The World of Trousers
National preferences often dictate the cut — but your choice of trouser style should ultimately be governed by higher concerns.
Observe the news and you’ll agree, international conflicts and schisms grow worse by the day. It’s heartening, then, to note that at least in sartorial terms, some consensus is being reached. Lately, the three main schools of tailoring — American, British and Italian — have grown far less dissimilar in their approach to coat shape, with most tailors now agreeing that the creation of a slim-waisted, Y-shaped silhouette with strong yet minimally padded shoulders is most desirable. In trousers, however, regional differences remain. Italians will create trousers that fit close to the legs and are hemmed short, with no break, in order to show off a flash of sock or even an audacious glimpse of golden Mediterranean suntanned ankles. The British favour a trim, architectural fit, nonetheless fuller than the Italians’, with a small amount of break and the bottoms slanting toward the heels if uncuffed. Americans, meanwhile, have traditionally preferred a fuller cut, pleated pant, with a larger break (hence the continuing preponderance of over-long trousers on the Oscars red carpet).
No national archetype can be said to be definitively better, but in the most simplistic terms, the Italian look flatters the slim man, the British style enhances the stature of the man of slim or average build, and the American cut suits the average to larger gent. Men with athletic bodies may pick and choose. The decision related to the style of trousers you wear will be in large part dictated by the style of coat you’ve chosen. Remember that the trousers do more than just clothe the legs in isolation. Rather, they extend and finish all the styling cues of the coat. When looking at the pairing of coat and trousers, whether as separates or the parts of a suit, the trousers can never be evaluated in isolation, in the same way that one part of a couple cannot attend marriage counselling alone. Therefore, after checking the fit of your trousers, slip on the accompanying suit or sport coat that you intend to wear with them. A super sleek-cut coat as purveyed by many Italian and French houses is best complemented by similarly slim, uncuffed trousers ending in relatively narrow hems that just ‘kiss’ your sleek lace-up shoes.
Conversely, a more structured coat of the sort cut by Savile Row traditionalists and Anglophile Americans can continue into fuller-cut trousers, possibly with pleats and substantial two-inch cuffs that break over wingtips or brogues with all the elegance of Hokusai’s “Great Wave off Kanagawa”. Ask yourself these questions: How structured are the shoulders of your coat? How many bulk-building elements, such as pocket flaps, ticket pockets and turn-back cuffs are there? How wide and volumetric are the lapels? What is the diameter of the sleeves and how much does the skirt flare? If you tend toward items that create volume on top, common sense dictates that you’d require fuller-cut trousers in order to balance proportions below. “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it,” wrote George Bernard Shaw, decreeing blind adherence to geographic fealty to be the worst sort of hubris and foolishness. That’s certainly the case when it comes to trousers, which should be chosen entirely on the basis of taste and good form, regardless of one’s nationality.