

    A confident man will wear what he feels good in. He cuts his own style. Pleats or no pleats. Cuffs or no cuffs. As the great YSL said, ‘Fashion fades. Style is eternal”.

    Reply
  6. Michael Staryk says:

    Pleated pants and shorts have been stylish. What is not stylish is people that are too fat to make anything look good. Am I politically polite? Of course not.

    Reply
  7. WH MALONE II says:

    I am a lifelong fan of pleated trousers. They provide that little extra comfort and style not seen in many of today’s trimmer cut trousers. Long live the pleated trouser !

    Reply
  8. Nicholas says:

    It’s important to consider what you like and what suits you rather than blindly pander to the vicissitudes of fashion.
    As a person with an odd hip-to-waist ratio of about 0.75, I find that trousers with a high rise, single inward pleats, and no cuffs look the best and I’ve had almost nothing but compliments.

    Reply
  9. David says:

    Unless it’s a pair of jeans, I won’t even buy trousers without pleats and cuffs. I buy dress trousers off the peg, a couple inches longer than I need. Then I can take them to my tailor and he can adjust the trousers as needed and put on a little taller cuff than what was originally on them.

    Reply
  10. Sam Exnicios says:

    Some men want fashion and can wear it well, some men want style
    and wear it well also. I would rather wear what looks good on me, and that is style with pleats.
    To me it looks better no matter where you go.

    Reply
  11. M K says:

    I guess with fashion I have always not worried what someone liked. The clothing and Fedora hats are nearly present in all of my wardrobe. I wear bow ties as well. I don’t own one pair of dress pants that aren’t pleated and cuffed. Perhaps I was just born at the wrong time. I have recently updated my wardrobe. The kind of money I laid out would prevent me from starting from scratch. So, in style or not. I will wear the pants with my Fedoras and be content.

    Reply
  12. Rodney says:

    Mr Perry is dead on. Pleats went out of fashion in America during the early sixties with JFK and the sack suit. Hats took a hit also. Then…..bell bottoms. Yea, I wore them as a teenager/young adult. Then flat front dress pants during the eighties. Sometime during the late eighties I purchased a nice pair of glen plaid slacks with pleats and cuffs. I believe Perry Ellis made them. I loved those pants. I’ve worn pleats ever since. I have made to measure and off-the-rack pants, always pleated and cuffed. I even have pleated, cuffed jeans. I made one concession to flat fronts with a nice grey off-the-rack flannel suit. With a 36 waist at 6 ft, 1 inch, and 210 pounds, I find pleats and cuffs give me the best profile. Thanks for delving into this subject.

    Reply
  13. Scott Reno says:

    I stopped wearing pleated trousers because they balloon out when I sit down. However, I do like the way they look when worn in the classic style with a suit. I might try them again with a higher waist to see how they look.

    Reply

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