The Horror of the Exposed Waistband

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horror-of-exwb

When I was assisting an acquaintance with attire for an upcoming wedding, I made the point of telling them my thoughts on cut. Notably, the cut of the trousers and waistcoat. “If you go for a low rise trouser with your waistcoat” I said “you’ll see the waistband and perhaps even some shirt; go for a high rise trouser (worn on the waist) so that the waistcoat will cover the top of your trousers.” And what, he asked, if he goes for a low-rise trouser with a low cut waistcoat? “Then” I argued “your waistcoat would be too long.”

For off-the-rack shoppers, particularly those who look beyond morning dress hirers and suppliers for their costume, the common modern cut of trouser (low rise, worn on the hips) does no favours for the traditional aesthetic. Seeing the waistband of the trouser is not a sartorial taboo for nothing; it looks untidy and leaves the formal appearance looking unfinished. However, covering it up with a low-cut waistcoat is an unhappy compromise as it ruins the proportions. The ideal, in my opinion, is a high-rise trouser and a high-cut waistcoat.

When I proposed the high-rise, high-cut approach to Russell at Graham Browne, he indicated his surprise; high-rise trousers are expected but a high-cut waistcoat is, in his view, a very old fashion, unlikely to make a significant return.

The ‘modern’ look therefore, is that of a low-cut waistcoat with low-rise trousers. The problem with an elongated waistcoat is that it lengthens the torso and shortens the legs. For men of average and below average height, nothing could be worse; the wearer looks shorter, dumpier and significantly less elegant. The ‘old fashioned’ or ‘classic’ look (illustrated by the DoE on the left) might be unusual in an age when everyone seems to wear their trousers on their hips but instead of making you look older, it actually has the effect of making you look younger – and taller.

The problem is, high-cut waistcoats (particularly double-breasted) are nearly impossible to find off the rack. I was forced to go bespoke to achieve the proper proportions. The trousers are easier. Stores such as Austin Reed will have houndstooth and ‘spongebag’ striped trousers; just make sure to select a pair that you can wear high on the waist comfortably, even if braces are required.

The most important thing to remember is to avoid the slovenly horror of the exposed waistband (illustrated by the model on the right).


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. bucephalus says:

    The discussion of height is incomplete — as it always seems to be. Two people of the same height could have different proportions of torso and legs. Thus a man with a short waist but relatively long legs actually looks better-proportioned in lower trousers and waistcoat, whilst the man with an average or long waist ought to wear the higher trouser and waistcoat.

  2. Kurt N says:

    That was my first reaction, as well.

  3. stephen says:

    Higher rise pants give you the truncated torso, larger pelvis, with legs as exactly as thay are, look. No shorter, no taller…just larger pelvis.

    If I had to bet, the reason why lower rise now dominates is becasue it makes the torso look as long as it actually is. Same goes for the longer waistcoat.

    In my humble opinion, robbing from the torso to add to the pelvis decreases
    elegance, at least for younger, slimmer men.

  4. “The discussion of height is incomplete — as it always seems to be. Two people of the same height could have different proportions of torso and legs. Thus a man with a short waist but relatively long legs actually looks better-proportioned in lower trousers and waistcoat, whilst the man with an average or long waist ought to wear the higher trouser and waistcoat.”

    You raise a good point. Not everyone of the same height has the same proportions. However, (very) generally speaking, if you wear your trousers on your waist rather than your hips and measure the waistcoat accordingly, it is possible to stick, with varying degrees of accuracy, to the ideal proportions. I would also say that people with very unusual torso/leg ratios are in greater need of a tailor’s assistance than almost anyone else; the ‘make me look taller/slimmer’ line is an old one.

    “Higher rise pants give you the truncated torso, larger pelvis, with legs as exactly as thay are, look. No shorter, no taller…just larger pelvis.
    If I had to bet, the reason why lower rise now dominates is becasue it makes the torso look as long as it actually is. Same goes for the longer waistcoat.
    In my humble opinion, robbing from the torso to add to the pelvis decreases
    elegance, at least for younger, slimmer men.”

    I disagree with this. Firstly, the taller/shorter image is an ‘effect’, an illusion if you will. You are right that it is only an enlargement of the pelvis but the point is that the garments denote the bodily ‘borders’; waistcoat = torso, trousers = legs. The longer the ‘leg’ portion looks, the greater the illusion of height. You may disagree that this illusion exists, as many do.

    The reason why low rise trousers dominate is not because people have been seeking some ‘body-garment proportion truth’ but because of the types of garments than have dominated clothing culture, notably denim jeans, which are cut and worn differently to smart trousers; on the hips and not the waist. Jeans are worn for their image, not for the proportions. The only reason denim fans find high-rise trousers ridiculous and annoying is because they are a complete departure from their daily dress.

    I also, unsurprisingly, do not agree with your last point about ‘robbing from the torso’ as it suggests that the younger model in the picture on the right above looks more elegant than the DoE, which is certainly not the case, and not simply because of the quality of tailoring/accessories. Admittedly, the DoE’s proportions are a little extreme, and he does rob a great deal from the torso, but wearing formal clothing in the same cut and form as denim jeans is slovenly and unattractive.

  5. David V says:

    Very good response, Winston. I would not have phrased it as well.

  6. stephen says:

    “The reason why low rise trousers dominate is not because people have been seeking some ‘body-garment proportion truth’ ”

    Maybe, maybe not. I merely suspect but could be wrong, and so could you.

    “Jeans are worn for their image, not for the proportions. ”

    Image is not independent of proportion, which is why the classical image requires certain proportions.

    As far as attractiveness, there really isn’t any fact of the matter. It is almost completely subjective. Most justifications for one view or the other are mostly made up after the fact once someone has made up their mind on what they think is attractive.

    Anyway, for what it is worth, I think the younger gentleman’s dress looks bad, but not because of rise issues (but, again, thats just me). Cheers.

  7. stephen says:

    BTW, Winston, I clicked on your link. Your style is pretty awesome.

  8. bucephalus says:

    “However, (very) generally speaking, if you wear your trousers on your waist rather than your hips and measure the waistcoat accordingly, it is possible to stick, with varying degrees of accuracy, to the ideal proportions.”

    I don’t think you’ve actually thought about what a “short waist” really means. A short-waisted person can wear low-rise trousers or jeans, and not look like he’s wearing it. In fact on such a person it looks as though his trousers sit at his waist, when in fact they sit below the waist. If the trousers sat on a short-waisted person’s actual waist, even Winston would think the trousers looked too high (and looked like head and arms were growing out of a pair of animated trousers).

    Very few people are proportioned evenly like Michaelangelo’s David. Almost everyone has either a longer torso than legs, or longer legs than torso. And there are also variations within torso size. Of two people with the same torso, one might have a longer waist than ribcage, or a longer ribcage than waist. In other words, two people of the same height, and of the same torso-legs proportion, might still differ in their correct trouser rise. And of course the shoes also affect proportions.

    The reason the low-rise trend is so distasteful is that so many of the wrong people wear it — if you’ve got a long torso, or an evenly proportioned body, low-rise jeans or trousers can make you look quite ridiculous. But the lower-rise look improves proportions all the time on those with a short waist, and some of the time on those with a relatively small torso.

    But enough with the talk of body proportions. Really, all that matters is that when one is wearing any kind of tailored clothing, the waistband (as well as the shirt below the coat button), not be exposed. So if for some reason your trouser rise is low, make sure you do one of the following :

    (1) Wear a waistcoat and make sure it’s long enough to cover waistband and shirt below button.

    OR

    (2) Wear a well-balanced coat which hangs correctly in the front, and which buttons at the narrowest part of your waist ; then, the quarters of your coat will not gape excessively to reveal shirt and waistband, even with low rise trousers.

    (3)

    Wear double-breasted.

  9. I think, Bucephalus, that you have provided some good conclusions on the matter. In truth, it is difficult to write about the exposed waistband horror – and the general lack of concern of its ugliness – without writing about proportions as you correctly point out, few people conform to Michelangelo (or Da Vinci) ideal proportions. Therefore all writing on the subject – at least within the confines of a 500-1000 word article, will be generalist and deceptive.

    Stephen,
    I think the same can be said of proportions in relation to jeans/image (and indeed people’s opinions of the style on my blog, which you admire – thank you for the compliment); it is subjective. I have given my interpretation and you yours.

    Best,

    Winston