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Men’s Pants: Pleated vs. Flat-Front

April 12, 2011

Work It! is a series focusing on workplace wardrobe and fashion.  Each week, we will feature a new blogger offering their advice and answering your questions. This week, it’s Jessica Hansen, who started when her dorm room decor began to stress her out. She also works in menswear, so she she’s here to help you, fellas.

Founder of Lovely Undergrad

Jessica Hansen

Working in the Men’s Department of a major department store, I assist many young college-aged men with selecting interview and job attire. When helping a customer find a pair of good-fitting pants, I often ask whether he prefers pleated or flat-front trousers.  If he’s in his thirties or older, he usually spouts off his preference without hesitation.  If he’s with his mom, she immediately answers for him.  But if he’s the typical college-aged male shopping without experience or the guidance of a mother, the responses range from a “Does it matter?” to “What’s the difference?”  The most common response being a simple, “I don’t know.”

Yes, it does matter.  Secondly, the difference is in the fit and shape of the pants.  And if you don’t know, don’t worry.  You’ll learn a lot from this brief explanation and a good salesperson should be ready and willing to help you find that perfect pair.

The Difference – Pleated pants have creases at the front of the pant along the waist.  The creases have been created by folding the fabric and sewing it down before attaching a waistband.  Flat-front pants, on the other hand, have a contouring feature called a dart that allows for the pant fabric to lie flat against the body.  What pant looks best on you depends on your body type.  Generally, slim men should stick to the flat-front while larger men and athletic men benefit from pleat pants’ extra room.

History – Flat-front pants were the go-to trousers of the 1950s and 60s.  Men’s suit and pant silhouettes were slim, smooth and tailored.  In the 1970s and 80s, looser fashions came into play.  The pleated pant came into fashion not only because of its on-trend loose silhouette, but also because of its comfort and increased freedom of movement.  In the 90s, flat-front pants came onto the scene again.  And with the recent popularity of all things Mid-Century Modern (Mad Men, anyone?), the tailored flat-front trousers are enjoying another revival.  While the flat-front look goes in and out of fashion, the pleated pant has remained a steady and traditional option because of the comfortable, roomier fit.

Men's pants

Flat-front pants

Flat-Front – Flat-front pants are slimming, snugger-fitting and since they go in and out of fashion, are generally better suited for the style-conscious.   Since there are no pleats, the silhouette is more smooth and straight, accentuating slimmer figures.  These pants should be well tailored, a bit loose around the waist, and worn just on or below the hipbones.   It’s important to keep in mind that flat-front pants are an unforgiving cut.  On larger men, this style may be too tight and uncomfortable around the waist, belly and thighs.  Flat-front pants will not only accentuate a slim figure, but also emphasize a belly.

Men's Pants

Pleated pants

Pleated – Pleated pants are more generous around the middle, allowing for comfort and ease of movement.  Because of this, pleats are a constant option and don’t go in and out of fashion.  The pleated style helps to make a larger man’s front look flatter.  Pleats are also ideal for men with a large back-side or athletes with large thighs.  Men who have physically active jobs or lifestyles also find that pleated pants are roomier and easier to move in.   Pleated pants should be worn just above the hipbones at the natural waist.  Slender men, especially if tall, should avoid pleated pants because there will be too much extra room and the silhouette will appear sloppy.

Worn with a Suit – Sometimes certain suits have either flat-front or pleated pants, not both.  Pleated pants are the most common suit pant.  Although slimmer men generally should not wear pleated pants, it is okay when worn as a suit.  The suit jacket will cover up any of the extra fabric or bunching created when a slender man wears pleated pants.  For slender men, flat front pants look great with or without a suit jacket.  Pleated pants will not look smooth and slimming without a suit jacket overtop.  Larger men should stick to pleated pants in both cases for both comfort and ease of movement.

Ensuring a Good Fit – Don’t underestimate the power of pleats, but don’t get overwhelmed by the issue.  When selecting a pair of pants, take your time trying the different styles.  Walk around, move around, sit down and stand up to be sure that a pair of pants fits comfortable and allows for you to move.  The last thing you want is discomfort during an interview or internship.  Look over yourself in a full-length mirror to ensure a good-looking fit.  Don’t be afraid to ask the sales associate for assistance when deciding between a pleated or a flat-front style.  And take into consideration that to obtain that perfect fit, you may have to have alterations made to the waist or leg of the pants.  It will cost a little extra, but it’s totally worth it for a tailored fit and added confidence.

Guys – Jessica will be back with more advice for you, so keep a look out for her posts on Tuesdays. Leave any questions for her in the comments below. Can’t wait? She’s also on Twitter.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

JH May 4, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Very nicely done. I came searching for an answer & you came to the rescue! Thanks for the great info!


David July 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Very helpful. Do you find there are cases where athletic / thicker guys can pull off flat front pants? I've got a reasonably normal waist (33″-ish), but enormous thighs. I'm getting a suit made and while I look good in properly fitted pleats, I'm curious if I can pull off the flat front.


Mike July 25, 2011 at 10:34 am

Are cuffs becoming more fashionable with flat front suit pants?


Chuckterzella August 12, 2011 at 2:47 am

I'm 52, 5'10″ & 160 pounds- waist 30, leg 31″…Being my age I grew up w/ both double breated & pleated pants in suits. While I'm slim enough to wear flat fronts & like the “Burn Notice” look, I'd love to pull my old, well kept and beautiful double breasted jackets out again. I don't wear 'suits' per say, but prefer to mix and match trousers and suit jackets & blazers…it gives me far more options and range to change my look than a straight suit (matching trousers & jacket). Can I start wearing my double breasted again or is it still too early? (I always buy only timeless traditional English and Italian cut suits; I never go in for flash in the pan fashions. I go for style over fashion, so my old jackets still look 'right'…) I also always remove the shoulder pads and have my tailor reduce their size. Big shoulders make me look weird as I do a lot of lifting.

PS: Being a construction worker, I wear suits at night, not for daily work. After being dirty all day, I find dressing up in the evenings a treat and a great counter-point to my 'work clothes'. Don't people dress up for resturaunts anymore? Nothing's worse than sitting in a nice place next to a guy in jeans & tee shirt.


sam April 26, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Really? There's nothing worse?


matt December 10, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Unfortunately, some of us wear a suit and tie all day long, and would love nothing more than a simple tshirt or button down and jeans at dinner 🙂


Will RN July 3, 2012 at 8:30 am

wow – great article


Yiannis X July 12, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Very nice and well done. Thank you Very much for such a great explanation. God Bless Miss


Josh August 14, 2012 at 12:06 am

Fantastic article.
It was very helpful since im that college-aged male and i started going shopping by myself


Corey Young September 23, 2012 at 6:54 am

Most men's fashion is a result of military dress. Take any suit jacket and button it to the top and it will look similar to a Citadel cadet's jacket.
Pleated pants are no different. Pleated pants came about so that military men could have freedom of movement (function over design, primarily). The only reason why pleats fell out of favor during WWI was because of the extra material required to make the pleats (think military on a budget).
Cuffs on pleated pants look better, in my opinion, that cuffs on flat fronts because the cuffs take away from the sleekness of the pant. In my opinion, the worse thing that can be done is cuffing tapered flat front pants. The pant should flow and have no distraction at where the pant breaks with the top of the shoe and the hem line.


Ralph Mouth September 29, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Some great observations and I must say thank goodness my 10 pairs of pleated pants (causal and dress) are not totally unwearable.

I have noticed, and I have a couple of these, but some pants have one and some two pleats (albeit smaller pleats). Opinions?


Scott S. November 28, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Great article,Just the info I was looking for! Thanks!


Al December 20, 2012 at 7:50 am

I'm 53 years young, and I absolutely hate the flat front pant. Not only is the pant cut tight, when bought as part of a suit the coat is tampered very tight. Who are they making these clothes for, little boys? I've generally been able to find a good suit off of the rack, but these days it nearly impossible for me. I've reverted to custom clothiers who will cut the pant and coat the way I like them. Give a boy the flat front, a man needs a real suit!


Tom February 19, 2013 at 8:05 am

I am 50 yrs old. Tall & somewhat Thin. I've been shut out of the Mainstream shopping scene. I also live & work with Chronic pain, my Legs. Therefore my thighs & Butt are to thin & Flat! Ha. I'm a perfect 35×35. Mostly I can purchase Levis 36×36 & wear them. I've given up! I am just now washing my old Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, & polo casual slacks that are pleated & some cuffed as well. I don't want to wear this. Seems I've no choice. All manufacter's stopped at the 34″ inseam. I tried Mens wherehouse. The fabric is too fine, shows my Flawed shape. I need a sturdier fabric………. as I'm sick to death of hearing how thin I am. I put on 10 lbs. I weigh 200lbs. 6'4″ a 35-6 w. No shorter than a 35 inseam. Here goes. That pants I don't want to wear…….. I'll be Modeling tomorrow.


Petty March 12, 2013 at 5:47 am

Can I just express my love for classic pleated, high-waisted pants? I find it terribly atractive on guys, they look so sleek and clean. Because if a person decides to wear loser fitting pants, there is no way around – they have to be neatly ironed.

I don't even see why should pants be made without pleats. What if the person needs to duck? I suss it was an idea of a mingy tailor who wanted to save fabric, or didn't want to bother making proper pants.


Muhammad Mahmud December 14, 2013 at 2:07 am

Hi Jessica
Great Article
I have an interview for a bank in Dubai. Its for an entry level job. I am 5'10″ tall and have a slim built. My weight is 73kg and my waist is 35. I am 27. Should I go with pleats or flat front. Kindly advise if you can.


Steve June 6, 2014 at 5:25 pm

I hate pleated pants. Everyone I see wearing them, who are not overweight, look like crap in them. If you are not fat, just get flat-front.


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