Saturday, August 8, 2015

Don't Call It A Comeback — Return Of The Pleated Pants

Polo by Ralph Lauren Pleated Khakis

Return of the Pleat: Men's Pants Are (Finally) Loosening Up

A dreaded menswear trend of yore is on the rise.
They're back.
After more than a decade of flat-front, slimmer-is-better propaganda, this news may come as an unexpected—and unwelcome—surprise to even the most enterprising men of style: Pleated pants are back. Look no look further than the plethora of gathered waistlines showcased during the recent European menswear shows for the spring/summer 2016 season—from designers like J.W. Anderson and Lanvin to E. Tautz and Officene Generale. Closer to home (or your laptop), on, you can find militaristic pleated shorts from downtown New York It designer Alexander Wang, voluminous draped pants from the cult brand Lemaire, and single-pleat, straight-leg pants from Margaret Howell that possess just a hint of schoolboy uniform to them.
And it's not just high-end labels that are embracing the trend. It has trickled down to the mainstream outlets.
Pleats can now be seen at the mass retail brand J. Crew, which first showed the style as part of its fall/winter 2015 collection. "It's all part of this slouchy movement that's going on," says Frank Muytjens, the head of menswear design at the brand. "Things are getting a little looser and easier, and pleated pants fit right in there."
But these aren't your middle manager's old pleated plants. Time has moved on and so must the pleat. "We've tapered them so they have a modern shape," Muytjens says. "I think it's a new element to build upon, a classic element. It's a great thing to pull into the present and make modern." In addition to J. Crew (which Muytjens says is experimenting with more pleats and deeper pleats), Club Monaco has a variety of pleated offerings (including summer-vacation-ready shorts), and Zara, known for its not-so-discreet runway knockoffs, has a smattering of styles available as well.
President Obama in not-so-stylish khakis pants in 2012
It's been a long road back. The demise of the pleat started in the early aughts, when designers like Hedi Slimane (then at Dior Homme, now at Saint Laurent) and Raf Simons (who now heads up Dior's womenswear in addition to his eponymous high-minded menswear line) and Thom Browne (with his shrunken suits) all rallied around whippet-thin silhouettes that emphasized a skinny, no-frills fit.
"For the last eight years or so, the overall direction of menswear has been increasingly slim and cropped," says Michael Fisher, director of menswear at Fashion Snoops, a trend-forecasting and consultancy agency based in New York. "However, with athleisure being the mega-trend that's ruling the seasons ahead, we are seeing a much more relaxed shape," he says. This echoes Muyjtens' notion of the pleated pant fitting into a larger movement, the undeniable influence of athletic apparel that's crept into more formal and traditional styles.
Fashion is a pendulum, and the progression back to pleats is an expected development to anyone with foresight and memory. Repackaging the past and calling it progress is de rigeuer. But men don't hew as closely to trends as their female counterparts, so don't expect us to reach peak pleat quite yet.
From left: Images from the spring/summer 2016 collections of Ami, Officene Generale, and Lemaire
"Retailers worked for so long to get men to understand a good fit that is clean, and I don't think we're going to aggressively pull them back to that point," Fisher says. In 2013, Detailschampioned single-pleat pants in our June/July issue, and Choire Sicha wrote, for The Awl, "This is upsetting on a number of levels: capitalist, aesthetic, moral, social, sexual, emotional." (However, The Cut had our backs.) The pushback is understandable; change is scary! But, alas, it happens whether you want it to or not, often in the same way that John Green describes falling in love in The Fault in Our Stars: "slowly, and then all at once."
For those ready to embrace the trend, Muytjens suggests wearing them as you would jeans: "You want to wear them lower on the hip. I like to pair them with a washed-out, tattered T-shirt and worn-in sneakers." Fisher agrees with the casual approach but also warns, "Shorter or wider guys will not look great in pleats. It will make them look shrunken or even boxier." Still not ready? Perhaps it's just your age showing. Men of a certain age may not be able to shake the negative connotation that pleats may conjure, but that doesn't mean there's a team of youngsters who don't share those associations. As Muytjens wisely notes: "There's a whole new generation who don't have a history with the pleated pant as having a bad reputation." — Max Berlinger | Details

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