The Awesomeness of High-Waisted Trousers

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Clothes are meant to make the most out of your body. Even if you’re not the fittest guy, a well-tailored piece can still make you look a million bucks! One example is the high-waisted trouser; It’s an old school detail that sets you apart from all the other #menswear guys around you.

From the 1920s-1950s, high waisted trousers (or high rise) were the norm. Just so you know, rise refers to the length of the crotch seam to the top of the pant.  These pants sit at the “natural waist” right at your belly button, which is the widest part of your body and the correct place where your body is visually halved. However, they can even be made to be higher.

With your “visual legs” starting higher up on your body, it naturally has the effect of making your legs look long. If you are short or have shorter legs, high waisted trousers can do wonders. As a 5’8 man with some thick thighs, it makes my legs look slimmer and longer!  Here’s some examples with true 1930s’-1940’s pieces.

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Luckily for us in 2015, people still make high waisted trousers. Menswear has finally moved away from making suits look like skinny jeans and actually crafting them to flatter your body. I mean there’s a reason why women jeans in this style.  Ask any girl and you’ll hear how good it makes them look; ass is accentuated and the legs are elongated.

These high-rise pants aren’t met to sit on your hips and sag like your Hot-Topic denim; they sit right near your belly button. Check out some classically styled guys from B&Tailor and The Armoury who take their tailored inspiration from the 1940’s, with high-rise pants and deep pleats. Look at how long it makes their legs look!

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Compare these awesome images with modern every-day pants. Most of these sit four inches below the belly button while others can sit right on the hips (low-rise).  While it may not be 1940 anymore, it’s definitely not 2003 anymore.  Girls don’t even wear low rise anymore!  High-waisted pants have taken the world by storm.

Just look at how short my legs look. It also doesn’t go enough to meet the button stance of the jacket.  There’s a small gap between the buttoning point of the jacket and where the pants start.  This small bit of shirt shouldn’t be seen; there should be a seamless transition from shirt to jacket to pant.

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Here’s a gent who should be wearing pants at his navel.  It just messes with his body proportions and shows how short his vest is.

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You see what I mean?  Right now, you’re probably liking the look but you probably don’t have the thousands of dollars to buy those handmade garments. That’s okay, because there’s another way to get them! Just get a waist size bigger and pant size longer than what you’re used to, and BAM! High waisted trousers.

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For example, I’m typically a 32×30. To achieve a high waist, I get a 32×32. When you compare a 30 and a 32 length, it changes more than just a simple length. Lets say that a 30-length pant has the knee at 15 inches and a 32-length has the knee at 17 inches.   This will make the thigh area longer and bigger in the 32 pant, since the proportions are different. The resulting difference will let your pants fit higher on the body. All you need next is to hem the length and you’re good to go!

Having a slightly bigger waist size will also result in a higher rise.  This is due to the extra fabric in the waist band (duh), which makes the pants sit higher.  If you take in the waist, your pants should fit!

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Tailored Banana Republic trousers, worn to be high rise.

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Tailored Banana Republic trousers, worn as high rise.

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Olive green Banana Republic chinos.

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Pleated J. Crew chinos that were purchased one size bigger than tailored down.

Those brown fleck ones from GAP are a great example.  The flecked pattern really gives it a vintage feel, which is one of my main inspirations behind my style! Its almost 1940s-1950s, which was what the designer (David Hart) had in mind. If your resulting tie is too long (since now you have a high-rise), just tuck it in.  When done right, it looks more Italian and less dad.  Just remember to wear suspenders with them!

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Another way is to go vintage. Vintage trousers will inherently be high rise since that’s simply how it was done back in the 1920s-1970s.  Obviously some vintage trousers will vary in design and style (drop loops, side tab adjusters, pleats, etc)  but they will get the job done.  You don’t even have to buy “super vintage” trousers; trousers from the 1980s/90s will do the trick if they were designed to be high rise.  Either way, a dead give away of a high rise will be a longer fly.  If the pants fly seems too long, it will be high waisted.

I’ve thrifted a bunch of vintage trousers from the 1960s-1990s to great effect!  They all range by the exact rise (some sit at my belly button while others sit higher) but they get the job done! Remember that you don’t have to get wide 1940s style pants when you want to go high waisted. If you get the pants tapered, you’ll end up with something that exudes the bespoke high rise examples shown above!

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Thrifted 80s trousers that were tailored down in this post. 

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1970’s J. Press suit. 

Another option which could be expensive, is to go custom.  I’ve only had a few custom suits made, but I’ve made a habit of altering my measurements to ensure that I receive high rise trousers. This is usually done by paying close attention to the crotch, waist, and  overall length measurements.  Sometimes the brand will question you, but stay strong! It usually works!

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Light brown houndstooth suit from Indochino. 

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Pleated navy trousers from an Indochino double breasted suit. 

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MTM suit trousers from Vulture Suits.

Here’s the main lesson: a lower rise will always have its place with jeans and other casual clothes, but when it comes to chinos, dress trousers, or suit pants, high-rise is the way to go.  These pants are meant to drape smoothly and create straight lines through the body.  They are meant to sit at your belly button, not four inches below and sag.  You should only wear what flatters you, not pants that make your legs look short and throw off your body proportions.

Thanks for reading, and I hope that you guys will try out this old school detail with your modern pieces like I have. Remember that there’s no shame in mixing and matching your garments, whether they’re vintage or not. Having high-rise trousers will definitely up your game if you want to have have a vintage-meets-modern style!

Always a pleasure,

Ethan W. 

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57 comments

  1. Pantheon · December 19, 2015

    Buying pants with longer inseam is not the same thing as buying pants made specifically made to worn higher. You can pull the legs higher, yes but you can’t pull the top block higher, unless you want back seam to drill into your asscrack or have your balls crunched.

    Like

    • Ethan W. · December 20, 2015

      Yes, but you could also go to your tailor to rectify that problem.

      Like

      • Pantheon · December 31, 2015

        How so? There’s never seam allowance in the crotch area.

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      • Ethan W. · January 1, 2016

        Sometimes there are. However, some other people brought this to my attention so I’ll explain my mindset.

        I honestly like my pants pulled up. this hiked up look will probably only work with shorter guys, and the taller/ skinnier you are, the more you will need to rely on MTM or bespoke pants to achieve that effect! I now realize that my method will not work for everyone!

        Like

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  3. John · April 26, 2016

    Where did you get these grey pants on the third photo? They look great, also your article is great!

    Like

    • Ethan W. · April 26, 2016

      Hey John! Thanks for the kind words!

      Those grey pants are true vintage from the 1930’s! I copped them on ebay! You could alternatively try Reese’s Vintage Pieces, or just look for stuff on ebay or etsy! However, Banana Republic does make pants with a moderate rise.

      Like

      • John · April 27, 2016

        Thank you!

        Like

  4. butabo · June 14, 2016

    Nice trick to wear the pant at your navel when we are short. I am 5 ft. 7 too. I am planning to head to the mall and buy a pant and experiment this trick. It is so expensive to buy a high rise that specifically made for men under 5 ft. 8 (and it is not always available) Does this trick still work for you Ethan?

    Like

    • Ethan W. · June 15, 2016

      It does still work! I find that Banana Republic makes the best pants for this trick. J. Crew and Zara are the worst and have very low rise.

      Like

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  46. kebeili · 21 Days Ago

    Curious if the high-rise pants are comfortable for you.
    I have a few pairs of vintage high-rise and I love the look. However every time I sit done my belly feels very squeezed. I’m wondering if you have similar issue.

    Thanks

    Like

    • Ethan W. · 18 Days Ago

      They are! It definitely took some getting used to (I definitely had to poop more often), but they feel fine now. Now I feel incredibly UN-comfortable if I wear anything low rise.

      Like

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