The Death of Skinny?

The recent autumn/winter 2011 fashion events demonstrated that some designers and fashion houses have developed a move away from the traditional slim-fit, tailored trousers which have been prevalent in men’s fashion for several seasons. Instead, some of the most world renowned fashion houses such as Dior Homme and the Calvin Klein Collection have started a trend towards a more wider-leg style of trouser which still retains an inherent smart elegance, with clear inspiration from the fashion of the 1920s.

After so many seasons of tapered, slim-fit trousers dominating menswear, is the men’s fashion world ready for a more voluminous take on the trouser?

On The Runways

Looking at the shows at various autumn/winter 2011 fashion weeks, designers such as Dries Van Noten, Raf Simons and Thierry Mugler amongst others have all shown a clear emphasis on the wider-leg fit trouser – creating effective and unexpected visual effects. I think that the world of men’s fashion has become used to tapered, slim-fit tailoring, and the fact that several fashion houses have more recently shown a preference for billowing, wide-legged trousers with fathoms of fabric represents a huge contrast to what most people were expecting.

Dries Van Noten opted for muted tones in his trousers, with whites, blacks and one of the most popular colours of the season, camel, but my personal favourite was a fawn-brown colour with a super subtle wide grey pinstripe. Dior Homme followed suit with the neutral tones, focusing on greys and blacks with turn ups and double-pleated fronts, whilst Lanvin also opted for muted tones of black and silvery grey. The choice of fabric was largely super soft wool which seemed to pour down the legs almost like liquid; this metaphor carries through in the fluidity of the movement of the fabric – creating beautiful, billowing silhouettes.

At the other end of the spectrum, Raf Simons paired his monochrome wide-leg trousers with interesting horizontal flat pockets, with energetic flashes of purple and red to give a more futuristic, rather than classic look. Collections from Calvin Klein and Thierry Mugler were more adventurous with colour, featuring voluminous trousers in hues of autumnal red, electric blue and tangerine orange which really made a visual impact on the catwalks. Other design houses which also followed the wide-leg trend included Gucci, Yohji Yamamoto and Ermenegildo Zegna – showing that currently it really is making an impact.

The Wide Leg Trouser on the menswear runways - Dries Van Noten, Lanvin, RAF Simons and Dior Homme

The History: Wide Leg Trousers

I’m proud to say that investigation into the history of the wide-leg trouser during the earlier part of this century shows us that in fact the trend initially originated here in the UK (I love it when a popular trend has its roots in our humble island!). From 1925 onwards, wider trousers began to become more popular and were originally known as ‘Oxford bags’ – so-called because they were favoured by undergraduates of the University of Oxford here in England who were fighting against a very different type of prohibition – the University’s embargo on the wearing of ‘knickerbockers.’

As knickerbockers were banned in the classrooms, and ‘Oxford bags’ typically measured anything from 22 inches to an astounding 40 inches around the bottoms – they could easily be worn over the forbidden knickerbockers. Eventually the trend caught on and began to spread from the UK to other areas of the world, particularly the United States.

1920s Oxford Bags

The Role of Pop Culture

Recent seasons menswear lines have clearly been inspired by several different types of media, popular culture and periods from the past. Recently the most prevalent has been 1960s fashion, with fashion collections showing clear influence from the popular American TV series ‘Mad Men’ and its coolly stylish protagonist Don Draper – played by the no-less stylish John Hamm.

However, a new American TV series ‘Boardwalk Empire’ – which focuses on the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s – looks set to steal the ‘Mad Men’ crown, and has clearly inspired some of the designers’ current move away from tapered and slim to voluminous and wide in terms of trousers. ‘Boardwalk Empire’ is set in 1930s New Jersey in a world of corruption, bootlegging and rum-running, with the wardrobe featuring the wide-leg trouser typical to that period and worn by the archetypal American gangster/mobster of that era.

Think Al Capone, Bugs Moran and John Dillinger – or for those of you less informed on American Prohibition-era history – Bugsy Malone as he strides into Fat Sam’s speakeasy. The recent menswear fashion shows (particularly at the Paris A/W 2011 fashion week) where wide-leg trousers made an appearance demonstrates that ‘Boardwalk Empire’ is doing for 1920s fashion influences what ‘Mad Men’ did for 1960s fashion resurgences.

Boardwalk Empire Has been inspiring recent designer menswear collections

I think it is also safe to say that influences and inspirations in womenswear often have a bearing on changes and developments in menswear. This is apparent in the current trend for palazzo pants and culotte-style trousers which have inundated the womenswear market and feature prominently in high street retailers. Maybe the so-called mega trouser is the male equivalent of these palazzo pants.

In Print

In the most recent issue of ‘Fantastic Man’ magazine, there was a small feature on these so-called ‘mega trousers’ and the author had even road-tested some of the high-end products himself and reported back good results. The article highlighted that there had been a shift in menswear trouser width with ‘criminal amounts of fabric’ being used as a huge contrast to the narrow-fit trousers which have been more prevalent recently. The author sums it up by writing: ‘Full and fluid gained precious ground against the enduring dominance of tailored, tapered and skinny.’

How To Style?

I think with baggier styles of trouser there is always a risk of looking too casual and scruffy. However, if styled correctly, as shown by some of the great designer looks above, wide-leg trousers can still look uber stylish and retain an air of masculine elegance.The key to pulling of the look is not to go too wide – or you may risk looking like a) you are off to a gangsters and molls-themed fancy dress party, or b) that your style icon is Jim Carrey’s version of ‘The Mask!’

So although the widest-legged ‘Oxford bags’ had a great and inspiring revolutionary motivation behind them, most modern men still need to be able to actually move with relative ease and not be restricted by waves of fabric flapping about their lower limbs. My advice would be to opt for a more relaxed fit but not quite as wide as what were prominent on the catwalks. After all, those ‘shows’ are designed to provoke reaction, and by the time the styles have filtered down to the high street I think we are going to be looking at a cut similar to comfort jeans. In this day and age, anything over a slim cut would generally set you apart anyway!

In terms of colour, in everyday life the more muted, neutral colours would work best and will help you to remain sartorially ‘splendid’ (to use a typical 1920s adjective), whilst making sure you don’t look like a Bay City Roller.

  • ASOS BLACK Wide Leg Trousers
  • Washed Navy Slouch Chinos
  • All Saints Millisent Trousers
  • Unconditional Box Pleat Trousers
  • Levi's Vintage Clothing 1920s Chinos
  • ASOS Relaxed Fit Chinos
  • Dockers Vintage Loose Fit Chinos
  • rag & bone Men's Casual Bristol Tux Pant
  • Humor Dean Drop Crotch Coloured Denim Chinos
  • E Tautz for oki-ni Exclusive Single Pleat Trouser
  • Maison Martin Margiela 10 Men's Cotton Trousers
  • Comme des Garcons Shirt Men's Cotton Satin Pants
  • Nigel Cabourn Men's Denim x Linen Basic Naval Pant
The Debate

Personally I think that the current trend for slim-fit, tapered trousers is going to be a hard one to challenge. Despite the great, vintage look that wide-leg trousers evoke, I think they are generally harder to sell than their skinnier, tailored counterparts. This is clearly shown by the fact that very few high street menswear retailers currently stock wide-leg trousers in any style – it seems these retailers need a bit more convincing.

I remember about 8 years ago purchasing two pairs of wide-leg, pinstriped trousers from French Connection with the remnants of my student loan which were affectionately nicknamed my ‘gangster trousers’, and I really liked the fact that even back then they stood out from the rest of the trouser market and added a uniqueness and sense of individuality. So maybe there is hope for the return of the mega trouser!

So what do you think?

  • Will wider leg, comfort fit trousers catch on?
  • How would you style them?
  • Would you be willing to try them in order to separate yourself from the current popular fits?
  • Do you think they are more suited to formal or casual looks?

Let us know in the comments below…