8.14.20

The Return of the Pleat

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Lots of sartorial details sway in the winds of fashion from decade to decade. Lapel width is one of them, pant break is another, and the list could go on.

One such detail that really seems to rile people up is pleats on pants. Some guys wear them, but others can’t stand them. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, they’re making a comeback on runways, so we thought this was a good opportunity to discuss what pleats are and whether it’s a good idea to wear them (hint: it can be). In short, the return of the pleat is arriving.

What Are Pleats?

pleated shirt pocket fabric

Pleats on a shirt pocket.

A “pleat” is a visual effect you achieve when you fold a piece of material over itself and either press or stitch it down. Reminiscent of an accordion, pleats were de riguer on all men’s suit pants for decades and decades at the beginning and middle of the twentieth century. Technically speaking, pleated trousers are incrementally dressier than their flat-front counterparts.

As it relates to men’s pants, a pleat’s purpose is to accommodate the expansion of the hips as a man sits down. Men with thicker middles tend to benefit from pleated pants when they wear them correctly – more on that below.

Styles Of Pleated Pants

james bond sean connery pleated pants

Sean Connery’s 007 wearing double forward pleated pants.

Pleated trouser styles are a function of two things – the number of pleats, and the direction in which they face.

In terms of quantity, pleated pants typically have one, two, or three pleats. We recommend a single pleat simply for the cleanliness of its presentation, but a double pleat works well also. We tend to avoid making triple-pleated pants in general.

The more popular direction for a pleat is to face away from the fly, also known as “reverse pleats.” Otherwise, they may face inwards towards the fly, which results in “forward pleats.”

Pleats & Fashion

Lots of men are turned off to pleats because we have clear memories – mild PTSD, perhaps – of the 1980’s, and even worse, the 1990’s. The nineties in particular were a truly terrible decade for menswear. Everything was comically baggy and unsexy, and pleated pants were all the rage with heavily shoulder-padded suits. Lots of our clients bristle at the thought of pleated pants because of this.

We argue that while fashion can make something like a pleated pant look silly, it should not dictate whether or not you choose to wear it. That’s where style comes in. Pleats, though long maligned, are in the canon of classic menswear, and when a tailor cuts them well, they add a dash of gentility to a look.

How To Wear Pleated Pants

man in sunglasses and pleated trousers

Note the high position of the pant waist here.

The biggest mistake men make with pleated pants is wearing them too low on the waist. Lots of men – younger ones, in particular – prefer their dress pants to sit around the same place as their jeans, which is at or below the hips. If this is your starting point, your pleated pants will be doomed to splaying open and looking sloppy. When the belly protrudes and pushes the pant waistband down, the sloppiness gets exaggerated.

For pleats to shine, you must wear them high enough on your waist to accommodate them. It’s best if they sit at your natural waist, which is just barely below the belly button. This may seem like high placement, but trust us, it’s actually quite comfortable. If you like to wear braces with your pants, pleated trousers will take very well to this look.

Next Steps

We’ve been making quite a few suits with an extra pair of trousers – one plain front, one single-pleated. We’d love to do the same for you. Give us a call at 215-310-0219 or email us at info@henrydavidsen.com to get started. Please see our other image and style articles in the meantime:

Please consider supporting those that have been displaced due to COVID-19 to get back on their feet with a donation to Career Wardrobe’s OutFIT for Work campaign.  $50 provides a full interview outfit for an individual seeking employment.

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