The Trouser Department II: Getting the Silhouette Right

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For the sake of brevity this column is going to discuss a number of things, namely trouser rise, leg width and the trouser hem-line. In other words I’ll be focusing on trouser fit, something which I think suffers from a distinct lack of attention in modern fashion.

I wrote in my first column on the subject how trousers have a bad-deal, and what I meant by that, put simply, is that we don’t think about them enough or pay nearly enough attention to them. Its understandable why not; each of us wears trousers every day of our lives, they’re easily overlooked and taken for granted, and as the bottom half of your outfit, they don’t receive as much attention as the altogether more intricately crafted blazer on the top, that most of the time feels far more of an event when you slip it on.

In consequence, for the majority of men, the trouser simply hangs round your hips, and covers your legs – job done. Not so however, because a well cut and styled trouser can truly become the focus of your outfit, or at least prevent the other (often more thoroughly considered) elements of your outfit from being let down by sloppy attention to detail or an unremarkable fit. Trousers with shapeless legs that sit on the hips do nothing to flatter one’s figure, when with some subtle adjustments they can actively sculpt and slim the lower half of your body.

Let’s begin at the beginning then. My biggest gripe with trousers is just how low trouser rises are these days; even the most sartorial tailoring manufacturers are cutting trousers to sit around the centre of the hips, just above the seat and crotch. This is fine; it’s become modern convention and it’s supposedly the most comfortable way to wear trousers. We also associate the lower rise with having a more casual and ‘easy-to-wear’ appeal, but personally I don’t find painfully low-rise trousers much of a style-triumph.

The low rise of modern trousers is a very recent development. Right up until the late 80s you could expect to find trousers with a high rise designed to sit either over the tops of the hips or around the natural waist, more or less across the belly button. Previously, even those suits that we consider to be super cool; the slim, modern pieces of the 1960s for example exhibited a proper rise, designed to sit on the waist. Why we would like our trousers to sit around our seats then, when this tailoring is clearly the essence of super-cool, remains a mystery.

Think about it, it is worth grounding all your trouser style decisions in what the trouser is actually designed to do. It was never intended to perform a solely practical function that the modern trouser so often does; to cover your legs and sit on the hips. It was designed to contribute to the masculine, yet flattering, elegant hourglass figure that a well-tailored ensemble will inevitably provide, flowing out beneath the jacket, waistcoat (or even knitwear) over the hips and then falling down the leg, acting in effect as the bottom half of an hourglass. The trouser sat on the waist and draped beautifully down the lower half of the body providing a waisted silhouette. The only way a trouser can achieve this is by sitting on the natural waist, otherwise it can’t flow over the hips. The photograph beneath illustrates the point.

I know that having your trousers around your waist will sound both radical and unappealing to most readers, but I would urge you sincerely to experiment with giving your more formal trousers a higher rise, even trousers that sit at the tops of the hips as opposed to the bottom provide a huge improvement (as you can see from the photograph above), they look both more masculine and more elegant.

If looking for off-the-peg tailored trousers, I’d suggest buying them in a ‘long’ length, and having the hems taken-up. This will provide you with the extra rise you need, as most retailers will lengthen the rise by a good one to two inches for ‘long’ length trousers. This will also give you the excess cloth in the leg to add a turn-up should you wish. (For more on turn-ups see my first piece on trousers.)

This leads me onto the second issue of the day, the silhouette of the trouser leg itself. All too often there is simply too much cloth in the leg of an-off-the-peg trouser for most men’s frames, purely because an off-the-peg trouser has to fit every customer’s body. Unless you’re wearing some deliberately full-cut trousers, bags or trousers with heavy set pleats, excess cloth in the leg seldom drapes properly and produces an ungainly and inelegant silhouette running through the leg. Consequently, I’d recommend paying attention to the width of your trouser legs, keep them slim and get your trousers altered if needs be to remove excess cloth in the leg.

I am aware that many of you reading this will be sitting there thinking ‘but I don’t have slim legs’, so please do not misunderstand me: when I say ‘slim’ I mean that your trousers should be fitted to your legs, and taper from thigh to calf in line with the natural shape of your leg, producing a comfortable, yet shapely fit and allowing the cloth of the trousers to drape neatly. This will slim-down the line of your legs and make them appear longer and leaner.

I myself have huge thighs, so skinny trousers are out of the question, but because I have to accommodate for my thighs, without a fitted leg, my trousers would be huge, baggy things that would positively sway in the wind – making my legs look unflattering large and more boxy than they are.

Now, for the hemline, I covered this briefly last week, so a short note will suffice: for the cleanest, most elegant and simultaneously modern look, trouser legs should sit on the top of the shoe, or exhibit only a small break at the front; any bunching or gathering at the bottom of the leg because its too long is simply wrong and it looks hideous. Any alterations tailor will hem a trouser for less than ten pounds, it takes minutes and is just about the most simple alteration there is; there is no excuse for a bunched lower leg on your trousers.

Well, that’s the silhouette covered. For the final piece in the series next week, I’ll be drawing together all these component parts, through a discussion on pleats, pocket shapes and trouser drape, presenting ideas which I hope will ensure that the humble men’s trouser will receive considerably more thought than it has hitherto…


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Aleksandar Cvetkovic is a full time student at Oxford University. He is also a self confessed dandy, tailoring enthusiast and connoisseur, looking to build a career in the menswear industry upon graduation. He blogs at thestudenttailor.blogspot.co.uk.

Comments

  1. Dom says:

    Another great article.

    I’m thinking about getting some of my trousers tapered but I’m going to wait till part 3 to get your final thoughts.

    I got my high rise wool flannel dark trousers re hemmed today but I feel like there is still to much of a break, and looks scruffy. But I think it might be down to them not being tapered enough. For a medium ish 1/2 break how far down the back of the shoe should the hem of the trousers be when standing?

    I find higher rise trousers can be uncomfortable when using a belt when sitting . Are there any styles of trouser where braces are inappropriate?

    Keep up the good work, your articles have been very informative!

  2. dha says:

    I see this article has being designed for readers in the UK or Europe. Interning enough I would think North Americans would not know what is being discussed her. Most men in Canada feel a pair of 10 year old jeans are suitable for every occasion. Throw on a jacket for dinner or a T shirt for evening. This is most prevalent in younger Hollywood and of course young people feel compelled to follow there ragtag, mugshot idles. This was the first thing I noticed watching the Canadian hockey team arriving for the Olympics wearing baggy jeans with heavy white stitching that were sold some 8 years ago, and dirty Hoodies. Remind me how much these guys are paid, and obviously a stylish pair of trousers must cost over a million in Canada.

  3. Dear Dom,

    Many thanks for your kind comments, I’m glad that you’re finding the advice helpful.

    With regards to the hem length for your flannel trousers, I have a number of suggestions. If the trousers have turn-ups (or indeed if they are very slim through the calf) I think that the neatest look is to have them sitting just on the top of the shoe, almost with a flash of sock showing around the sides of the shoe – as the final two photographs above show. This creates a neat, straight hemline and allows turn-ups to sit faultlessly.

    However, from what you say, it sounds like they’re a plain hem with around half an inch of break at the front? If this is the case, I’d suggest that the trouser hem be allowed to fall a little below the top of the shoe at the back. Really, between half an inch and an inch from the top of the shoe should be all that is required, to keep the hemline clean. Having said that, the amount of hemline falling onto or below the shoe all boils down to personal preference, so don’t feel that you must follow my advice here.

    With regards to braces, I wear them a lot, and again, I think it boils down to personal preference – there’s no code with braces, wear them with any trousers that you care to. I should have mentioned in the post above that (as you rightly said) belts do not suit high-waisted trousers, and tend to slip, so snug waistbands (with side-adjusters) and braces with high-rise trousers are recommended.

    I hope that is helpful, please feel free to ask any other questions,

    Aleks

  4. Dom says:

    Thanks for the advice.

    I’m getting married in October and I’m wanting to have a suit made. I’m not going to bother with tails and I’m thinking of a mid grey prince of Wales check three peice in a heavier wool (over 12oz if possible). My thinking is if I’m going m2m or bespoke I should get something that’s not available easily rtw so hence the fabric weight and pattern.

    Do you have any advice to what works with POW?

    Also I’ve spoken to a couple of Taylors so far. Well I say Taylors but I thing they were just sales assistants. One kept saying things that didn’t instil confidence ‘lighter fabrics drape better’ and that a suit I bought on offer didn’t need any alternations (even when j said i would pay) – I thought that 99.9% of the time rtw could benefit from some alterations and that it’s generally accepted that a bit more weight on a suit can look better. The other salesman was just trying to push me towards rtw saying m2m was just for people with weird bodies – is there any truth in this?

    What advice would you give to help me choose the right person for the job. I’ve considered heading to London to see the Cad and Dandy after their very favourable review here but that would really put the cost up and I want a good relationship with someone local (north east/Yorkshire) for future services.

  5. Dear Dom,

    A 12/13oz Prince of Wales check sounds lovely, and makes a lovely statement for weddings. I would opt for a cloth with a blue overcheck and match it with a crisp white shirt and a sharp navy tie (possibly with a subtle pattern) for a crisp, yet elegant ensemble. Dugdale Bros offer a number of 12-14oz options in their ‘English and Town Classics’ and ‘Royal Classic’ bunches, which are starting price bunches in most tailors and so very affordable. http://www.dugdalebros.com

    Now, to turn to the question of MTM/bespoke, made to measure is not ‘for people with weird bodies’ but provides the opportunity to personalise the style of a suit, and it can offer a better fit than off-the-peg. Having said that, I have experienced a number of MTM services, and I feel that made to measure often doesn’t quite make the grade. With made to measure, there are only certain things that can be done; the waist can be nipped in, the sleeve length set and the same for the trouser hems. Equally, the suit will not have a hand-padded canvass/lapel, and nor will the sleeves be pitched to your body. Furthermore, you’ll be dealing with more shop assistants, not people with tailoring expertise in most MTM services.

    However, I have had three suits made by the Cad & the Dandy, (a review of the latest will be coming to Mensflair and my blog shortly) and I recommend both the quality of the product, their expertise and the affordable price unreservedly. The Cad & the Dandy’s ‘machine stitched’ service still involves the creation of a unique paper pattern, which creates a far superior fit to simply tweaking a pre-made block (as most other MTM services do), so I would suggest that it is worth a fact-finding trip down to London, as I don’t know of a comparable service in your area. It might also be worth looking at Ede & Ravenscroft’s ‘Personal Tailoring’ service, which starts at a similar price range and I gather is rather good.

    I hope that helps,

    Aleks

  6. Dom says:

    That’s great. Thanks so much for your feedback. I now feel like I’ve got some specific questions to ask then, I’ll be able to fairly compare their services/prices . I’m very tempted to go to see cad and dandy but the disadvantage in choosing them is I won’t have found a good nearby Taylor and I can’t really choose an option with multiple fittings as it will really put the prices up due to transport. Ede and ravens croft have a shop in edinbrough which is a little (not much) closer. I’m going to a Taylor I’ve been recommended in Newcastle on Friday but they might be a little more pricy. The other one I had heard good things about say their bespoke service starts at £1,400 which is way above what I want to spend!

    Any other questions I should be asking when making inquiries?

    Looking forward to your upcoming review.

  7. Matt says:

    Dom,

    Can I ask which tailors you planning to visit in Newcastle?

    I also live in the area and have been trying to source a good local tailor offering bespoke or made-to-measure for the last couple of months.

    Like you, I had considered travelling to London to visit Cad and the Dandy but finally decided against this when I factored in the additional cost in time and money associated with trailing all the way down there for 2-3 fittings. In the end I opted for a visiting tailor was willing to come up from London to see me.

  8. Dom says:

    Tailors recommended to me by Savvy Row (based near Durham) are Isaac Walton’s in newcastle and Brooks in Barnard castle. I’m enquiring this Friday as to the former’s pricing but one in Barnard castle looks out of my league. Let me know if you find anything @domminniti

  9. Matt says:

    Dom,

    I use Walton’s a lot for alterations and have had the opportunity to inspect a number of their made-to-measure suits while in the store. I personally would not recommend them as they are bog standard, fused construction, suit made off-site in a factory in Leeds. Their prices start at around £600 for a two piece and you could probably get something better and cheaper by buying off the rack and having adjustments made.

    I have no prior experience of using Brookes but the pictures of ill-fitting suits that litter their website are not an encouraging sign.

    Jules B and Palmer’s Menswear in Jesmond both offer a made-t0-measure service and may be worthy of an exploratory visit when you are in town on Friday.

    I would also recommend you consider visiting Steed over in Carlisle. They are a proper bespoke tailoring company with strong Savile Row roots, who offer made-to-measure starting at around £900.

    Best of luck! I’d love to hear how you get on.

  10. Dom says:

    Hi Matt

    Thanks very much for that. I called them earlier today and came to a similar conclusion about Walton’s. I called Brooke’s and it does seem the closest to true bespoke so far but those picture look terrible. I think some of them might just be badly chosen stock photos but it doesn’t instill confidence. Probably going to give them a miss as they are way over budget.

    Going to talk to woven in Durham to see what their m2m suits are like.

    Looking at Cad and Dandy my one question is ‘what’s the catch?’ How can they afford to put so much more effort into their suits, in exclusive areas of London, while being so very price competitive. I really appreciate how they are completely up front with the pricing and what work they do to the suits on their website. But how do they hand pad for only £550?

  11. Matt says:

    Dom,

    Someone asked a similar question over on another menswear blog:

    http://stjames-style.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/cad-and-dandy-three-piece-finished.html

    The answer seems to be that C&tD have off-shored production of their made-to-measure suits to China and so are presumably saving a considerable amount on production costs.

    If you want something from them that’s hand-stitched in the UK then you would need to upgrade to their fully bespoke service and expect to pay considerably more for the finished garment.

    If you are able to get down to Yorkshire then you may wish to consider Mullen & Mullen in York or Michelsberg in Leeds. A friend used the latter for his wedding and was quite happy with the finished article (although again, we are talking about factory made suits with a fused construction).

  12. 7 for all Mankind says:

    Fantastic post- It’s a shame that for many like you said, the trouser just provides a basic function purpose- I love the following statement: “it was designed to contribute to the masculine, yet flattering, elegant hourglass figure that a well-tailored ensemble will inevitably provide” I think a lot more men need to hear words like this in order to realise just how crucial the right fits are!

  13. jojo remeny says:

    As a fashion designer / Tailor I get exasperated at so many pseudo charlatan tailors who have popped up in abundance with just a fancy dandy name and no back room in the shop where you see if any suits being cut or or Sewn.they are not tailors but showmen who send their suits mostly factory fused to : hong Kong ,china ,Vietnam India etc to be made thats why there is a waiting time of 6 weeks between each fitting if there is one .
    There is a difference between bespoke tailoring and made to measure namely latter being made jojoremy t now even commercial so called tailoring houses have merged to 2 together confusing the customer even more .
    I suggest you find a bonefide one man tailor and ask to see his workroom which should be situated in shop.If you do order ask to see your suit being cut .this is only way you know that the tailor is genuine .you can follow me in Facebook and see the suits I’m making for various customers … I have been learning the old ttraditional way of making suit s using full body canvas pad stitched lapels and chest canvases all sewn by hand and handstitched buttonholes under the watcful eye of my 85 year old master tailor/teacher. im totally obsessed with learning this great artform with the best old school tailors.add me on facebook and be kept up to date on the suits im making jojoremeny

  14. Hello all,

    Permit me to offer some brief clarification on the Cad & the Dandy’s service, as when I was first starting out into the bespoke world, on a very limited budget, I too wanted to know exactly what the Cad & the Dandy offer for such affordable prices.

    The ‘machine made’ option is essentially a personally tailored suit, made in china to your measurements and stylistic specifications (using a paper pattern as a base). This is fused and has the minimum of hand-work. It is however, a very high grade personally tailored suit, because, as opposed to simply taking an off-the-peg block, the Cad & the Dandy will create a pattern for you, giving you a free range of stylistic choices; you can specify lapel gorge, width, sleeve width, trouser rise etc… things that are normally non-negotiable on a personally tailored machine made suit.

    The half-hand made, is cut and basted in the UK from a paper pattern (mostly in the firm’s own Savile Row workroom – which you can see at the rear of their Savile Row shop), but then sent over to China to be made-up. Here, more handwork is involved, the chest and lapel are padded by hand, but by Chinese tailors as opposed to London tailors.

    The fully-hand made option is made in their London and Savile Row workrooms, by London trained tailors, and Savile Row grade cutters. It involves ALL the handwork expected of a British bespoke suit; hand-padded, fully canvassed coats, hand-padded lapels, hand set sleeves, hand finished seams and button holes. Hand-felled linings. Collars set by hand – the lot.

    The Cad & the Dandy have a large workforce, and access to considerable economies of scale, more so than just about any other bespoke tailor in the UK. They negotiate significant discounts on cloth from the mills which supply them, which allow savings to be passed onto the customer. They also have such a large customer base that their volume of trade simply facilitates a more competitive pricing scheme. Inevitably, their suits are also less labour intensive than a pure-blood bespoke tailor, because the fully hand-made service only allows for one basted fitting between ordering the garment and reaching the forward fitting stage. Sleeves are not set separately but are attached at this basted fitting and adjusted afterwards if necessary. The fit achieved is nonetheless excellent and the best that one could hope for given the low price.

    The result is a frankly wonderful suit, which provides a marvellous product at a fifth of the price of just about any other London made suit. There may be small details of fit and style which are not of the same standard as a pure Savile Row suit which has some five fittings, but the Cad & the Dandy most certainly provide an excellent product for the price offered. One cannot expect to have five fittings and top quality flawless bespoke for £950.00. Nonetheless, their suits are provide excellent value for money, and are most definitely true bespoke suits in every sense of the term.

    I hope this helps to clarify things.

  15. Dom says:

    That’s fantastic. Thanks for the further info .

    I’ve now narrowed it down to 2. The first is from a gentlemens outfitters in Durham called Woven. They’ve given me a quote on a full canvassed suit, made by their cutter in Leeds with lots of hand details and a basted fitting for £796 for a entry level 12/13oz cloth in a 3 peice suit. My only concerns with them are the tailoring expertise of the person who will measure me and how they are able to offer this service when most of the other tailors cost this sort of thing above £1500 . It seems too good to be true.

    The second is Cad and Dandy. I would only be able to do a 3 peice machene made, or a two peice half bespoke for my budget though.

    I’ve still got plenty of time to decide and my fiancée has vetod the pow check no matter how subtle so I’ll have to look again at cloths.