It’s a subtle detail, but one that makes a big difference. Even though it’s just a simple fold of fabric, a trouser pleat can transform your look, add a difference to your casual wear or make a suit even more beautiful.
Pleated trousers, as trendy today as they were at various times in the 20th century, are a distinctive way of doing something different with legwear, which is all too often overlooked. But why consider pleats over regular flat-front trousers? Here’s everything you need to know about pleated trousers, including the brands that do it best.
What is a pleat?
A pleat is really just a fold in a piece of fabric. In trousers, they are generally available in single or double pleats and come either forward (where the fabric folds towards the fly) or back (reverse).
Pleats are used to shape the pants, as the excess fabric creates more room around the thighs for more freedom of movement, while maintaining the line of the pants. Brave, even a little dandy, pleats are often associated with formal tailoring, as they were popular on trousers in decades past. It would be hard to find pants in the 30s, 40s and 50s that didn’t have pleats.
As such, they can exude a certain elegance that flat-front pants can’t match. They evoke the golden age of Hollywood and go back to eras when customization was much more popular than it is today.
Why you should wear pleated pants
If you’re going for the vintage look, pleated pants are almost by definition something for you. But their functionality makes them suitable for everyone, and all the more reason to invest.
Those with bigger thighs will find pleated pants more comfortable and flattering than their regular flat-front counterparts. As mentioned, the extra fabric created by the pleats provides more freedom of movement, while the silhouette of the pants is preserved. So if you’re looking for smart pants that won’t cling to your legs, pleats might just be the way to go.
Though rooted in vintage tailoring, many brands today have the somewhat stuffy, old-fashioned connotations of pleated trousers. In keeping with the trend for wider-leg pants, pleated pants have become popular with more contemporary brands, including Noah, Carhartt and Cos. So if you want to change your casual wear, or just feel like trying something different, you’ve come to the right place.
Casual vs Formal
The style of pleated pants you choose can have a defining effect on your overall look. Traditional high-waisted trousers with double pleats will of course give a more formal impression compared to the more relaxed pleated chinos.
While pleated pants are often associated with smart clothes, it is entirely possible to wear them casually. There are just a few details to keep in mind. Single pleat pants are much easier to dress than double pleats. Also watch out for pants with a more relaxed, mid-rise waist, as high pants lend themselves better to tailoring.
Other details to look out for are belt loops – or lack thereof – and cuffs. Pants without belt loops are naturally more formal, as they give a cleaner, more streamlined aesthetic that’s perfect for tailoring. Cuffs also indicate that the pants 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 plays a big part in styling and wearing pleated pants. As always, flatter fabrics like worsted weight yarn will be much smarter than rougher, textured fabrics. If you’re looking for some seriously sharp pleated pants, perhaps as part of a suit, you could do worse than look for navy blue or gray tropical wool.
However, if you want to add pleated pants to your casual collection, there are plenty of options. Upgrade your regular chinos for the warmer months with some pleats and opt for a cotton pair in stone or navy blue. The pleats add a difference to your look, elevating your pants and offering a flattering silhouette compared to regular chinos.
It gets interesting in the colder months, though. Corduroy pants are almost always better with pleats, as they contrast well with the casual nature of the shaggy fabric and brighten it up a bit. Find a pair in deep green, deep blue, brown or dark brown and you’ve got a pair that pairs perfectly with chunky knits and workwear-inspired outerwear. Elsewhere, pleated pants work especially well in heavier, herringbone or micro-pied-de-poule wool, as well as heavyweight cotton.
Pleated pants work best when they are cut a certain way. The waist should be high enough to sit at or slightly above the hips so that the pleats fall clearly, with a sharp vertical line when standing. This is a flattering look, which can give the impression of a slimmer waist, while also lengthening the legs, making you appear taller. Pleated pants just don’t work in lower waist styles as the crotch is too wide which makes them look sloppy and the wearer is much shorter than they actually are.
The pants should also have a relaxed fit over the thighs, tapering slightly towards the ankle. If pleated pants are too narrow, the pleats will open up, defeating their purpose and creating an unflattering fabric pull. When relaxed and tapered, the pants shape the way a well-fitted blazer does. They don’t hug the body, but rather complement the natural lines and movement.
The best pleated pants brands
For sophisticated menswear classics with a luxe edge, Reiss is hard to beat. We recommend checking it out if you’re looking for pleated tailored trousers that are perfect for more chic occasions. The British brand’s single pleated styles are ideal for wearing on their own – simply team with a complementary blazer and turtleneck sweater and you’ve got a flawless winter look.
Easy to wear and made from luxurious fabrics, including a technical Italian twill. Closed pleated pants are among the best in their price range. They’re durable and versatile too – look for dark colors that you can effortlessly combine with your existing wardrobe this season and beyond.
With Brendon Babenzien at the helm, Noah specializes in environmentally conscious menswear, inspired by the world of skate and streetwear and classic, preppy basics. The pleated pants are made of heavy fabrics, including wool and corduroy, making them ideal for teaming with leather boots and chunky knits.
Cos’ signature minimalist design ethos lends itself well to pleated trousers. The Swedish brand’s take on menswear is sleek and sophisticated, often made from dark fabrics and with wide, relaxed cuts. Note contemporary details such as drawstring waistbands, cuffed hems and cargo style pockets.
Inspired by Ivy League-inspired menswear classics, Todd Snyder’s pleated pants have a classic look and feel. Made from traditional fabrics, including Italian corduroy and houndstooth wool, they have a mid-rise waist and a tapered silhouette that’s easy to wear up or down.
As a Mr Porter in-house label, you would expect Mr P to know a thing or two about making sophisticated, luxurious menswear. And you would be right. For its pleated pants, Mr P has been working on an update to the fit, so you’ll find a relaxed cut that tapers to the ankle, a mid-to-high waist that works with or without a belt, and a slightly cropped hem.
Folk is known for its minimalistic designed no-frills menswear with a focus on craftsmanship and quality fabrics. The pants usually have a flat front, but for its ‘Signal Pant’ the brand has opted for single, rear-facing pleats and a relaxed, looser leg that is slightly shorter at the hem. It’s a comfortable, easy-to-wear style that goes perfectly with other workwear-inspired basics.
With its utilitarian designs made from hardwearing fabrics such as moleskin, corduroy and cotton drill, as well as more luxurious wool, Universal Works is a great option whether you’re looking for pleated trousers for formal or casual occasions.
If you’re looking for pleated chinos that wouldn’t look out of place on a 1960s East Coast college campus, Ralph Lauren should be high on your list. The American giant’s chinos have classic, relaxed fits that are perfect for combining with chunky knits and rough, waxed cotton outerwear.
For high-end luxury, with a focus on exquisite craftsmanship and the world’s finest fabrics, Brunello Cucinelli is the best out there. The pleated trousers are handmade in Italy by expert traditional makers in their own factory, so you can be sure that the quality is second to none.