December 25, 2011

The Art of Fit Pt 4 – The Trouser

Part 4 of this series will cover the proper fit of trousers. First, I feel a little explanation of the title is necessary. While for many ‘pants’ has become a catchall term regardless of style or context, I feel that some differentiation is necessary.

While some would argue that the terms ‘trouser’ and ‘slack’ are interchangeable, I prefer to separate them. For my purposes, trouser refers to a pair of dress pants that is not part of a suit or other matching ensemble, while slack refers to suit pants when they are not being worn with the rest of the suit.

Just like your shirt, there are several things to consider when deciding if a pair of trousers fits you properly. The first is going to be the fit of the legline. You will generally want to stick to a slim and straight leg, unless you are heavier around the midsection, in which case a classic leg will keep you looking more proportional.

You will also generally want to avoid pleats and opt for a flat front, unless for one reason or another you need the extra room around your hips and backside. While recently there have been some designers doing a new take on pleats, by nature they add fabric to the leg, which results in a baggier fit.

Many well-made trousers will come with extra details such as full or partially lined legs, buckles at the waist, and notched waistbands. These are partially for added comfort, but also for increased practicality and functionality.

When pant legs are lined, it is usually in silk or satin and on cheaper items a poly-satin or acetate. This not only provides a little extra warmth, but also keeps the wool from rubbing on your bare legs. With modern high-quality wools that are far less itchy than their predecessors, lining is rarely a necessity, but it adds a nice level of comfort and helps extend the life of the trouser by adding another layer between you and the fabric.

Buckles at the waist allow for slight adjustments (after a big holiday meal, for example) that don’t warrant an extra notch on your belt. A notch at the back of your waistband, which will look like a small ‘V’ at the center seam, provides a little extra stretch while sitting, bending, etc without additional strain on the fabric or stitches.

Little about the fit of trousers is more contested than the proper length of the hem and whether or not to cuff. My best advice is to peruse as many images as you can to see what look you like best. The three primary options for hem length are single break, double break, or no break. Thom Browne has popularized the cropped pant, but unless you are really committed to that aesthetic, it is better to stick to one of the standard lengths as it can very easily go from looking like high-fashion to looking like you just had a growth spurt and your pants no longer fit.

I always stick with a single break for my trousers because it is the most versatile since the pants will fall differently on varying styles of shoes depending on the shape and heel height. I also insist on a slight angle so that it just grazes the top of the heel (right at the seat where the upper meets the heel) in the back.

When it comes to cuffs, the generally accepted rule is that pleated = cuff and flat front = no cuff, but as I have said before style rules are meant to be broken. If you are a shorter person, cuffs will only emphasize that by shortening your legline, so it is usually best to avoid them. I usually only prefer cuffs with a heavier weight wool trouser because the weight of the fabric helps to keep a clean line down the leg and the cuff gives a heartier more seasonal feel.

Trousers by Burberry; Shirt by BOSS Hugo Boss; Shoes by Johnston & Murphy;
Tie by Kenneth Cole New York; Tie bar by Link Up; Belt by Ted Baker.

With trousers more than anything else, your tailor will be your best friend in getting the perfect fit. Letting the waist in and out slightly is an easy alteration, and a good tailor can even add a notch for you. Same thing with adding or removing a cuff, though if your pants have already been hemmed without a cuff, chances are there will not be enough fabric to add one.

Getting your desired break is usually a bit trickier as many times the tailor will have a very strong opinion as to how the pant should break. If you think differently, don’t be afraid to be firm and insist on having it break the way you want. There might be some grumbling, but you will usually be happier in the end. Also, don’t forget to wear dress shoes so that you can get a more accurate sense of how the pants will fall then the tailor is pinning them.

As always, my best advice is to try everything on to see what works best for you and your body type.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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