Q and Answer: How Slim Should Pants Be?

John writes us to ask: Where do you land on the tapering and fullness of trousers? Just yesterday, I came across a really nice flannel suit at a thrift shop. The jacket fits like a glove, and the trousers just need a tiny bit of hemming … but I feel like the legs are practically stovepipes. Maybe I’m too used to wearing skinny trousers, but those big suit legs make me feel like I’m in a 1930s costume. How much can one take out of the legs, and when should you leave well enough alone for fear of ruining the balance of a suit?

There’s not an easy answer to this, as a lot depends on your body type, sense of style, and whatever is in fashion at the moment. Men wore trousers that were quite full in the ’30s and ‘40s, and then slimmed them down in the ‘50s and ‘60s, only to have them full again in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Throughout these times, however, good tailoring stood as good tailoring – and unless you’re going for much more avant garde looks – that typically means having clean lines all around, with no puckering or pulling on the front or back of your trousers.

How pants should fit, however, is very different from their silhouette, which means as long as you follow those basic principles, how you want your trousers to look is largely about taste. My personal rules of thumb are:

  • Beware of going overly slim: Very slim trousers are in fashion at the moment, but they’re harder to pull off than most people think (perhaps figuratively and literally). I find they look best on men with very skinny frames or middle-of-the-road athletic builds, but not so great on everyone else. When wearing slim trousers, be honest about whether they look flattering on you.
  • Add a little tapering: It’s nice to have a little tapering below the knee, just to add some shape to the legs. If you have pleats, however, be careful about narrowing them too much, lest you want to exaggerate the silhouette. Similarly, pay attention to how your feet look in proportion. Large leg openings can make your feet look unusually small, while narrow ones can make them look unusually big.
  • Keep things proportional to the jacket: Perhaps most obvious, keep things in proportion to your sport coats or suit jackets. I do find, however, that unless you’re at the extremes of silhouettes, there’s a lot of wiggle room to be had here. Slim trousers can really sharpen up a traditionally cut sport coat, so don’t be afraid to slim things down if you think it might make the overall silhouette look better.

In his book Eminently Suitable, one of my favorite menswear writers, Bruce Boyer, wrote: “wearing clothes well is still something of an art – it has not descended to one of the sciences.”  Other than fitting well, there’s no hard rule for how trousers should look, so it’s largely dependent on your body type and sense of style. That doesn’t make things easy, but it does make things more exciting and interesting.

Above: some photos from The Sartorialist that, I think, illustrate how men can look good with slim, full, or middle-of-the-road cuts.    

How Pants Should Fit

We’ve written about how tailored trousers should fit before, but our friend Ed over at Panta Clothing just posted some images of a pair trousers he made for a customer, and nothing beats a great example. 

When trying on pants, most people first look to see if the waist fits comfortably, but the waist is actually one of the easiest things to alter. If they’re a little loose, you can take them in, and if there’s enough material inside, you can let them out. The only exception is maybe cotton, where letting out the waist can leave visible holes where the stitching used to be (this doesn’t happen on wool because of the fuzzy nap). 

Instead of focusing on the waist, look for three things:

  • First, make sure the thighs fit comfortably. The legs can be tapered pretty easily from the knee down, but the thighs should fit fairly perfectly off-the-rack. (You can alter the thighs, but it comes with a bit more risk). 
  • Second, look at the seat. On the Panta trousers above, the seat is perfectly clean, with no rumples or folds. This is the hardest part to get right, not just because everyone is shaped differently, but also because we all stand differently as well. For example, if you stand with your hips forward, you’ll need a pair of trousers with a slightly shorter “rise” at the back (“rise” being the measurement from the crotch seam to the waistband). Note, to see whether the seat fits you, you’ll have to look at yourself in a three way mirror, as twisting your torso around will affect how the pants fit. And don’t get too hung up with whether there are a few folds here and there. It’s better to aim for a cleaner fit than not, but you are moving around in these things, obviously. 
  • Third, see if the pants catch on the back of your calves. This is more of an issue with really slim trousers, particularly if you wear over-the-calf socks. If they do catch, you’ll see a bunch of rippling around your calves. 

Overall, the idea for how pants should fit is very much like the idea for how shirts, sport coats, or suits should fit: there shouldn’t be any puckering or pulling anywhere, and you should have clean lines all around. The ones by Panta above are particularly nice, and unless you’ve having something custom made, it might be hard to achieve something as good. Still, the example above is a great way to show what you should aim for. 

(Photos via pantaclothing)

“I should say that he ought to have one pair for Sunday, another pair for Monday, and so on till number seven has been worn. Extra-vagant you say? Not a bit of it. On the contrary, seven pairs of trousers worn in this way will last much longer than seven pairs worn indiscriminately — say one pair for a week, the next pair for a fortnight, and so on. You may take it as an indisputable fact that a pair of trousers worn for three consecutive days will be out of shape at the end of the third day, however good the material and cut may be. Of course, I don’t mean that you wear them for three days and nights — don’t be absurd.” — Edward Spencer on trousers. Written in his book Clothes & the Man, which was published in 1901 — well before men started to wear the same pair of jeans every day for six months before washing. 

Oxford Bags

Yesterday’s post on fashion cycles reminded me that I have these photos sitting on my computer. These are “oxford bags” - a style of ridiculously baggy trousers that was popular in the early 20th century. They were often made of flannel wool, and originated with undergraduate students at Oxford University (hence the name). At the peak of their popularity in 1925, the bottom hem of men’s pant legs was almost always under 20 inches in circumference. (For reference, most “fashionable” trousers today have a circumference of 16 to 18 inches for suits, and maybe 15 to 17 inches for odd trousers). Oxford bags, in contrast, sometimes measured 40 inches or more. 

You would not be wrong to think of them as the gentleman’s version of Jncos

Finding a Higher Rise Chino
For the last few months, I’ve been looking for chinos built with a higher rise. As some readers may know, I favor pants that sit higher on the hips, as I find this helps elongate the leg line and gives better proportions between the torso and legs. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find such pants nowadays, as the fashion trend for the last ten years has been for low-rise cuts. After writing a post about my search, however, a few kind readers sent me some good suggestions. 
The first, and I think the best, is from The Armoury. These are made by Ring Jacket, a high-end Japanese company known for their tailored clothing. They sit just below the navel, which is high enough to give the effect you’d want, but low enough so you can wear your chinos without a sport coat. The leg is also nice and slim, and the trousers are lined a bit past the knee. You can see them worn by Mark in the photo above.
The Armory’s chinos cost $370, which is pricey, but the pants are exceptionally well built. They’re not available on the website, so you’ll have to email or call them to order. 
A bit more affordable are the ones from J. Press, which were recommended to me by Bruce Boyer. These are fuller in the leg and sit higher on the waist. I think these are some of the nicest traditionally cut trousers I’ve ever come across, but the higher-waisted cut does mean you should probably wear them with sport coats. If you plan to, the price here starts at $120, but there are occasional seasonal sales that will drop them down by 25%. 
More affordable still is Jack Donnelly’s Dalton chinos, which come in both a slim and traditional cut. The slim is more like The Armoury’s, while the traditional is more like J Press’. The difference is that the fabric isn’t as nice, the fit not as clean (at least on me), and the finishing inside is a bit rough (almost unusually so, actually). On the upside, they’re $95 and they have a very nice return policy, so trying them out is more or less risk-free. 
A couple of other good ideas were sent to me. Bill Khaki’s M2 model is a favorite for many people, and some recommended the custom chinos at J. Hilburn and Luxire. Luxire can copy an existing pair of pants for you, which is nice if you’re wary of the made-to-measure process. One reader also recommended these Blackbird chinos, though they’re on final sale, and thus not returnable.
(Photo above by The Armoury)

Finding a Higher Rise Chino

For the last few months, I’ve been looking for chinos built with a higher rise. As some readers may know, I favor pants that sit higher on the hips, as I find this helps elongate the leg line and gives better proportions between the torso and legs. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find such pants nowadays, as the fashion trend for the last ten years has been for low-rise cuts. After writing a post about my search, however, a few kind readers sent me some good suggestions. 

The first, and I think the best, is from The Armoury. These are made by Ring Jacket, a high-end Japanese company known for their tailored clothing. They sit just below the navel, which is high enough to give the effect you’d want, but low enough so you can wear your chinos without a sport coat. The leg is also nice and slim, and the trousers are lined a bit past the knee. You can see them worn by Mark in the photo above.

The Armory’s chinos cost $370, which is pricey, but the pants are exceptionally well built. They’re not available on the website, so you’ll have to email or call them to order. 

A bit more affordable are the ones from J. Press, which were recommended to me by Bruce Boyer. These are fuller in the leg and sit higher on the waist. I think these are some of the nicest traditionally cut trousers I’ve ever come across, but the higher-waisted cut does mean you should probably wear them with sport coats. If you plan to, the price here starts at $120, but there are occasional seasonal sales that will drop them down by 25%. 

More affordable still is Jack Donnelly’s Dalton chinos, which come in both a slim and traditional cut. The slim is more like The Armoury’s, while the traditional is more like J Press’. The difference is that the fabric isn’t as nice, the fit not as clean (at least on me), and the finishing inside is a bit rough (almost unusually so, actually). On the upside, they’re $95 and they have a very nice return policy, so trying them out is more or less risk-free. 

A couple of other good ideas were sent to me. Bill Khaki’s M2 model is a favorite for many people, and some recommended the custom chinos at J. Hilburn and Luxire. Luxire can copy an existing pair of pants for you, which is nice if you’re wary of the made-to-measure process. One reader also recommended these Blackbird chinos, though they’re on final sale, and thus not returnable.

(Photo above by The Armoury)

Being slightly less boring with Ed Morel and Panta

Ed Morel, proprietor of Panta, poses the central question of classic mens clothing in terms of high school: “I went to prep school and I had to wear a tie every day. I could wear a navy or burgundy blazer, but everyone wore the navy. After school we’d go out, try to talk to girls. How do you stand out a little bit within that realm?”

It’s that quality of standing out in a quiet way that many of us are looking for when choosing what we wear. “It’s classic menswear. You’re not reinventing the wheel. You’re wearing a shirt, you’re wearing a tie, you’re wearing a jacket and pants. Ties are within certain widths. Lapels, too. Maybe I’ll wear an eff-you sportcoat and plain pants, or eff-you pants and a solid jacket, and that’s very boring”— he laughs—”It’s incredibly boring.” (Eff-you, in this case, means louder, plaid-er fabric. Ed is pictured above with Bruce Boyer at Carl Goldberg’s Madison Avenue workroom, wearing a shirt and pants.)

The start of Panta

As we step from booth to booth at MRKet, a men’s clothing tradeshow in New York, Morel shops for clothing and shoes to carry at Panta, and with characteristic rapid-fire cadence and self-deprecation, tells me about founding the company. “It would be great if I could tell you a nice romantic story, like my parents came from some country, but… I always did like clothing. Living in New York, having access to the clothes and deals here, it led me to realize I could buy more, sell it, and pay for more clothes for myself.” Ed would buy low on high-end clothes, notably pants, at closeout sales and discounters, then sell high online. “But that inventory is limited, and I thought, ‘What if I had access to great pants all the time?’”

Ed set out to have pants made to his specs—fabrics from sources like Loro Piana and Dormeiul, in sometimes exotic blends and textures, finished by hand, in a signature cut with only one rear pocket—in New York. “Most makers don’t want to deal with the small guys. When I started, it was during the financial crisis,” and a lot of bigger customers were scaling back orders, leaving room for Panta’s business. The good reviews rolled in. Now Ed has developed relationships that allow him to regularly make trousers, ties, and shirts under his own ready-to-wear label, as well as custom tailoring, shoes from Heinrich Dinkelacker, and more to come. Made in small runs with refined cloth, the trousers have cost over $300, but Ed’s adding less expensive options, with some customization available even on the least dear (about $200—less expensive is relative). Fabrics come from top-end Italian and English mills, rare to see off-the-rack, and the make varies according to price point, with truly custom options made in New York by Rocco Ciccarelli.

Ed’s store, Ed’s taste

We stop while Ed places an order with Ron Rider for a Cortina-made split toe derby and a chukka boot, both in shell cordovan. He asks my opinion, and I admit that I don’t generally like split toe shoes. Ed’s OK with that. Panta’s stock is small and focused on what he likes to wear himself. “I’m not going to sell double monks because I don’t wear double monks. I’m not ordering 40 different ties, 40 different pants. I carry four or six styles. The shoes go great with the types of pants that I sell, that go great with the shirts.” With his custom pant program, “We can do pretty much whatever you want, except anything that I find in bad taste.” E.g., no camo.

Ed’s not the only guy to turn personal taste into a small business, but he’s got his eye on bigger things. “It started off as a hobby, but now I’m looking to build something that’ll be around long after I’m gone. I’m working on building something that, if you see a shirt or a tie, you know it’s one of my things.”

Pictured are some of Panta’s fall 2013 silk ties (the silk has a very “dry” feel), as well as new scarves, and a pair of downright beefy Heinrich Dinkelacker brogues.


—Pete

Clay Tompkins’ Trousers

I was recently pretty impressed by a pair of trousers Clay Tompkins sent me on loan. He designed them, but the pattern was made by Tony Rubino, who works with Rocco Ciccarelli at the Primo Factory in Brooklyn (by pattern I don’t mean visual pattern, but rather the paper patterns from which each panel of the trouser is cut). Julian Hertling (aka “Julie”) then sources all the fabrics and makes up the pants. As people who are either in the business or are die-hard clothing enthusiasts may know, these are some of the best guys in the business and have been at their trade for decades (for those unfamiliar, a quick Google search will yield plenty of articles).

The trousers are cut fairly similar to my Italian-made Howard Younts, who I’ve long thought to be a very good go-to source for pants. The rise is just slightly higher, the thigh slightly fuller, and the taper slightly stronger. Slight variations, but all in all, very similar.

There are differences in the details, however. Rather than belt loops, there are side adjuster tabs, which is rare to find on ready-to-wear odd trousers (“odd” here meaning trousers that are not part of a suit). There’s also an open lapped seam going down the side of the legs, and some signature red stitching on the back pocket loop-tabs. If you don’t care for those details, I’m told that your trousers can be made without them (as all of these are essentially made-on-order from Hertling’s factory). Ones made with modifications aren’t returnable, however, so you should be familiar with the fit before asking for them. Stock makes are subject to a 14-day return policy.

The retail price on these is $250, which isn’t cheap, but when Howard Yount’s are $195 and Epaulet’s range from $195 to $235, they’re also not far off from what many style enthusiasts are paying at the moment. The quality of Clay’s seems better to me as well (at least compared to my Howard Yount’s; I don’t have any first hand experience with Epaulet’s). The flannels he sent, for example, are much softer and richer in the hand, and the frescos have a very nice, heavy weight to them. A heavier weight fabric, as many people may know, will hang better on the leg. Outside of pants retailing for $400 or more, I haven’t seen trousers made with such nice materials. (Note, neither of these models are on the website at the moment, but I’m told they’re part of the fall line, which should be up sometime this month). Of the ~$200 retail priced trousers I’ve seen, these are some of the best in quality, and if one is already paying that much for pants, I think Clay’s are worth a look. 

(Photos from Clay Tompkins and The Trad)

New York Daily News: Anthony Weiner gets 2 legs up on NYC mayoral competitors with bright trousers
“Is it a blatant attempt to get the gay vote?” menswear designer Jeffrey Banks asked regarding Weiner wearing red pants last week to the Greenwich Village rally celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling. “Is the casual look an attempt to make him seem more accessible?”

New York Daily News: Anthony Weiner gets 2 legs up on NYC mayoral competitors with bright trousers

“Is it a blatant attempt to get the gay vote?” menswear designer Jeffrey Banks asked regarding Weiner wearing red pants last week to the Greenwich Village rally celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling. “Is the casual look an attempt to make him seem more accessible?”

Budget Fatigues

Following on Pete’s post yesterday, Mister Crew mentioned that Earl’s Apparel fatigue pants are a good option for someone on a budget (they’re apparently only $40). I’ve never tried them, but Mister Crew really knows his stuff, so I trust his recommendations. 

Earl’s Apparel fatigues can be had through Independence and Hickoree’s. There are also some at All Seasons Uniform for $27.50, though I don’t know what the difference between those and the others may be. 

Real People: Fatigue Pants
Of course, we all read Put This On, so all of our pants are perfectly tailored: Fitted in the waist, slim through the thigh, draping elegantly down our calves to end in an ideal break over our frankly breathtaking (hand-welted) shoes. But when I need a break from worrying about breaks, it can be comforting to pull on a pair of pants designed for utility. Military-style, olive drab fatigue pants are probably not the most often re-purposed surplus gear (M-65s take that prize), but they are exceedingly wearable. They’re an interesting alternative to plain cotton khakis (also military derived) for wear with plaid shirts and worn-in shoes, like Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments, and can even be reasonably swapped in for more formal trousers if you’re in a position to be a little subversive, like Gary Drinkwater, pictured in his shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Gary’s colors are neutral and well-balanced, and he looks relaxed rather than sloppy, which can be a concern with fatigues, especially surplus versions.
Such pants can be found vintage in a number of models: pants from the OG-107 U.S. military work uniform (standard issue for the second half of the 20th century; OG-107 really designates the color, olive gray); M-1951 cargo pants; or more recent Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) trousers. They are best purchased in person because the sizing varied over the years and many if not most pants were altered after issuance, so actual measurements may not match tagged sizes. Although fatigues can sometimes be tailored to fit trimly, the bagginess is in my opinion the interesting aspect and on its own is “different” enough—pinrolling can help narrow them at the ankle. Camouflage patterns are best left to the military or utility purposes around the house, like yardwork.
Gary’s pants were purchased new, from Engineered Garments sub-brand Workaday (I have a pair from Workaday myself, as well as a couple of vintage pairs). Daiki Suzuki has offered a pair in his collection nearly every season for years, but they vary in fabric and cut—some are trimmer than others, and spring/summer versions are lighter weight. They’re currently available at Engineered Garments stockists like Drinkwaters or Mohawk General Store.
-Pete

Real People: Fatigue Pants

Of course, we all read Put This On, so all of our pants are perfectly tailored: Fitted in the waist, slim through the thigh, draping elegantly down our calves to end in an ideal break over our frankly breathtaking (hand-welted) shoes. But when I need a break from worrying about breaks, it can be comforting to pull on a pair of pants designed for utility. Military-style, olive drab fatigue pants are probably not the most often re-purposed surplus gear (M-65s take that prize), but they are exceedingly wearable. They’re an interesting alternative to plain cotton khakis (also military derived) for wear with plaid shirts and worn-in shoes, like Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments, and can even be reasonably swapped in for more formal trousers if you’re in a position to be a little subversive, like Gary Drinkwater, pictured in his shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Gary’s colors are neutral and well-balanced, and he looks relaxed rather than sloppy, which can be a concern with fatigues, especially surplus versions.

Such pants can be found vintage in a number of models: pants from the OG-107 U.S. military work uniform (standard issue for the second half of the 20th century; OG-107 really designates the color, olive gray); M-1951 cargo pants; or more recent Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) trousers. They are best purchased in person because the sizing varied over the years and many if not most pants were altered after issuance, so actual measurements may not match tagged sizes. Although fatigues can sometimes be tailored to fit trimly, the bagginess is in my opinion the interesting aspect and on its own is “different” enough—pinrolling can help narrow them at the ankle. Camouflage patterns are best left to the military or utility purposes around the house, like yardwork.

Gary’s pants were purchased new, from Engineered Garments sub-brand Workaday (I have a pair from Workaday myself, as well as a couple of vintage pairs). Daiki Suzuki has offered a pair in his collection nearly every season for years, but they vary in fabric and cut—some are trimmer than others, and spring/summer versions are lighter weight. They’re currently available at Engineered Garments stockists like Drinkwaters or Mohawk General Store.

-Pete