Pleated Pants: Yay or Nay for Men’s Fashion?
What are pleats in pants? Are they the latest hottest trend, or should you avoid wearing them out, and to funerals. Today the Oliver Wicks team explores the world of pleated pants for men and everything you need to know to make the best style choices possible.
Men's pleated pants, and pants with pleats in general, took a hit in the 80s and 90s when they were a little 'extra' and ended up firmly in the dated pile. Yet men's pleated trousers still have a role in men's fashion today and, when worn well and tailored correctly, can be rather flattering on the right body.
Pleats pants for men are deliberately created straight folds of fabric over the stomach panel, instead of the 'flat front,' where it's simply the single layer of material pulled tight.
Getting the look of your waist right is essential in men's pants. It will also look different for every person, depending on your physique, what you typically wear on your upper body, and even fabric and color choices. So while pleated front trousers aren't for everyone or every occasion, they can look fantastic under the right circumstances.
In the 50s and 60s, you would never have suspended your pants at hip level, yet for the last two decades, that's precisely where even the most high-end tailored pants have been sitting. Now they're slowly creeping up again.
The waist height, along with the front and the leg cut, can make or break your look, and used smartly, can help you compensate for parts of your body you don't like. Unfortunately, if you're determined to look fashionable over anything else, you need to follow trends- which are still low waist and, mostly, flat-front trousers and shirts are slim fit. However, if you want to look your best, there's a lot of versatility to leverage to amp up what you like and tone down what you don't know about your physique.
Not all pleats are created equal. Pleats on pants can either face your zipper (called forward-facing pleats) or your pockets (reverse pleats). British-style pants favor forward pleats, while Italian/Neapolitan pants favor others. Typically, you find men's double pleated pants with two pleats, but anything from one side up to four can be found.
Pleats do bring shaping to the table, too. It's a common misconception that men have no shape in the waist-to-hip area. This is not true. We don't have women's curves, but many men are narrower at the waist than their buttocks, which fall away again to the hips. Pleats are an excellent way to shape the material to account for this without having every inch of the fabric cling to your form. As a result, you can have a snug waist but keep 'breathing room.' With this in mind, try several styles of pleats- both the direction, and the number, of the pleats can change how they fit on you.
Perhaps the best thing about pleated pants is that they can dress up or down effortlessly. They offer a nod to tradition, but without being too formal, and can be reinvented through a modern men's lens perspective.
It is worth noting that pleated pants, worn on the hips, don't look particularly good unless you have very long legs. This style will need at least a medium' rise' in the front, if not a high waist. This is an excellent way for men to balance out their leg and torso ratio, too. Hip-level pants can foreshorten the legs, which isn't that great if you are already long in the body.
Whatever you wear on top, try not to let it hang over the pants, except for a proper suit jacket or blazer, of course, which is open-fronted. Added bulk at the waist makes the pleats pointless and can give the illusion of a paunch. We also advise considering cuffs for your pleated pants, as it provides a nice visual counterbalance to the detail at the top. There's no better look for men who don't like to wear belts, as the pleats add visual interest.
You should also look for pants that don't have a 'break,' especially if you are cuffed. This ensures you keep modern and avoid the pleats contributing to a sloppy overall look.
If you're unsure whether you will enjoy pleats, look for pants in lighter fabrics, like linen, and try them first. A single pleat, which will typically align with your leg crease, is also an excellent way to experiment though, getting a custom fit will never hurt, this will ensure your pants are structured and look good on your body type.
The idea is to create a relaxed but not sloppy or lazy air. Tailoring will be worth its weight in gold here. We would avoid other casual men's accessories, like grenadine ties and let the pleats hold the show with crisper accessories.
For dressed-down pleat looks, think Mediterranean yachting, not slobbing around the house. Cuban collars, sleek cotton, and exciting color contrasts will help modernize the look. But, keep it clean-cut, and don't overwhelm yourself with other fussy details or a plethora of accessories.
Remember that if there's any objection to pleated pants, it's that they look old-fashioned. So accessorize and choose lines that are clean and modern. Save things like pocket watches and chunky knits for other outfits, as they would help contribute to an overall dated air. If your grandad would consider it, save it for flat fronts! On the other hand, crisp trainers or even well-cut, stylish, high-end hoodies have a modern feel that will lift the look.
Despite the relaxed look of pleats, we advise not getting too casual about it. Make sure you have pants that drape well and fit perfectly and keep crisp elements to the look so that you come over on-point and clean, not dated and sloppy. If you want to sharpen your image further, a good option is to look for a modern retro. Fedoras, alas, have picked up a rather negative modern connotation, but all hope is not lost for them if you choose wisely elsewhere, too. Especially for older men and clean-shaven young men, who can avoid the 'neckbeard' stereotype
Broader pinstripes, neat vests which are a great addition to most suit pieces, three-piece suits, and other retro-inspired items, but reworked for the modern eye, can carry this look well. Yes, there's a careful line to walk between intentionally retro and just dated, but done well, it's smashing.
We often see questions like 'can I remove pleats from pants' or 'how do I add pleats to pants.' The short answer is that it's not a great idea, either way. They're created differently from flat front pants, and trying to retcon a pleat, or reshape an existing pleat, is a bad idea. So instead, buy a piece created to look the right way.
In short, unless you're confident in creating your very own looks, we suggest leaning either to a bright-and-breezy Mediterranean Yacht/ Italian indifference feel, or a cleaner, modern-retro inspiration. Match your top to the air the pleats bring- crisp, heavier fabrics with clean suit lines, breezier, looser summer fabrics to cool cotton, and enjoy your pleats with confidence.
At the core, the choice between these two will come down to taste. However, we'd advise being very adaptable. Even if you like both looks, one is more appropriate in some circumstances, so it's good to have the versatility. Plus, it allows you to have more fun with style, and that's always good!
Flat-front pants have a trim and neat look in lower-rise men's pants, so if you like your pants to ride your hips, they are a better choice.
Remember that dressing artfully means balancing your whole look, not obsessing over one part. So it's good to consider what else you are wearing. For example, a very fussy jacket style- like a double-breasted suit or tuxedo is already an immense style detail. Here flat-fronted pants can provide a sleeker counterpoint and look good.
Pleated pants are often associated with a looser fit, but they don't have to be. You will also find more modern takes on the style in a slim fit.
- You may want to use pleated pants when you don't want to wear a belt, as it avoids bulk from both but still, brings interest to the waist.
- Pleated pants are an excellent addition to a business casual look, showing some dressiness without overwhelming.
- Similarly, they can be an amazing detail when wearing a blazer to add extra interest without the 'picture frame' of a full suit.
- While it may seem counterintuitive, we'd advise men with a heavier waistline to consider slim, neat pleats. A flat front can be too clinging and tight, creating the idea you're heavier than you are.
- While general advice is for slender men to avoid pleats, you can bypass this by opting for lighter fabrics, like pleated linen pants, and keeping neater, smaller, and well-tailored pleats. Remember, you wear the pants, not vice-versa, so assess this with the eye.
- Pleats offer roomier thighs. This makes them great for men with developed thighs, men who sit a lot, and those who are very active but must wear a suit.
Currently, pleated trousers for men are not in style. They hit their peak of stylishness in the 1980s, where the excess of consumerism that characterized the decade was echoed in fashions that used a bunch of fabric, too. So, since it's heavily associated with 'khakis' and middle management, used wrongly, you can generate that same dated effect. And no one wants that. This is why we have emphasized creating crisp, styled looks.
This was also when the swap from more tailored garments to mass consumerism happened. And- we'll be brutally honest- when not well fitted to the specific body which is going to wear them, pleats can be a disaster. Why? The balloon and bulge, right in an area where you don't want anything to balloon and bulge. If not for discretion, then to avoid looking heavy in the waist and hips.
Does this mean pleated suit pants are a no-no? Not at all! Look a little backward in time from the 80s to Hollywood iconic like Carey Grant or Sean Connery's ionic Bond. They, too, wear pleated pants but don't have the same saggy, baggy effect. What's the difference?
It lies in tailoring so that the pleats move with you and merely arrange the fabric a specific way, instead of creating unwanted fabric creasing and bulging due to unnecessary excess.
Now you know all about pleated pants. We've looked at how to know if they look good on your body type, how to style them, so they look modern instead of dated, and how to decide between pleats. With all this in hand, you have a new style door opened for you.
Will you be trying the pleated pant look or sticking to flat fronts? The Oliver Wicks made-to-measure team can help with either at the point of order, so you will be able to use the same Oliver Wicks style no matter what.