To Pleat or Not to Pleat…That Is the Question

Paul F. asks: My teenage daughter is on my case about the pleats in my trousers – she tells me I should lose the “puffy” pants and get some flat front trousers. Then my wife piles on by telling me I really should make an effort to look current. Look, I like my pleated pants—they’re comfortable. Plus I’ve got a sizeable investment in suit pants and slacks that are pleated. What should I do to get these women off my back without blowing half my bonus on new clothes?

Tom Talks: To quote the late Yogi Berra, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Trouser pleats, like other elements of men’s fashion, evolve over time. In the 1980’s, all my pants were non-pleated; when double-breasted jackets became popular in the early 1990’s, my pants sported triple pleats; as we moved into the new millennium, my pants shifted to double pleats. The pleated trousers I have in my wardrobe now are made in our “single pleat” model, but my newest suits all have flat front trousers. If current fashion trends became law, you’d be forced to change out all your pants, but this is still a free country, so consider the ramifications of purging all pleats from your closet:

  1. When you remove the pleats from a trouser pattern, you also remove the extra fabric that offers “forgiveness” when your trousers get a little tight, or you find yourself sitting for long periods of time (meetings, flights, etc.) Also, flat front trousers will wrinkle more, hands down. (But whether pleated or not, the higher the quality of the fabric, the less the wrinkles. Better cloth exhibits better “recovery”, resisting wrinkles or shedding them faster.)
  2. If you have larger than average quadriceps (the large muscle in the front of your thigh), or are just blessed with “rugby thighs”, you may find the fit of many flat front trousers to be confining, particularly off-the-shelf varieties. In a custom pattern, we can accommodate your body by increasing the thigh and knee measures to improve the drape and comfort significantly. So yes, it is possible to make a flat front pattern fit an otherwise pleated body. (And we’re good at it.)
  3. Be aware that removing the pleats can put stress on the side seams of a flat front trouser, causing most pocket configurations to pull open. The more “maximus your gluteus”, the worse the effect. We can do a couple of things to minimize this issue in a custom pattern, including lengthening the back rise and relaxing the hip measurement. Let it suffice to say that thirteen measurements always trump one or two for proper pant sizing.
  4. Regarding cuffs, it is perfectly OK to have flat front pants finished with cuffs. The trouser cuff adds a conservative signature to your overall look, and “turn-ups” (as they are called in the UK) can be easily removed with only minor surgery if you change your mind. Many of our clients still prefer cuffs because they improve the drape of the trouser, and cuffed pants hold better than plain hems in a slack hangar. But if you want to be up-to-the-minute in trouser fashion, have your flat front pants finished with plain bottoms.

So if you’re under pressure to add some flat front trousers to your wardrobe, there’s no time like the present. And the women in your life are correct when they say that flat front pants would make you look trimmer.

But if you’re one to hedge your bets, try this: order a custom suit with an extra pair of matching trousers: one with single pleats and cuffs and the other in a flat front model sans cuffs. You can select the suit trouser to fit your audience (flat fronts are high fashion, pleats are more conservative) and your comfort level (wear the pleated trousers for flying commercial). For additional versatility, choose a fabric where the extra pant can double as a nice trouser for your navy or black blazer (e.g., gray tic-weave, hounds-tooth, or glen plaid).

And if you find that flat fronts are for indeed for you, don’t overlook having flat front golf trousers made-to-measure. We have a new collection of lightweight trouser fabrics in a wool/lycra blend that have just enough stretch in the thigh to be comfortable when you squat down to read the line of your putt.

Best Regards,

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