From skinny to slim/cropped and finally to full and shivering break, my trousers really have changed through the years. It definitely took a lot of money and a lot of trips to the tailor to get to finally be happy with my trousers. Read on to learn about my trouser journey.
For those of you who came to this blog when it was much more about different pieces I had altered, I’m sorry. There are times when I get asked about what is the correct trouser fit/length and I try my best to provide some guidance. The truth is that I am extremely fussy about trousers and I actually don’t know what I want from them yet. So I decided to write this post as a way to show you why it’s a constant conundrum for me.
While we can all agree that fit matters in menswear, I certainly believe that trousers are up to interpretation. It probably stems from the fact that I’m a vintage enthusiast who is a little bit more experimental than most. There are days when I like slim trousers and there are days when I want a wide leg opening. It all depends on my mood and inspiration.
Compare this sentiment with jackets, where I think there’s only one real way to get them tailored. Basically they should fit the shoulders and provide a good silhouette through the body. Not too tight of course, but not too loose either. I mean even certain sack jackets from the 1950s-1970s had some subtle waist suppression (even without the darting) and didn’t just look like a box. Plus, most of the aesthetics come with the lapels, buttoning point, and shoulder treatment. Trousers don’t have that.
While we generally agree that trousers should have a high rise (the only rule I tend to live buy), I think the rest is up to you. I’ve seen slim trousers (and denim) with a high rise as well as wide (but cropped) pieces. Both of these look good, as long as you know what you’re doing. Hell, experimenting with different fits are a characteristic of vintage style! You’ll see long skirted jackets with slim, high hemmed pants in the 1920s, sharp-but-short jackets with wide trousers in the 1930s, and even broad jackets and pleated trousers in the 1940s and 1950s.
While the fit definitely varies, I think they all look sharp. I was going to say that the only factor that they all share was that they are hemmed to “no break” but in reality, they each have varying degrees of length. As a guy who likes parts from each era and combines them at will, I get inspiration from all of these trousers . In fact, I wish I had the ability to experiment with each of these types of treatments. But then again, if I had trousers in every treatment, my closet would literally implode. Could you imagine if I had 15 variations of grey flannel trousers? Wide cropped, wide no break, pleated cropped, pleated slim…
It definitely doesn’t help that there are guys today who experiment with their trousers that I routinely look at for outfit ideas. It just makes me realize that perhaps there really isn’t a “correct” fit. Just see how much these contemporary people vary! Some are even the same person, and you can see how their style progressed through time.
Did you notice how Chad Park went from slim and slightly short (first picture) to a fuller, less short fit in the last picture? As a guy who loves being able to try different things with style, it can get really annoying, when you can’t decide which one is “right”! My style constantly changes (albiet with minute details) and having a bunch of inspirations/style icons makes it even more difficult to settle on a look.
Imagine how much more frustrating it can be when you discover Jens Moland, a guy who does “sartorial avantgarde”. He’s piqued my interest with a vintage-military-suiting aesthetic that I’ve been really feeling after my bout of Bryceland’s inspiration. It’s completely badass. It may not be something I apply for suiting, but I can dig it for more casual stuff, especially as we move into warmer weather.
My Personal Journey With Trousers
Trousers have caused me the most grief when it comes to fashion. If I’m being completely honest, I really look at others for this stuff even though I do like to say “fuck it, where what you want”. It’s probably because it took me a long time to be satisfied and happy with my trousers. It also doesn’t help that people argue about trousers all the damn time, whether you’re talking with bespoke guys, vintage enthusiasts, or regular mall-buyers. I had some pretty bad anxiety over this a few times, even when it was just in my own head.
When you first start out into classic menswear, trousers are usually the pieces that get the most attention at the tailor. Jackets are easy, since changing it up from high school usually meant that I would just size down a size or two at the store. Trousers, on the other hand, would almost always need shortening and a bit of a taper. In fact, when I first got a tailor, I decided to get all my pants altered. It was a disaster.
Looking back, I actually started going to the tailor because of my friend Raj. Since he’s a small guy, he’s used to getting everything done: hemming, taking in, and tapering. One day he asked me if I could drive him to a local tailor he found on Yelp in order to fix one of his performance tuxedo (he is a trombonist in wind ensemble) that was absolutely monstrous on him. To our surprise, Mr. Tran was able to do the work in only a couple of days! Eventually we returned again to alter a pair of trousers for Raj.
At some point, I decided to go myself because I was tired of rolling up my trousers that were too long, or even pin rolling my chinos. In order to separate myself from my vintage style (which was always kept to be period accurate) I decided to taper my pants hard. I distinctly remember asking Mr. Tran to make them like my skinny jeans. It obviously was a bad idea, but it was what I wanted at the time. I then spent a lot of money getting all my trousers tapered to 6.75″. I even did that with new acquisitions!
Now they might not look too bad, but they were really lacking a good drape. Plus they hugged calves way too much. Something was wrong and I didn’t know what.
Once I found MFA in late 2015 and early 2016, I decided that I really wanted something more classic. Conversations with other people made me realize that my “modern fits” were too much of a jump from my vintage-accurate hobby. Perhaps I went super skinny in order to distance myself from my vintage persona! Either way, I found myself wanting to emulate the vintage style in a more modern way, and that meant having a bit of a roomier cut, utilizing a high waist, and getting that center crease.
I couldn’t achieve that look with the my skinny, low rise pants. During this phase, some trousers were let out in order to be more comfortable but I eventually had to purchase new trousers with a longer length to add cuffs (as I had seen them from the Armoury and B&Tailor). I still got my trousers tapered, but I decided to go for 7″ openings which was okay for the time being. I also decided to taper from the knee down instead from the entire leg.
I also want to add that there were times when I totally messed up on tailoring, even after thinking that I was on the right track. While I was still figuring out the whole “high rise” thing, I neglected to actually hold the pants as high as I wanted them. This would result in the trousers being hemmed too short.
I also started experimenting with pleats, especially after I fell in love with Ambrosi trousers. That blog post was probably the first time I had ever done anything with a fuller thigh!
By this time, my trousers had widened up to 7.5″ but something still was wrong: the trouser length. Sure it might be comparable to something from the 1960’s or early Chad Park outfits, but I had finally realized that the short length was not good on me. Perhaps it was good for casual, sockless stuff, but my overall tastes were changing as well!
As I started thrifting more ivy style/classic stuff (longer length, slightly fuller cut, wider lapels, the high water hems looked off. I’m sure that it works for some people, but it definitely wasn’t right for me. The anxiety for this issue came back, since I felt like what I was wearing wasn’t me.
I took my trousers back to my tailor to get them lengthened. Sometimes a “false cuff” was used in order to preserve the look, as some of these didn’t have enough fabric to be lengthened and to add a real cuff!
Then one day I wore a 1940’s suit to work. Like I’ve said before, I don’t really wear true-accurate Golden Era vintage unless its to a specific event like Dapper Day or a Benny Reese sale. Now, I always went with a “no-break” for vintage stuff before, but I never tapered them in order to preserve the look. They would stop right at the top of the shoe but not break at all. It’s one of the reasons why I wrote this article way back when.
I realized that I really liked this wide leg look. It was a little different than what was normally out there. I mean, obviously the Armoury and B&Tailor are wider than what you find at J. Crew or Banana Republic but its still not as wide as this! As the vintage collector in me started to resurface, I decided to try and do this even wider leg for everyday wear. It wasn’t going to be the 9.5-10″ like the ones on 1930s-1940s suits but after talking with my tailor, we decided that 8″ was the sweet spot. We also decided to hem them as close as we could to the shoe without breaking.
My Trousers Now
This is where I am now, and I’m pretty satisfied. The proportions work well on my body and is a natural partner for the high rise look. I think that my trousers now have a classic cut that can be perceived as being “wider than most”, but not as extreme as some others. I mean Chad Park and Arnold Wong have gone wider!
In terms of alterations, I usually keep the thighs at their standard dimension unless it is overly wide or baggy. I then taper from the knee down to an 8″; if the trouser is already under 8.5″ (usually through vintage or thrifting), then I keep that leg opening. The length probably varies slightly, but you’ll see that pretty much all my trousers tend to cover the ankle bone and slightly touch the top of the shoe without breaking.
I’ve actually looked at other bespoke tailors and RTW options and 8″ is the standard for my waist and height. So perhaps I’m not as vintage after all!
Of course I’m always looking at ways to tweak my style. I’ve obtained some wide trousers through eBay or thrifting and decided to keep their proportions in order to have a little fun. It also helps that a lot of my bases are covered (khakis, grey flannels) so it leaves me open for some experimentation.
These cinch-back trousers are one of my favorites since they are incredibly lightweight. They don’t have pleats but they did have a leg opening of 8.5″, which I kept! You can probably tell that these are bit wider than my previous trousers, but not by much. The increased drape helps with warm weather and they’re overall just a tad different than other offerings.
These 1950’s chinos were around 9″ but I had them taken to an 8.5″ in order to have a semi workwear look. The twilled cotton isn’t as smooth as my “dress chinos” which plays with the wider leg to add more character. Obviously Brycelands had a say in this.
These trousers are a whopping 9″ opening and were from this Polo RL suit. Other than some slight design changes, the proportions are nearly identical to a suit you would find in the 1930s-1940s. As such, I kept the leg opening and simply hemmed up the trousers. It’s a little too much for me as a suit, but it makes for a great odd trouser!
EDIT: I still may taper these just a tiny bit. Can’t make up my mind!
Here’s some real experimentation. These are Uniqlo U wide leg trousers that I got late spring/summer last year. The fabric is a fake imitation of seersucker, so they’re definitely not used for tailoring, but they make for some great casual wear! I opted for a cuffed, high crop in order to take advantage of the ankle breeze but it also changes up the silhouette for a bit.
My casual wear definitely leans a little bit on the wider, cropped end (a la Jens) and I’m sure you’ll see more of it moving forward into this season. Not sure if it’ll be applied to tailoring though!
Conclusion and Rules of Thumb
Looking back, the real theme of this article is to not think about clothes too much. It Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir (since I obviously take this more seriously than I thought), but it’s just something to remember. I know that my main issue was that I would go “all in” on a particular look and then change my mind later; picking clothes more intentionally and having a better understanding of what you want to look like is important to prevent any costly mistakes. I’ve definitely learned my lesson.
Honestly, you should wear your trousers in the way that makes you feel the most confident and correct to your style. There really isn’t a “correct answer” since people are on different ends of the spectrum! For example, there are vintage guys who like keeping things 50s and have a slight break while there are 1930s and 1960s guys who dislike breaks but don’t have the same vision on where the hem should actually be. Even if you look at the contemporary tailoring world, there are different versions of fit and break as well! Hell, most of those guys have different trousers so that they can go for a different silhouette at will!
This is my preferred trouser fit. A slightly full leg (with pleats or flat front) that has a very gentle taper to approximately an 8″ leg opening. Obviously there are some slight variations due to the limitations that thrifting/RTW has, but that’s where I like to keep it. While the leg can appear full to others, it’s actually not different than most RTW brands.
Length is something that I’ve gone back and forth over (as you can see from the previous images) but I think that it looks best when the trouser hits the top of your shoe without breaking (or breaking extremely slightly). When I go to my tailor, I try to bring a pair of shoes, but I found that I can also check it against the top of my foot.
Obviously the leg opening matters as well, not for simple aesthetics, but for how the break interacts with your shoe. If you have a narrow leg opening, your trouser will break much higher on the shoe, since the tendency to “catch” is increased. Therefore you can get away with a high or even a cropped hem.
Just remember that if you like a wider leg, you’ll need to have a longer length. It doesn’t have to break profusely, but hitting the top of the shoe is fine. I mean, cropped wide legs aren’t bad, but they look pretty weird with classic/vintage tailoring.
I’ll always wonder what would have happened if I never went overboard with tapering/cropping in the beginning or if I found the Armoury much earlier. It might have been closer to where I am now (and would’ve have saved me money and anxiety) but I wouldn’t have gained all that experience that I could share with you today.
In the end, it’s all up to you. I really wanted to write this article not because I believe that there is a singular correct look, but because I wanted to show you the long journey it took to be comfortable in my clothing. From when I started, I always felt that something was missing, like my pants were too tight and or too short. It took a lot of trips to the tailor to get it right, but I’m finally okay with where I am. The dimensions I chose for myself skim the line between vintage and contemporary, which is where I want to be! I even have a few pieces to experiment with.
So as you go on your own menswear journey, don’t forget to always look at different sources of inspiration and experiment a bit. All of my style icons have different ways of tailoring their trousers, which makes them much more interesting than if they had exact copies of the same thing in their closet. While there is such a thing as a “bad look”, there isn’t a “right look”, especially when you have intent behind your style. I think that if you know what you’re doing and that you’re confident in your clothing, then you have a good look. Just don’t be discouraged if you’re not there yet. It takes some work to hone your style and be happy with your choices. Hell, I’m still working toward that right now.
Always a pleasure,