It’s a subtle detail but one that makes a big difference. Although it’s just a simple fold of fabric, a trouser pleat can transform your look, adding a point of difference to your casualwear or further smartening up a suit.
Pleated trousers, on trend now just as they were at various points of the 20th century, are a characterful way to do something different with legwear, which is too often overlooked. But why should you consider pleats over regular, flat-fronted trousers? Here’s everything you need to know about pleated trousers, including the brands that do them best.
What Is A Pleat?
A pleat is essentially just a fold in a piece of fabric. In trousers, they’re generally available in single or double pleats, and come either forward facing (where the fabric fold opens towards the fly) and backward facing (the other way round).
Pleats are used to help shape the trouser, as the excess fabric creates more room around the thigh for added movement, while also maintaining the trouser’s line. Dapper, even a little bit dandy, pleats are often associated with formal tailoring, as they were popular on suit trousers in decades gone by. You’d be hard pressed to find trousers in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s that didn’t have pleats.
As such they can give off a certain elegance that flat-fronted trousers can’t match. They evoke the golden age of Hollywood, harking back to eras in which tailoring was far more popular than it is today.
Why You Should Be Wearing Pleated Trousers
If you’re going for the vintage look, pleated trousers are for you almost by definition. But their functionality makes them suitable for all, and all the more reason to invest.
Those with bigger thighs will find pleated trousers more comfortable and flattering than their regular flat-fronted counterparts. As mentioned, the extra fabric created by the pleats ensures more room for movement, while maintaining the trouser’s silhouette. So if you’re looking for a smart pair of pants that won’t cling to your legs, pleats could be the way to go.
While they are rooted in vintage tailoring, many brands today have subverted pleated trousers’ somewhat stuffy, old-fashioned connotations. In line with the trend for wider legged trousers, pleated pants have become popular with more contemporary brands including Noah, Carhartt and Cos. As such, if you’re looking to switch up your casualwear, or you just fancy trying something different, you’re in the right place.
Casual vs Formal
The style of pleated trouser you go for can have a defining effect on your overall look. Traditional, high-waisted, double-pleated suit trousers will, of course, give a more formal impression compared to more laid-back pleated chinos.
While pleated trousers are often associated with smart dressing, it’s entirely possible to wear them casually. There are just a few details you need to consider. Single-pleated trousers are far easier to dress down than double pleats. Also look out for trousers cut with a more relaxed mid-rise, as high-rise cuts lend themselves better to tailoring.
Other details to look out for include belt loops – or lack thereof – as well as cuffs. Trousers without belt loops are inherently more formal, as they give a cleaner, more streamlined aesthetic that’s perfect for tailoring. Cuffs also indicate the trousers are on the smarter end of the spectrum, so if you want a more laid-back look, avoid them.
Depending on what you’re going for, fabric will play a big part in how you’ll style and wear pleated trousers. As always, flatter fabrics such as worsted wools will be far smarter than rougher, textured fabrics. If you’re after a seriously sharp pair of pleated trousers, perhaps as part of a suit, then you could do worse than seek out navy or grey tropical wool.
If you want to add a pair of pleated pants to your casualwear rotation though, options abound. For warmer months, upgrade your regular chinos with some pleats and opt for a cotton pair in stone or navy. The pleats will add a point of difference to your look, elevating your trousers while also offering a more flattering silhouette compared with regular chinos.
The colder months are when things get interesting though. Corduroy trousers are almost always better with pleats, as they contrast well with the casual nature of the rugged fabric, smartening it up a little. Look for a pair in deep green, rich blue, tan or dark brown and you’ll have a pair that combines perfectly with chunky knitwear and workwear-inspired outerwear. Elsewhere, pleated trousers work especially well in heavier, herringbone or micro houndstooth wool, as well as heavyweight cotton.
Pleated trousers work best when they’re cut in a certain way. The rise should be high enough to sit on or slightly above the hips, which allows the pleats to fall clearly, with a sharp vertical line when standing still. This is a flattering look, which can give the impression of a slimmer waist, while also elongating the legs, making you look taller. Pleated trousers simply don’t work in lower rise styles, as the crotch becomes too baggy making them look sloppy and the wearer far shorter than they actually are.
The trousers should also have a relaxed fit through the thigh, which tapers gently to the ankle. If pleated trousers are too slim, the pleats will open up, defeating their purpose and creating an unflattering pulling of fabric. When relaxed and tapered, the trousers create shape in the way a well tailored blazer does. They don’t hug the body, but rather complement its natural lines and movement.
The Best Pleated Trouser Brands
For refined menswear classics with a luxurious edge, Reiss is hard to beat. We’d recommend paying it a visit if you’re after tailored pleated trousers that are perfect for smarter occasions. The British brand’s single-pleated styles are ideal for wearing as separates – simply combine with a complementary blazer and a turtleneck and you’ve got yourself a failsafe winter look.
Easy to wear and crafted from luxurious fabrics including a technical Italian twill, Closed pleated trousers are some of the best at their price range. They’re sustainably made and versatile too – look for dark colours which can effortlessly combine with your existing wardrobe, this season and beyond.
With Brendon Babenzien at the helm, Noah specialises in environmentally-conscious menswear, taking inspiration from the worlds of skate and streetwear as well as classic, preppy staples. Its pleated trousers are cut from heavyweight fabrics including wool and corduroy, making them ideal for pairing with leather boots and chunky knitwear.
Cos’ trademark minimal design ethos lends itself well to pleated trousers. The Swedish brand’s takes on the menswear staple are sleek and sophisticated, often cut from dark fabrics and with wide-legged, relaxed cuts. Look out for contemporary details including drawstring waists, cuffed hems and cargo-style pockets.
Taking inspiration from Ivy-league-inspired menswear classics, Todd Snyder’s pleated trousers are classic in feel and look. Made from heritage fabrics including Italian corduroy and houndstooth wool, they’re cut with a mid rise and a tapered silhouette, which is easy to dress up or down.
As the in-house label of Mr Porter, you’d expect Mr P to know a thing or two about crafting refined, luxurious menswear. And you’d be right. For its pleated trousers Mr P has worked on modernising its fit, so you’ll find a relaxed cut which tapers towards the ankle a mid to high rise that works with or without a belt, and a slightly cropped hem.
Folk is well-regarded for its minimally-designed, no-fuss menswear with a focus on craftsmanship and quality fabrics. Its trousers are typically flat-fronted, but for its ‘Signal Pant’ the brand has gone for single, backward-facing pleats and a relaxed, looser leg which is cropped slightly at the hem. It’s a comfortable, easy-to-wear style that works perfectly with other workwear-inspired staples.
With its utilitarian designs crafted from hard-wearing fabrics like moleskin, corduroy and cotton drill, as well as more luxurious wools, Universal Works is a great option regardless of whether you’re after pleated trousers for formal or casual occasions.
If you’re looking for pleated chinos that wouldn’t look out of place on an east coast university campus in the ’60s, Ralph Lauren should be high up your list. The US giant’s chinos feature classic, relaxed fits that combine perfectly with chunky knitwear and rugged, waxed cotton outerwear.
For high-end luxury, with a focus on outstanding craftsmanship and the world’s finest fabrics, Brunello Cucinelli is the best there is. Its pleated trousers are made by hand in Italy, by expert traditional makers at is own factory, so you can be sure the quality is second to none.