The Trouser Department II: Getting the Silhouette Right

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…