Finished pants move down a conveyor belt at the Joseph Abboud Manufacturing Corp. facility in New Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S. (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg)  

Don’t Fear the Return of Pleated Pants

(Bloomberg) -- When Saturdays NYC hit the menswear scene in 2009, it arrived like a zephyr on a sweltering beach: effortlessly cool printed tee-shirts, board shorts, and other surfer-chic wares riding the crest of casual wear that was about to envelop men’s fashion. That the brand, widely known for its laid-back vibes, has included more formal elements, including suits, in its recent collections is noteworthy. That it’s doubled down on pleated pants, that once-forbidden garment relegated mainly to style-challenged men, deserves investigating.

“They’ve become a staple for us,” says Morgan Collett, Saturdays co-founder, of the brand’s single-pleat trousers, “and a versatile piece as we now offer them in various fabrications giving you several ways to wear them.” 

Don’t Fear the Return of Pleated Pants

Pleats have been around in some form or another since men’s pants were popularized in the western world, traditionally seen as a practical design feature to increase mobility and comfort at the hip. When pleats face outward, or toward the pocket, they’re called reverse pleats. When they face inward, or toward the zipper, they’re called forward pleats.

Don’t Fear the Return of Pleated Pants

Yet for the last decade or so, they’ve just been called tacky. 

Reacting to the fashion excesses of the 1990s—lumpy pleated pants, billowing Oxford shirts—designers such as Hedi Slimane (then at Dior Homme), Raf Simons (then at the beginning of what would become a highly influential career), and Thom Browne (he of the shrunken suits), turned skin-tight jeans and flat-fronted, slim-fitting silhouettes into the mainstream look of the early oughts.

But as in a daytime soap opera where old enemies can magically return—years later, disguised as new friends—the pleated pant has been resurrected, leaving stylish men to reconsider the staid style. Meanwhile, younger generations, without knowledge of its previous negative connotations, are embracing them in earnest. 

“It used to be about a jean and a khaki,” says Bruce Pask, who oversees men’s fashion at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, “but pants are becoming more of a fashion item again.”

He credits skate and streetwear influences as well as designers such as Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga and Vetements and Belgian romantic Dries Van Noten for stoking interest. In the new proportions, he sees shades of the looser styles that Japanese designers Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto presented in Paris during the 1980s.

With designers embracing pants of every shape and size—wide-leg, drop-crotch, cropped, among them—Pask sees pleated trousers as an easy entry, in part because they are familiar to many men. Modern iterations are casual and cool, far from the pleated khaki as it was in the era of casual Fridays. 

Don’t Fear the Return of Pleated Pants

Take the skate-brand-for-grown-ups Noah, which makes a one-pleat, straight-leg version that recalls both Dickies pants and Giorgio Armani’s iconic slouchy styles of the 1980s. Alessandro Michele at Gucci gave his wide-leg version a swaggering braggadocio while Alexandre Mattiussi at the French label AMI opted for something slimmer, leaner, and subtler. A telling sign of the pleat’s ascendance is that even mass retailers such as Zara and H&M are offering them as part of their seasonal collections. 

When Los Angeles-based designer Scott Sternberg, formerly of Band of Outsiders, returned to the fashion scene last month with a direct-to-consumer brand of thoughtful basics called Entireworld, he only offered one style of men’s trousers: a tapered, single-pleat model in cotton

Don’t Fear the Return of Pleated Pants

“The idea was to give them a sense of ease, make something you’d want to wear with a T-shirt—something both relaxed and refined, fashionable but totally understandable and rooted in something classic,” says Sternberg, deftly dodging the pleats’s association with corporate frumpiness. 

“No joke,” he continues. “These were the first style to sell out.”

As to how to wear them, Sternberg says, “For me, they’re best when they fit a little loose in the waist and are rolled up at the cuff, so they aren’t grazing your shoes.” Veja and Spalwart sneakers are his current go-tos for footwear, as well as moccasins. “Straight-up Minnetonka driving mocs, Zappos style,” he says.

Saturdays’ Collett also recommends pairing today’s pleated pants with a plain white tee, tucked in, or with a camp-collared woven shirt.

“I think you always have to remember that getting a pair of pants to fit you perfectly, regardless of brand, might take some tailoring,” he says. “As long as the waist is comfortable and you feel relaxed in the style, then you are good to go.” Finish off the look with sunglasses and either leather lace-up bluchers or canvas slip-on sneakers. 

Pask agrees on these tips and is careful to advise that if you’re going to go with something roomier on the bottom, it’s best to go with something slim on top, like a tee, light sweater, or knit jacket. 

“I don’t think everyone should be walking around, you know, in baggy shirt, baggy pants. It’s about playing with the proportions,” he says. 

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