Pleated Trousers – A Resurging Trend?

To pleat or not to pleat? That is the sartorial question.

Despite the everyday male’s natural aversion to pleated trousers and the continued preference of straight, slim-cut, flat-fronted styles by the industry as a whole, it seems that pleats are back with a vengeance. For both SS13 and AW13 – and extending as far as SS14 – the pleat has made its presence felt on the runways whilst subtly stamping its mark on current high street collections.

However, with the world of menswear now fully accustomed to skinny and slim-fit trousers, where cut and silhouette is key – is men’s fashion ready for the return of the pleat?

On The Runways

After reviewing the high fashion collections from recent global fashion weeks, it appears that designers have either gotten this trend very right, or extremely wrong – with seemingly no middle ground.

Let’s start with the good and take a look at some of the collections where the pleated trouser featured in a positive way; most notably at Burberry Prorsum and Vivienne Westwood.

Key Show: Vivienne Westwood

Although pleated trousers can often appear too voluminous, especially when compared to the classic slim-cut most men seem to prefer, the collection by Vivienne Westwood included pleated trousers that had a more streamlined feel.

This ensured the overall look retained a sense of sophistication rather than appearing old fashioned and outdated. The trousers featured by Westwood came in classic shades of grey and blue, with patterns such as houndstooth and subtle checks incorporated in toned-down palettes.

Although some of the Vivienne Westwood trousers had a slightly oversized feel, on the whole the designs appeared refined and the majority would seamlessly integrate into a modern capsule wardrobe:

Vivienne Westwood Pleated Trousers

Key Show: Burberry Prorsum

The second designer collection to do pleats well (even better than Vivienne Westwood, in my opinion) was Burberry Prorsum.

The Burberry Prorsum collection featured frequent use of pleats, with the trousers on show maintaining an elegant slim-cut that ensured they didn’t swamp the models’ legs.

The brand paired these pleated trousers with younger, less traditional pieces such as on trend bomber jackets and directional knitwear, rather than typically boxy blazers and oversized jackets.

This helped bring the aesthetic bang up to date, successfully circumventing the ‘old-fashioned’ label and resulting in a much more urban look – something that isn’t easy to achieve with a garment traditionally associated with more mature men:

Burberry Prorsum Pleated Trousers

Those Who Got It Wrong

As is to be expected with a garment that polarises opinion, not all designers got the look right. One of the worst offenders was Giorgio Armani, whose pleated trousers were a shining example of taking a trend too far.

Focusing on drape and fluidity, the width of the trousers approached gargantuan proportions. Even in the sumptuous, luxurious fabrics utilised it gave the collection more of a caricature/costume feel:

Giorgio Armani Pleated Trousers

Lanvin made a similar mistake by creating pleated trousers that were just too big and voluminous.

To compound the matter, many of the pleated trousers in the collection were featured in white, which is not only quite a statement but also adds natural width and raises questions about practicality and true wearability:

Lanvin Pleated Trousers

Pleated Shorts: A More Wearable Alternative?

An adaptation of the trend, pleated shorts proved to be extremely popular within both SS13 and SS14 collections.

When applied to shorts, pleating can often be more aesthetically effective than trousers, in part due to the shorter cut providing less opportunity for the style to become oversized.

This was emphasised in the collections by Vivienne Westwood and Raf Simons, which showcased some beautifully tailored pleated shorts that looked extremely contemporary and stylish.

Other designer collections, such as Dolce & Gabbana, went the other way – applying pleats to shorts in order to create a fuller effect.

However, in most instances the pleats were so oversized that it looked like the models were wearing culottes or skirts. Z Zegna pushed this approach one step further by applying hugely oversized pleats to shorts, which certainly produced a striking look, but just how practical is a wealth of excess fabric around your waist and crotch area?

Men's Pleated ShortsPleated Shorts on the runways at (L to R): Vivienne Westwood, D&G and Z Zegna

The Fashion Press

The pleated trouser trend has certainly divided opinion amongst the fashion press. Esquire.com have advocated the style, but warn that it is wise to take a minimal approach and opt for a trouser in a darker colour for subtlety.

Esquire UK seconded the opinion of its sister publication by citing the release of Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster movie The Great Gatsby as an influence on the pleated trouser trend. Brooks Brothers (whose designs were used as inspiration for the costumes worn in the film) even released a limited edition collection of Gatsby-inspired menswear, which featured slightly more wearable styles than in the film itself. This collection was described by Esquire as “posh, preppy and perfect for a smart look in the summer”.

In addition, Details magazine looked upon the pleated trouser favourably, writing:
“Pleated trousers do not make you look fat—that’s the most common misconception. The ones we saw for Spring/Summer 2013 are tapered for a slimmer silhouette. Try pairing them with a blazer for the office or a clean tee and white sneakers in warmer weather. They’re really comfortable and a good alternative to chinos.”

This particular feature in Details actually generated quite a lot of online discussion, with strong advocates and staunch critics both offering their opinion on the trend.

Critics of the trend tend to point towards the fit of pleated trousers when dismissing their credentials. Many think they will never take off due to them being much less pleasing to the eye than traditional, slim-fit trousers – making men look bigger than they actually are.

Reinforcing this viewpoint, the Huffington Post actually described pleated trousers as “woman repellent” and as having the danger of making men appear more “schlumpy”. Admittedly, pleated trousers need to be paired with the correct surrounding pieces in order to work effectively, and minimal rather than maximal pleats tend to be better received.

Modern Lookbook Examples

Men's Modern Pleated Trousers Lookbook

Timo Weiland aw13Timo Weiland aw13Celio aw13dolce and gabbana ss13dolce and gabbana ss13dolce and gabbana ss13Gieves & Hawkes ss14balmain ss14berluti aw12tom ford aw13farrah fallMauro Grifoni aw13
Current Styles
  • Cotton Linen Twill ShortsCotton Linen Twill Shorts
  • Skopes New Severn Chino ShortsSkopes New Severn Chino Shorts
  • Raf Simons Flower Print-trimmed Cotton ShortsRaf Simons Flower Print-trimmed Cotton Shorts
  • Selected Trousers With PleatsSelected Trousers With Pleats
  • Topman Sparks Darcy Trousers Topman Sparks Darcy Trousers
  • Original Single Pleat ChinosOriginal Single Pleat Chinos
  • French Connection City Stripe Pleat TrouserFrench Connection City Stripe Pleat Trouser
  • Wool Flannel Pleat TrousersWool Flannel Pleat Trousers
  • Paul Smith Mens Drop Pleat Cashmere TrousersPaul Smith Mens Drop Pleat Cashmere Trousers
  • Levis Made & Crafted Mens 59106 Pleated Chinos – IndigoLevis Made & Crafted Mens 59106 Pleated Chinos - Indigo
  • Austin Reed Wrinkle Free Mushroom Pleat ChinosAustin Reed Wrinkle Free Mushroom Pleat Chinos
  • Paul Smith Single Pleat Turn Up Trousers 163640Paul Smith Single Pleat Turn Up Trousers 163640
  • Peached Twill Single Pleat TrousersPeached Twill Single Pleat Trousers
  • Loyal Pleat Front Chino Trousers 147694Loyal Pleat Front Chino Trousers 147694
  • Dark Brick Pleat Front ChinosDark Brick Pleat Front Chinos
  • Mcq Alexander Mcqueen Pleated Front Chinos 161564Mcq Alexander Mcqueen Pleated Front Chinos 161564
  • Lanvin Pleated Tapered Wool TrousersLanvin Pleated Tapered Wool Trousers
  • Gucci Flint Wool TrousersGucci Flint Wool Trousers
Final Word

Clearly, pleated trousers are an item that polarises and divides opinion. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, there appears to be more advocates than I was expecting when researching the trend.

There is certainly a market out there for them, and this market is not only reserved for the more mature man who prefers traditionally pleated trousers. Recent designer and high street collections have demonstrated that this is a look that can work if treated correctly, and our very own Matt Allinson even went as far as to dispel the fashion myth that pleats aren’t stylish anymore in his dedicated article last year.

But what we really care about is what you guys think. Leave your comments and musings below and let us know whether the answer to the question is to pleat, or not to pleat…