The Perfect Trousers

What do you consider most extensively when buying a suit?

I’d put money on your answer being the jacket. But trousers are just as deserved of your scrutiny. A good pair of trousers is the difference between a passable suit and a premium one. No matter how immaculately tailored or interestingly finished your jacket, if your trousers are badly cut, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

Trousers aren’t often given much attention when it comes to buying a suit, but they should be, as they really help to flatter a silhouette. Too tight, too baggy, too short or too long and they will draw attention to themselves, as well as take away from the subtlety that is ‘good style’.

Most of us have heard terms like low-rise, high-rise, brace-cut and side adjusters bandied about, but what do they actually mean? And which one is right for you?

The Rise

Firstly, let’s talk about rise. Low-rise trousers are those that don’t sit quite as high on the waist. Jeans, for example, are known for their lower rise. These days, the majority of ready-to-wear trousers are cut with a lower rise to what they used to be in days gone by.

I’ve come across several people – many of them in fear of the dreaded ‘Simon Cowell’ effect of having trousers that sit too high – that express real concern when I suggest they should opt for a higher rise when going bespoke. Fair enough, but the truth remains that if you go for trousers that sit a little higher on the waist, they will give you a better line to the floor and consequently be more flattering.

They needn’t be sky high, but should rest on, or just above, the hips – around the line of your navel. Getting the rise correct also helps to achieve the right proportion between the trouser length and that of the jacket.

But what do you do if you have a belly? Well, besides the obvious (i.e. getting rid of it), you can either opt for trousers that lie just below your most rotund point, or – and this is, in my humble opinion, much more advisable – keep them up higher than your protruding belly and wear them with a pair of braces.

You’ll also want to avoid pleats if you’re carrying several extra pounds, because, although a stylish, they’ll only accentuate your paunch by virtue of the fact that there’s more fabric in front. Flat fronts are what you want here.

Straight Around Or Fishtail?

As the phrase suggests, ‘straight around’ trousers are those that are cut straight around the waist – i.e. the vast majority of off-the-peg styles.

Rarely will you find a pair of off-the-peg trousers that are cut specifically for braces, featuring a fishtail back. While straight around designs are more readily available, fishtail trousers hang better and are – speaking from personal experience – exceptionally comfortable to wear.

Men's Straight Cut Suit Trousers

Men's Fishtail Cut Suit Trousers With Braces

Support: Straps, Buckles & Braces

Also worth considering when deciding on a trouser style is support. I like to follow this simple rule: if I’m planning to wear the trousers with a suit, then I’ll opt for a pair equipped with side adjusters. If, on the other hand, I want them primarily for casual wear, belt loops will do just fine.

Strap and buckle (or side) adjusters are one of the best options for suit trousers, as they keep the lines of the trouser front clean. Simply give them a quick tug on your hips and you’re ready to go. They’re especially practical if you find your waistline tends to fluctuate.

The obvious alternative is the elastic and button closure, which definitely looks smart, with the buttons adding a touch of elegance, but I’ve never felt this style gave me adequate tension.

Suit Trousers Should Really Come With Side AdjustersSuit Trousers Should Really Come With Side Adjusters

Belt Loops

As I mentioned earlier, a belt belongs with a pair of casual trousers and shouldn’t really be seen anywhere near a suit.

Wearing a belt with something like a three-piece or double-breasted jacket is a sartorial mortal sin. Of course, chances are you’ll find plenty of ready-to-wear suit trousers with belt loops in stores, but – and I hate to break it to you – they’re really not meant to be together.

Keep belt loops for casual styles, such as cords, chinos and flannel trousers.

Keep Belt Loops For Casual Trouser Styles Such As Chinos, Cords and Flannel TrousersKeep Belt Loops For Casual Styles Such As Chinos, Cords and Flannel Trousers

Pleats: Forward, Reverse Or None At All?

There are two types of pleats: reverse pleats (in the British tradition) or forward pleats. Reverse pleats open towards the pocket, while forward pleats open towards the trouser zipper.

Although often thought of as an aesthetic addition, pleats are in fact functional, allowing for greater range of movement and accommodating the widening of your hips when you sit down. If you’re of a bigger build, it may be worth sticking to pleat-free, flat front trousers to avoid the fabric bulkiness enlarging your silhouette.

However, if you do opt for pleats, I personally find two (double pleated) to be better – one seems like a half-baked gesture.

Men's Double Reverse Pleat TrousersDouble Reverse Pleat Trousers

Straight Hem Or Turn Up?

This is probably evident but worth reiterating on the off chance you’re still unsure.

Suit trousers should almost always have plain bottoms – i.e. the hem of the trousers is finished straight and not turned up. Trouser turn-ups are a great touch to casual styles (cords, chinos and flannel trousers) but they’re not fit for true formal wear.

Men's Suit Trouser HemsOpt for a straight trouser hem (left) rather than a turn-up (right)

The Best Break

Too little, and you run the risk of looking like you’re trying to pull off some kind of Capri pant-inspired catastrophe; too much, and it will look like you’re wearing your older brother’s hand-me-downs.

Finding the ideal break – where your trousers create a single horizontal crease on meeting your shoe – can be difficult when buying off-the-rack. If I’m being perfectly honest, it’s best to head straight to your tailor and have him or her adjust your trouser so that you have a single break over your shoe. It’s an inexpensive alteration that makes a world of difference.

Lookbook Inspiration - Good Suit Trouser Break

jaeger aw14pal zileri ss13barneys new york 2013reiss aw13gieves & hawkes aw13m&s best of british aw14reiss aw14sanahunt aw13charles tyrwhitt 2014
Final Word

Though more often than not an afterthought when it comes to buying a suit, trousers really can make or break your look. As always with any key wardrobe investment, have a think about when, where and how you’ll be wearing your suit, and let that inform your choice of trouser style.

Stay tuned the for next instalment in our Buying A Suit Guide, which focuses on all-important suit maintenance and storage.