How to Wear the Trousers

Josh Sims in the FT recently discussed what style trousers should be worn…

‘It’s a debate that reaches far back into sartorial history, as fierce and informing as any and the cause of just as many bloody noses in the playground as on the catwalk: how should trousers be worn – skinny or baggy? 

Jagger and Richards - Jeans in action

On the one side stand those in favour of the baggy or loose-fit style: see Dolce & Gabbana and Dries van Noten, Galliano, Antonio Marras, Vivienne Westwood and, of course, the modern pioneer of the wide leg, Giorgio Armani. On the other are those who back the slim-fit, plain front, slightly cropped 1960s Mod look: Burberry, Roberto Cavalli, Daks, Costume National, Fendi, Prada and Marni.

“Internally, there’s quite a bit you can do with trousers as a designer: piping, linings, hidden pockets. But externally there’s not much you can do, which is why designers tend to go to one extreme or the other,” says Bruce Montgomery, designer for Daks, which, with its cigarette pants, is firmly on the narrow side of the great trouser divide.

“The 1960s was a sharp period for men’s wear and I think the look is more flattering, providing you’re in shape,” says Montgomery. “More of us work on our bodies – going to the gym, eating healthily – and clothes should reflect that.” Not that he is taking any chances: Daks has introduced a narrow trouser tailored to be higher waisted at the rear than at the front, to fit the larger customer, “or those who like a few beers”, as Montgomery puts it.

“A slim fit flatters the majority of men; you can always wear a slim or oversized garment on top and the balance stays good, whereas a looser fit bottom-half tends to need a tighter fit top-half to get the proportions right,” says designer Neil Barrett. “So you need to treat baggy clothing with caution. That said, a loose, rather than a baggy fit, so the trousers hang off you slightly, is still my preference. It looks very masculine.” Indeed, the wide parallel leg of 1940s men’s wear served to emphasise the defined narrow waist and broad shoulders of the tailored jacket, creating a distinctly male shape.

But that was then, counters Montgomery: the recent popularity of the more fitted London cut, with its slender, narrow-shouldered jacket, shows that the dapper man is better served by a narrow trouser. Besides, over the past decade the pleats usually found on looser trousers have all but died out too. “We’re finding that as the business world develops its management at a younger age, the demand for a more bespoke-look fit, which tends to have narrower silhouette, is on the increase too,” says Montgomery.

Harry Handelsman, chief executive of property developers Manhattan Loft Corporation, likes to keep his style streamlined. “I’m interested in architecture and that’s all about shapes. To me, narrow trousers are similarly about giving a clearer definition,” he says. “Narrow trousers also provide a different relationship with the fabric, because you can feel it against the skin, which I find more comfortable.”

Levi’s, baggy

Indeed, according to James Henderson, chief executive of Pelham, a financial services communications business: “Generally, the business world prefers dress to avoid extremes, so those who favour the baggy may have to compromise a little. Business is increasingly driven by image and the James Bond look does tend to be more streamlined. But I prefer the comfort of a looser trouser, without wearing anything that makes me look like a sack of potatoes.”So who will win the battle of the trouser styles? In the short run, narrow seems to have the lead, but the tide may be turning.

Murray Coetzee, head stylist of Suit Supply, a Dutch tailoring business that has recently opened its first branch near London’s Savile Row, says baggy remains more of a fashion look at the moment. “It’s a bit Duran Duran, so will need time to be taken up by classic mainstream men’s wear,” he says. “A lot of men still equate baggy or pleated trousers with something their fathers might have worn. And that Great Gatsby -type of look doesn’t really work in the business world. But it is on its way.”

Farah, a brand that made its name with trousers, is responding to current trends by offering both a skinny leg (at an ankle-asphixiating 37cm across the hem), and a full leg (at 53cm) – but is putting its bets on the baggy. And although narrow trousers remain a key shape for the new spring/summer 2008 season, baggy trousers are becoming a real alternative, not to mention baggy jackets, shirts, T-shirts and summer coats too.

“Cropped, skinny trousers feel like they have been around for a few seasons now and are starting to look dated,” says James Armstrong, men’s wear designer at Farah. “It’s funny, but trousers seem to be the last thing that a lot of brands think about, because they’re not quite sure what to do with them. But when trousers are what you’re known for, you’re always looking for a way to move them forward. And we’re definitely seeing a demand for the more voluminous kind. They just look new again.”

Words by: Josh Sims link to full article


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