Know Your Terms: Pleats vs. Flat-Front Pants

For a certain breed of guy, they never went away. For a younger contingent, they’re pretty much fashion suicide. We’re talking, of course, about pleated pants (or, as they were known in the eighties, “pants”).

They serve a specific purpose, those pleats. Despite the fact that men are largely straight up and down, we do still have hips and a backside which require a bit of shape in the upper pants department, and that’s where pleats come into play. They give your pants some give. And up until the Second World War, you’d be hard pressed (ahem!) to find a pair of trousers that didn’t feature pleats, whether single, double, or even triple. Then, in 1941, as the proverbial belts were being tightened, the U.S. government issued a law that pants were no longer to be made with pleats to save on fabric. Thus, the flat front pant as we know it today.

One of the reasons the pleat has had such a tough time staging a comeback is that it’s just not necessary any more. Men tend to wear their pants on their hips, rather than at the natural waist, which negates the need for that extra fabric. The widely held view these days is that pleats just aren’t cool. A quick look around our offices backs that up — not a single pleat in the house. The flat front is the modern standard, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon. But then again, the point when virtually everyone seems to think a certain style is uncool is usually the moment you know it’s about to come back.

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