Clothes are meant to make the most out of your body. Even if you’re not the fittest guy, a well-tailored piece can still make you look a million bucks! One example is the high-waisted trouser; It’s an old school detail that sets you apart from all the other #menswear guys around you.
From the 1920s-1950s, high waisted trousers (or high rise) were the norm. Just so you know, rise refers to the length of the crotch seam to the top of the pant. These pants sit at the “natural waist” right at your belly button, which is the widest part of your body and the correct place where your body is visually halved. However, they can even be made to be higher.
With your “visual legs” starting higher up on your body, it naturally has the effect of making your legs look long. If you are short or have shorter legs, high waisted trousers can do wonders. As a 5’8 man with some thick thighs, it makes my legs look slimmer and longer! Here’s some examples with true vintage (1930s-1960s) pieces.
Luckily for us in 2015, people still make high waisted trousers. Menswear has finally moved away from making suits look like skinny jeans and actually crafting them to flatter your body. I mean there’s a reason why women jeans in this style. Ask any girl and you’ll hear how good it makes them look; ass is accentuated and the legs are elongated.
These high-rise pants aren’t met to sit on your hips and sag like your Hot-Topic denim; they sit right near your belly button. Check out some classically styled guys from B&Tailor and The Armoury who take their tailored inspiration from the 1940’s, with high-rise pants and deep pleats. Look at how long it makes their legs look!
Compare these awesome images with modern every-day pants. Most of these sit four inches below the belly button while others can sit right on the hips (low-rise). While it may not be 1940 anymore, it’s definitely not 2003 anymore. Girls don’t even wear low rise anymore! High-waisted pants have taken the world by storm.
Just look at how short my legs look. It also doesn’t go enough to meet the button stance of the jacket. There’s a small gap between the buttoning point of the jacket and where the pants start. This small bit of shirt shouldn’t be seen; there should be a seamless transition from shirt to jacket to pant.
Here’s a gent who should be wearing pants at his navel. It just messes with his body proportions and shows how short his vest is.
You see what I mean? Right now, you’re probably liking the look but you probably don’t have the thousands of dollars to buy those handmade garments. That’s okay, because there’s another way to get them! Just get a waist size bigger than what you’re used to, and BAM! High waisted trousers.
For example, I’m typically a 32×30. To achieve a high waist, I get a 33 or 34. Because the trouser proportions (like the rise) will be made for someone bigger than me, the trousers will then sit higher on my body. I then get the waist taken in, clean up the seat/upper thigh area, and I end up with high rise trousers! It’s an option for you guys who buy from mall brands like Banana Republic and J. Crew.
Those brown fleck ones from GAP are a great example. The flecked pattern really gives it a vintage feel, which is one of my main inspirations behind my style! Its almost 1940s-1950s, which was what the designer (David Hart) had in mind. If your resulting tie is too long (since now you have a high-rise), just tuck it in. When done right, it looks more Italian and less dad-like. Just remember to wear suspenders with them!
EDIT 3/26/19: Doing the waist trick isn’t always advised, since it can lead to a lot of tailoring. Usually it encompasses taking in the waist and seat, which can lead to balance issues if you buy trousers that are too big in the waist. I personally haven’t done it myself in a long time as I typically wear vintage or custom. I suggest only going one size up if you want. And make sure the trousers are on sale! You might as well go vintage or custom if you’re going to spend a lot of money before tailoring.
Another way is to simply go vintage. Vintage trousers will inherently be high rise since that’s simply how it was done back in the 1920s-1970s. Obviously some vintage trousers will vary in design and style (drop loops, side tab adjusters, pleats, etc) but they will get the job done. You don’t even have to buy “super vintage” trousers; trousers from the 1980s/90s will do the trick if they were designed to be high rise. Either way, a dead give away of a high rise will be a longer fly. If the pants fly seems too long, it will be high waisted!
I’ve thrifted a bunch of vintage trousers from the 1960s-1990s to great effect! They all range by the exact rise (some sit at my belly button while others sit higher) but they get the job done! Remember that you don’t have to get wide 1940s style pants when you want to go high waisted. If you get the pants tapered, you’ll end up with something that exudes the bespoke high rise examples shown above!
Another option which could be expensive, is to go custom. I’ve only had a few custom suits made, but I’ve made a habit of altering my measurements to ensure that I receive high rise trousers. This is usually done by paying close attention to the crotch, waist, and overall length measurements. Sometimes the brand will question you, but stay strong! It usually works!
Here’s the main lesson: a lower rise will always have its place with jeans and other casual clothes, but when it comes to chinos, dress trousers, or suit pants, high-rise is the way to go. These pants are meant to drape smoothly and create straight lines through the body. They are meant to sit at your belly button, not four inches below and sag. You should only wear what flatters you, not pants that make your legs look short and throw off your body proportions.
Thanks for reading, and I hope that you guys will try out this old school detail with your modern pieces like I have. Remember that there’s no shame in mixing and matching your garments, whether they’re vintage or not. Having high-rise trousers will definitely up your game if you want to have have a vintage-meets-modern style!
Always a pleasure,