In How a Suit Should Fit, I advised against having pleats on your trousers but I want to examine this topic in more detail. The current trend in men’s wear is to avoid pleats. It seems like if you ask most people their thoughts on pleats, you’ll get a resoundingly negative reaction to them. But if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll actually find that the topic of pleats is quite a contentious one.
First of all, pleated (dress) trousers are actually considered more of a “classic” or “traditional” look. The truth is, you’ll find many perspectives on the issue but the opinions are highly subjective. My goal in this article is to provide you with the facts but also give you my personal opinion so that you can make a decision on your own.
For those of you who don’t know what pleats are, they are folds of fabric that are either pressed or stitched in place and are found just below the front waistband of trousers. There are two types of pleats: reverse pleats and forward pleats. Reverse pleats are pleats that open towards the pocket, whereas forward pleats are pleats that open towards the zipper.
The main purpose of pleats is functionality. Pleats add extra room in the hip area of trousers so they tend to allow for more freedom of movement and they better accommodate the widening of your hips when you sit. This also allows your pants to lay smoothly while sitting and prevents creasing or tightening.
So you’re now thinking “Great! Pleats seem to be great for function so why not go with them?” The drawback to pleats are the added bulk and weight they cause at the front of your pants. In most scenarios, pleats are extremely unsightly because the extra fabric creates a messy, heavy look. Which leads me to my next point…
Pleats Should Never Be on Casual Trousers.
I’ll discuss the merits of pleats on dress trousers as it is a debated topic but the consensus of pleats on casual trousers is a resounding NO! Casual trousers such as chinos and jeans are made from heavier cottons which don’t drape well. This extra weight causes the pleats to be really pronounced and bulky looking. In fact, you’ll look like you’ll have flaring accordions on each of your legs.
To illustrate my point of pleats on jeans, I’ll let A.C. Slater’s pleated jeans do all the talking:
As for chinos, any sort of pleats on there not only makes you look over-weight and stumpy, but it’ll make you look much older and nerdier than you are. They are the type of pants that truly over-the-hill guys would wear. You really have to avoid pleats on casual trousers at all costs.
Dress Trousers: Pleats or No Pleats
The fact is, flat front trousers posses a cleaner, more streamlined look compared to pleated trousers. This isn’t just a subjective opinion. Anytime you have something with less bulk and less folds, it will look more sleek.
But because dress trousers are made of lighter fabrics that drape better such as wool, pleats on them won’t look nearly as heavy and bulky as pleats on casual trousers. This, coupled with possible improved functionality and comfort (depending on the wearer’s physique) make pleats a viable option for dress trousers. Let’s take a look at what type of men should or shouldn’t wear pleats:
In my opinion, if you belong to this group, there is no reason for you to wear trousers with pleats. Because you are slimmer, you won’t receive any functional benefits from extra pant space. In fact, since you are slimmer, the pleats will just add extra fabric making you look out of shape/fat. This effect is even more pronounced if you have a slim butt. The extra fabric at the front because of the pleats will just look really unbalanced when coupled with your slender backside.
Fit Men with More Muscle Mass – particularly those with muscular legs and a large ass:
If you belong to this group, you can consider pleats as they will help accommodate your extra leg and ass mass, thus making the pants more comfortable. With that said, I think this notion is highly over-rated. Before I knew how to dress, I used to wear dress trousers with double pleats and they were a bit more comfortable but not significantly so. I’m 5’9″, have a 32″ waist and my quads are 24″ with a 39″ seat (ass measurement) so I have decently muscular legs and a large ass. I only wear flat front dress trousers now and I don’t have any problems with comfort. Manny has even larger legs: He’s 5’11.5″, has a 32.5″ waist, quads at 25.5″ and a 40″ seat. He says he has no issues with the comfort of flat front trousers either.
The key to ensuring that your flat front pants are comfortable is you need to have pants that fit well. This means there’s enough room for your legs and seat to move around comfortably. But if are a man with muscular legs and are dead set on pleats for the extra comfort, then you can do so but you must get a few things absolutely right (I’ll go over these later in the article).
The Overweight/Fat Man:
If you fall under this category, pleats can be of serious consideration. The extra space provided by the pleats can really help with your freedom of movement and overall comfort. You will get differing opinions on this though. Some style experts will say that as long as your pants are cut properly, flat fronts will be more flattering for you. Other style experts will say that because you have the extra mass, the pleats will be more flattering for you. My personal opinion is that flat fronts will look better on you because they are cleaner which will help hide your extra mass. As a larger man though, you will have to ensure that your pants are of proper fit if you want to go without pleats otherwise they won’t sit properly and will cause discomfort.
Rules for Pleated Dress Trousers (if you must wear them)
Suppose you find that pleated dress trousers are just a better option for you because you believe the extra comfort they will provide justify any downsides. If this is the case, you can still have good looking pleated dress trousers as long as you adhere to the following:
1. Go for a single pleat.
There’s no reason for you go have double pleats which can end up looking like fans or accordions. The single pleat will add the extra room that you desire while keeping your pants relatively stream-lined. In fact, some people like the single pleat because they believe it flows better with the crease of your pants. This is subjective but I can see the merit in this.
2. Your pants and pleats must fit PROPERLY.
This means that the pants look trim on you and the pleats don’t add any weight to your pants. The pleats should be very subtle. In fact, properly fit pleated trousers look very much like flat front trousers. The pleats should NEVER flare out or open. Here’s a picture of Sean Connery with DOUBLE pleats but they look good because they fit so well. But notice that they are very subtle and are forward pleats – which brings me to point number 3…
3. If you can, go with forward pleats rather than backwards pleats.
This isn’t as crucial as the previous 2 points simply because forward pleats are difficult to find in North America and it’s not *that* big of an issue as long as the pleats are subtle. The reason you want to go with forward pleats if you can is because they look much more streamlined compared to backwards pleats which fan backwards and can possibly create the dreaded accordion effect.
A Final Word:
While I believe most men are better off with flat front trousers, I can understand if due to comfort reasons, you want to go with pleats. Just remember that you should NEVER have pleats on casual pants. On dress trousers, make sure your pleated pants fit perfectly. When it comes to the dress trousers, both flat front and pleated pants need to fit perfectly but for different reasons: flat fronts need to fit perfectly to ensure comfort; whereas pleated trousers need to fit perfectly to ensure that they look trim and good. But as long as your pleated pants fit correctly, you can avoid the dreaded old-man look that is often associated with pleats and instead, look suave like Connery.