To Pleat or Not to Pleat? | The Great Trouser Debate


Flat-Front trousers (on the left) or Pleated Trousers (center)?

Flat-Front trousers (on the left) or Pleated Trousers (center)?


There’s been a big debate lately amongst myself and some colleagues concerning pleats.  Now, I’ll be honest– I haven’t worn a pleated trouser in who knows how long.  And it’s not like I ever did by choice, but that’s how most suits came for a long time.  And not just suits either– I remember when Polo sold only one basic khaki (chino, whatever… let’s not go there) and it was called the Pleated Jean–  with double forward pleats (the only acceptable pleat treatment in my mind).  Once in awhile you’d see the America Pant– their flat front at the time.  Anyone else relate, or am I dating myself?

Anyway, the debate is over the relevance of men’s pleated trousers.  Again, I could live largely without pleats altogether.  But, there are certain specific occasions when a snotty, grey flannel chalk-stripe suit with a peak lapel and deep double forward pleats, with a rise up to your belly button feels, well– proper.  I guess it’s more nostalgic than relevant, but it’s badass just the same.  Reverse pleats?  Not so much.  But that’s just how I roll.  The forward is more Anglo, the reverse feels more Euro.  Now the reverse has been adopted as the “every guy” pleat– meaning it’s the more commercial, and some say more flattering pleat.  It lays flatter, blah, blah, blah.  

Is the flat front the new absolute?  Will we ever see a large return to the pleated trouser again?  Are pleats relevant at all?  I feel likes it’s easier to get a guy who’s been wearing pleats into flat-fronts, but nearly impossible to get a flat-front guy into pleats.  I’d like your feedback.  Seriously.  And if you want to give a little feedback on your background to back it up, all the better.    


James DeangJames Dean Giant

James Dean wore bothnot that it matters.  What is relevant today?


Gary Cooper

Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster looking pretty suave in pleats.


Cary Grant

Cary Grant and "buddy", both looking great. Pleats on left, flat-front on right.


Errol Flynn in flat front trousers.

Errol Flynn in flat front trousers.


Montgomery Clift, pleated for "A Place in the Sun".

Montgomery Clift, looks to be donning a flat front trouser with a sharp crease, opposite Elizabeth Taylor in "A Place in the Sun".

33 thoughts on “To Pleat or Not to Pleat? | The Great Trouser Debate

  1. Great post… Funny but I’ve been having the same discussion amongst my fellow friends and colleagues as well… I believe it’s a matter of fit and style… A great fit with a classic pleat can be elegant and timeless when done right… A flat front can appear modern and American. Depends on the person, the style and the occasion I would say… Pleats do feel very European and in Europe I believe they pull it off with a great bit of panache not seen on many Americans since well the 1940’s and 50’s and before (1980’s Gordon Gecko as well possibly). A pleat with a double breasted power chalkstripe power suit should always remain relevant. I believe having both a pleat and a flat front in a working wardrobe makes sense as long as they’re worn in the proper fashion… No pun intended haha…

    • Adam,

      Thanks for the feedback, and the great balanced perspective. Do you have a preference between forward and reverse pleats?


    • I totally agree with you.

      Although the fact is I like flat front more because it gives you a cleaner look, I’m still a student and pleats give me that immediate effect of a well cut pant.

      Plus, the fit of a pant does matter. This pleat matter shouldn’t be an issue if a pant is well cut and tailored. It’ll be some kind of a fashion statement.

      Same goes with a cuff but I’m not gonna elaborate on it here….

  2. I’d say forward pleats with a high waisted pant… A bit harder to fit and they come out a bit but can look classier. A reverse pleat for a lower rise with a belt and a flatter pleat on the front which would probably fit better on a general consumer. Depends on the look one is going for. Also in terms of pleats being relevent I suppose we can look to the cycle in terms of trends… Things circulate and come in and out but whether in a flat front or a pleat if you have a great deal of effortless style you’ll always remain relevant for the most part… Speaking of pleats… Remember Z. Cavaricci and hammer pants… Talk about pleats galore!

  3. Cooper, Grant, Lancaster…note where their pants are. They sit much higher then we wear our pants today. This allows the pleats to fall straight down and not open up. It also helps that there isn’t a gut amongst them, the gut, in my opinion, being the killer of pleats. I wear pleated pants with my suits; however, I wear them all with suspenders, braces, or whateve you wish to call them. This keeps my pants up off my hips so the pleats sit correctly. If I’m wearing chinos, no pleats. They are belted and tend to slip down on me, opening the pleats. Plus, pleated chino’s have been crushed by Friday casual.

  4. Flat front pants are so good for achieving that clean, American look, aren’t they? And for that reason, it tempting to just make them a de facto fashion rule, especially for beginners. But when you’re ready to take off the training wheels, pleats can elevate your game. You can’t get a Saville Row suit without them, can you? And I suspect as the clean and traditional look favored today starts to give way, for no other reason than variety, pleats will make a strong comeback. Especially when paired with some other throwback elements to put them in context, like heavy tweed or a newsboy cap and suspenders. But for now, I’m keeping it simple and flat.

  5. Someone has to be very slender to make tucks look good, male or female. If you must wear them, make sure the tucks are facing the correct way. The fold should be flat adjacent to CF, the pleat opening facing the side seam.

    I hate pressing these slacks. It’s hard to line up the center leg crease to align with the tuck fold, depending on how well the slacks have been cut.

    • Thanks Kathleen. Sounds like you’re describing a reverse pleat. Good luck with the pressing.

      The word “slacks” makes my skin crawl, btw. It should be banned.



  6. Thanks for the interesting post. I think that when a man wears a sport coat or a suit, pleats are very helpful. The extra fabric of the pleats helps to fill out the bottom of the jacket, creating a continuous, elegant line from the ankle to the waist. In the very stylish fashion illustrations from the 1930’s, for example, almost all of the men’s trousers are pleated, like this gent’s:

    I think they look super. Conversely, when a man wears skinny, flat-front pants with a jacket, the overall effect is often that of two toothpicks sticking out of a box–not very flattering.

  7. Glad to have you back buddy. I’ve got a one pair of pleated pants in my wardrobe and based on everything I know about you, you clearly wouldn’t approve.

    1. they are single forward pleats
    2. they are uncuffed
    3. they are none other than michael bastian

    I love them and wear them about once a week in the summertime. I will say that I am a flat front cuff kind of guy but its always good to keep em guessing.

    • Thanks friend, it’s good to be back.

      So, single pleat without a cuff… did Kenny Thomas turn you on to them? Lee will know who I’m referring to. Kenny tried that at Polo- JL and Rosenberg thought he’d lost his mind. This was back in 2000, for the Holiday 2001 adoption- Kenny showed up in a Jil Sander suit with the pants cropped about mid calf. Imagine. He was all about the single pleat, no cuff. Needless to say, they ended up cuffed and Kenny ended up… elsewhere.

      I wish him well.


  8. JP –

    Ahhh…this is a good debate over beers! I am with Mr. Turling – pleats with suits and braces (let’s avoid the suspender word too!) My preference is front pleats over reverse (Euro) pleats, but they are more difficult to find in trouser separates. However, a front pleat will break open more easily, thus I think the reason reverse pleats have become the staple – fits a larger (pun intended) male range. When a gentleman can break open reverse pleats, he does need assistance with proper fitting of trousers.

    I believe the “new classic” dress for a man will include both a flat and pleated trouser within his wardrobe. Personally I do not own a flat front pant, but soon will – I need to be my own walking billboard for J. Hilburn products.

  9. I was just talking to someone the other day about pleats. I can’t see myself ever straying from flat front pants and I’m pretty short so the high waisted pants wouldn’t be an option for me. Those pictures aren’t quite fair, though. Those guys would look cool in just about anything.

    • You’re probably right to stick with flat fronts. And the pictures are fair.

      We have to keep the bar high in menswear. When we lower it, all kinds of “lowest common denominator” crap creeps into your brand and you end up with runny scrambled eggs- you become a label instead of a brand, and you start to offer commodity goods instead of products designed with a point of view. You must stand for something, and be relevant.

  10. hey jp, missed your posts. this is a prescient post for me because i’ve recently started getting pleated suits again. i’m 6′ 250- linebacker build- and to tell you the truth, i love the silhouette of flat front pants in suits but it can make broad-shouldered, barrel-chested guys look a bit restricted. the looseness inherent in pleated pants seems to offset this in my mind. but i still love a pair of flat front trousers with a generous, full leg…

  11. Has there been any mention of the thin single pleat? When I was living in London, I bought an Austin Reed three button suit (sorry Ralph, before I knew any better) that had a thin single pleat on the trouser. I’m a thin guy with no waist and normally pleated trousers look horrid on me, but that single pleat seemed to be flattering while also upping the elegance factor. I think fabric plays a big role in this debate too. A twill on a chino doesn’t seem to hold a pleat at all giving it a fuller, less flattering appearance. JP, you’re right though, until recently you couldn’t get a suit without pleated trousers.

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  13. I’ve always preferred the flat front. It’s not that I think pleats are old fashioned or dowdy, or even that they don’t really look that great. I just don’t like them. Although I feel like in menswear, there’s always room for the classics, and if done well, they will always look great. Maybe it’s the 4 years of catholic all boys school and uniforms, but I love me a flat front trouser. I think a lot of it is also the fact you have to wear pleated trousers so high. I grew up skating and what not, so it took me an embarrassingly long time to wear my pants at my waist-I used to wear pretty blown out gear. So it’ll probably be a while before I bust out some pleats. I do think they look better as a suit, rather than on their own.

    My inner old man does love how pleats look when you stand straight with your hands in your pockets.

  14. I have been making reverse pleat trousers for almost 20 years (we are a leading tuxedo maker). I have also been wearing them other than jeans. My favorite pair of cotton khakis were a foward pleat. I finally broke down last year and started converting my wardrobe to plain front. I have also noticed a major uptick in sales of my plain front uniform trousers.

    One of my old time men’s store customers just informed us that he is now only selling plain front trousers. Now I know pleats are officially out!

    The biggest problem I have is that most manufacturers are making low rise stick leg trousers. We need to diversify and offer different patterns for different ages and shapes.

  15. My work suits all have pleats but my chinos and non work trousers and jeans are all flat fronted.

    I do like really defined pleats but it’s annoying when they start to soften out, especially if you’ve put off going to the dry cleaner for too long.

  16. Notice all the men in pleats are handsome and trim. So many American men (and women too, of course) can’t carry it off due to their hefty stature.

  17. Did anyone notice that the guy on the left has cuffs on his trousers. I personally preffer cuffs on my dress pants. I read recently that cuffs are always in order except for tuxedo trousers. I hope I am not sparking another debate.

  18. So glad to see that there is at least a glimmer of a discussion here as fashion has been so adamantly AGAINST pleats for so long.

    I totally agree with Daniel that we need diversity to match the plethora of both shapes/sizes as well as taste. If you are trying to cultivate an elegant look, something timeless and more “dressed” then please experiment with pleats. I think in general flat front pants will be more slimming if that is a concern, but that’s partly because they are easier to tailor. Pleats can be incredibly, magically flattering if they are cut for your body out of the right fabric.

    Who are you: Noel Coward or Marlon Brando?

    Vive la différence!

  19. As a woman who dresses men of all ages and shapes every day, I have to say that the flat front really is universally more flattering. I have been dissapointed to see pleats returning to the runway. As a few others have mentioned here, unless you are model material, with a tall thin frame and wearing a high waisted trouser, it is just not going to fall well. That describes so few of our clients, and most of the gentlemen wearing larger sizes are under the misconception that the pleats hide their pooch, when all it does is accentuate it. We currently only carry flat front in our store and I hope it stays that way. Since we offer custom clothing, we can always make a pant with pleats for the insistant customer and it gives us the opportunity to steer those away from it who will only look larger with pleats.

  20. Flat is always so easier to carry than the pleats. Pleat will be a bad idea on an out of shape body & it does make men look a little more older. The number of fans for pleated trousers are considerably reducing all the time. Though as a woman & esp as an Indian woman (Who has variety of shapes & drapes in her wardrobe)it would be so boring to see all men wearing single kind of trousers 😦
    I do agree with you on slacks- they MUST be banned.

  21. I’d like to take this time to point out two things that people seem to be missing (at least, from my cursory glance at the 28 comments). Pleats aren’t solely decoration! Pleats perform two very important functions:

    1. When you sit, the pleat spreads out across the knee, thus reducing wear on the fabric. With a flat front pant, this area is often stretched upon sitting, resulting in a “pocked” knee.

    2. Pleats hide things in the pockets. Put your hands in your pockets while wearing a pair of flat-front pants and while wearing a pair of pleated pants. It’s pretty easy to see the difference. Pleats hide keys, wallets, money, whatever you might choose to put in your pockets.

    For me, the flat-front pant will always be a casual, less dressy pant. I usually end up wearing flat-front pants with a polo or tattersall open-collared shirt. Plus, pleats are one of the few ways you can customize your wardrobe – I’ve always gone with a beautiful box pleat on my custom-made trousers.

  22. Okay, sorry to contribute twice to the same thread. But I disagree with the oft-stated idea here that flat-front pants are always more flattering, or that pleats are appropriate only for slim men. I think the opposite is true. Here is a picture of Konrad Adenauer, the former (and portly) head of West Germany.

    The pleats in his trousers do two important things for him: they accentuate the vertical line that lengthens his body, which he needs! And, second, they help to send the viewer’s eyes up to his face, where they should be, rather than on massive swathes of unpleated fabric across his midsection. Without pleats, the trousers of “hefty” men look like big blocks of cloth. At least that’s my opinion.

  23. I agree with Matt on this topic…I seen too many oversized men in flat front pants…they look like big weenies…pleats, forward ones, tend to break up that overstuffed sausage look. I have a long torso/shorter leg body type, and am now getting a bit of a gut. I need higher waisted pants with forward pleats….they are now hard to find….if only Z. Caravici is still around….personally, the last 7-8 years had been hard on guys like me….the low waisted no pleat pants was everywhere….I just want to be able to find all type of pants, more variety!

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