Embracing the Wide Legged Trouser

After years of avoiding wide fit trousers to negate the unfortunate connotations of my past collecting period menswear, I’ve finally come to terms that it is something I enjoy and is a big part of my style.

Apart from being something intentional and different than dressing to fit in, I also find it comfortable and flattering!  Plus, wide fit pants are in- haven’t you been looking at alt tiktok?

I wrote this essay in August, but we made it the subject of a podcast episode in October. We also got the #TheSaDCast’s thoughts on stream.

Introduction

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Me in very slim suit pants, circa 2016. I wore shit like this to counteract the fact that I liked wearing vintage wide fits.

I can’t think of anything that riles up stuffy menswear guys (and even lurkers on Twitter or Reddit) like wide legged pants.  To give them credit, it’s probably two things (that are deeply related to each other): a reaction against the baggy fits of the 90s and the fact that for the past 20 years “slim fit” has defined what a “well-dressed” man wears.   As a result, anything that doesn’t hug your leg or at least show off the shape of it is considered bad.  It’s even fucked up the term tailoring, not only becoming a synonym for slim fit but now has turned every visit to a tailor into a “make it tighter” appointment.

Obviously, I’ve been rallying against this for a long time- one of my first blog posts posited the notion that vintage aesthetics weren’t baggy but simply straight leg.  Baggy to me means a loose fit combined with excessive trouser break.  These two things in conjunction looks sloppy, which I can admit, but those two things are not mutually exclusive!

Just take a look at how the great wide legs were in the 1930s-1940s.  A rebellion against the slim fit of the 1910s-early 1920s (and before slim fit’s return in the 1960s), trousers of this era look very relaxed.  This general idea of rebellion was present during the invention of the Oxford bags, in which students were excessively wide trousers to cover the plus-fours that the university had banned.

Contrary to popular belief, those extremely wide trousers were a temporary fad, though perhaps they influenced the widening of trousers through the 1920s. The general silhouette of the Golden Era of the 1930s-1940s that followed was a broad shoulder, a high nipped waist, and broad legs in order to provide a “traditional” masculine look that still looked elegant and easy.

Just see for yourself!

All of these wide legs just look so appealing, almost making you wish you were that comfortable in your own clothing.  Maybe that’s the reason why guys back then looked so stylish- a wide fit is comfortable and relaxed, and despite the padded shoulders, men looked so at ease in tailoring and casual wear. Whether it was summer suits, flannel odd trousers, or gab slacks with gab shirts, it all looked so easy.  The epic drape and clean lines were probably why I wanted to get vintage clothing; that and the fact that slim fit had dominated the malls and made that silhouette impossible to find.

As a result, I’ve been around wide legs for nearly all of my menswear journey.  As many of you know, I got my start collecting vintage clothing from the 1930s-1940s and naturally, all of the trouser legs were much wider than anything I bought at H&M and (later) Banana Republic.  Despite all of these vintage heads wearing high rises, deep pleats, and wide legs, none of them looked like a sloppy Menswear House salesman; their trousers were hemmed perfectly, which made for clean lines and a great drape.  Even when you look to the past, the guys back then look better in their wider fit suits than your typical slim blue suit+tan shoe guy.

Now you’ve probably already read this long essay where I basically go through my trouser fit journey.  To sum up, I was still scared about adopting true vintage silhouettes in my everyday wear; clearly my love of vintage wasn’t that strong. But after being exposed to places like the Armoury and B&Tailor where the trouser leg was somewhere between modern and Golden Era, I began to embrace a wider leg.  For a while after that (the journey was documented in mid 2018), I thought I had found my perfect trouser width.  I still tapered my trousers but it certainly wasn’t as bad as when I first started.

It was my fascination with milsurp, workwear, and Casual Ethan that finally got me to think about not tapering.  As my tailoring silhouette had “calmed” and gotten more confident, I needed to inject some further interest into my style to ensure that I wasn’t succumbing or defaulting. Getting into those other styles where wide fit reigns supreme (think of those fun pants), it really got me thinking as to why I was so scared to use it specifically with ties and sportcoats.  It helps that these wide pants had some extra character, like hip pockets or rugged/distressed materials, but my mind was starting to go Galaxy Brain.

Perhaps it was time to come full circle and truly become the modern interpretation of 1930’s tailoring I had always positioned myself to be. I already had the spearpoint collars , vintage foulard ties, and the high waist. All that needed to change was the width of the trousers.

In Casual Wear

Love the wide leg and slightly cropped length here.

Before we get into wide leg pants in tailoring, we must talk about it in casual wear.  Wide fit has been coming back into vogue for a little bit, no doubt driven by the rise in Asian aesthetics, coupled by an increasing interest in androgynous/shapeless fashion and the rising influence of street/skate wear. In fact, I see way more teenagers and fellow 20-ish year olds wear high rise/wide leg pants than anyone in the menswear community!

There’s a lot to learn and emulate here.

It’s a bit punk and indie, the latter term being increasingly popular according to my Tiktok, but I certainly feel the allure.  After the explosion of #menswear and the spread of menswear bloggers all saying that “slim fit is superior”, I can’t imagine that any young person first listening to the Smiths or perhaps even 100 gecs would want to wear the slim fit pants of a yuppie business major.  Wide fit is a way to be rebellious, whether its in the form of thrifted jeans or Dickie’s work pants (which is what I see plenty of around LA). There’s even a meme for when girls wear it (I’m totally into it), which even calls attention to the proportions of the wide pants offset by their top.

Even the classic menswear crowd is not immune to this trend. While we may not see Simon Crompton doing a wide fit, I’ve been seeing wide legged trousers and shorts come back into the lexicon. It’s almost always casual, as many men still have an aversion to wide suits, but hey, if that’s what it takes, then I’m here for it. In my estimation, I think it was the rise of gurkha trousers, which are wider and more interesting than regular chino shorts, that helped push Classic Menswear into “new” territory.  I think the new obsession with milsurp/workwear with tailoring also helped, which is one of the main ways tailored guys get into the wide leg fit.

Evan Kinori“suit”.

Evan Kinori, 18East (Antonio Ciongoli in general), and Engineered Garments are great examples of brands that some guys (including the classic menswear crowd) like to branch out with. I’d also say that these brands were already endorsed by a few posters in MaleFashionAdvice, where the vibe isn’t exactly tailored but not overly streetwear either.  It has a relaxed fit and aesthetic that looks stylish without being formal or too far into workwear/milsurp, which is probably why it’s gaining traction in non-specifically classic menswear circles, though there is quite a bit of spillover.

Scott Fraser Simpson is also a similar brand that that does a wide leg fit for flow-y casual wear that has a vintage 40s-60s spin. And I’m totally into it.

Scott Fraser is great.

Peter in pants made by Antonio Ciongoli (pre-18East).

Clutch Golf,another great brand!

From a practical standpoint, a wide leg just feels more comfortable.  I just can’t imagine feeling relaxed while wearing slim fit! As a guy with thick thighs, having some airflow through the leg is just lovely, especially in summer time, where slouchy vibes (in quarantine) are the way to go.  More air means less sweat which in turn, only lets me feel more relaxed and comfortable. Why wouldn’t you want to look and feel good simultaneously?

Visually,  a wide leg just creates a easy vibe that others can immediately latch on to. To quote the podcast, it’s inherently un-stuffy, which is great when you want to look stylish or have a defined aesthetic without looking formal. You could even think of the wide-fit as inherently being subversive and intentional dressing is one of the marks of a person on their way to Fashion Nirvana. I mean, seeing a guy wearing what can be described as “elevated pajamas” or “dad shorts”  will not look trussed up in the slightest.  Even a wide legged jean has a different vibe than the slim-straight ones most guys wear.

It’s very similar to my theory of alternatives that guide my Casual Ethan outfits.  Sure, slim fit is fine and standard, but it’s the inclusion of wide leg that makes an outfit much more interesting, since it plays with proportions and creates a slouchier vibe.

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Cody Wellema in a Clutch Golf “suit”.

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The pajama connotation is most apparent with “easy pants”, which have been being increasing popular (probably toe-to-toe with wide leg chinos) in the menswear crowd.  Easy pants are characterized by their drawstring waist, a feature that only furthers the slouchy pajama look. Putting it in lightweight cottons or linens and adding in a high rise with pleating elevates the easy pants, making them a worthy replacement for a traditional trouser. Rolled cuffs or proper turn ups are nice, but I prefer it with a plain hem that is cropped slightly, just to lean into how easy you can wear them.

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Someone told me I look like a homeless man.

The Uniqlo U Easy Pants (made of cotton-modal) are probably my favorite due to this reason.  A natural upgrade from the seersucker ones from a few years ago (when I first started experimenting with casual style), these new ones are much better not only in terms of quality, but also stylistically, with the drape and fit being much more versatile.

It’s been great to wear with sneakers, sandals, and loafers, especially without socks.  Due to the draw string waist, I don’t really tuck shirts unless they’re tees.  Everything else, whether it’s an OCBD or a sportshirt, is usually done untucked, turning it into a shirt-jacket of sorts. This makes it quite similar to how I approach the School Boy look.

I’ve been wearing them quite a bit lately!

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A GOAT look.

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Embracing the wide leg in casual wear has certainly been something that I’ve been into, just because for most of classic menswear, the default “casual outfit” is some form of ivy or Italian Riviera. Even if my outfits do take inspiration from those things, the execution comes off as slightly different. It’s just more interesting to have some fun with the silhouettes, especially when slim fit is being spouted by every guy who think’s they’re a fashionista.

I’ve been doing it much more now than ever before, becoming a true theme for my casual style. There’s a hearty mix of the aesthetic here than when I first explored what my outfits would look like when I dressed down, and I love it. Even a couple of my friends have embraced the wide leg look in their casual attire! They all agree that it not only provides a more diverting look but also just feels breezy.  Literally!

That air-flow aspect probably lends the wide leg fit in casual wear to be better used in spring-summer outfits (it’s currently a heatwave in SoCal), but I’m sure that I could find some way to do it later in the year. I’ll have to update this essay accordingly.

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In Tailoring

Of course, doing the wide leg in classic tailoring is a slightly different story.  As I stated earlier in the article, the full leg isn’t really popular among classic menswear enthusiasts with a few still rallying against it.  I find it quite funny that we’re seeing the slouchy, wide leg infiltrate into the menswear lexicon, but as a whole they’re still hesitant on adopting it toward “traditional” tailoring.  Maybe it’s because a suit should be “tailored”, which still means cut to shape the body, rather than hide it. Or perhaps its the fact that suits are held to a high standard, by which they should neither be overly slim or too wide.  YMMV, I guess.

Don’t get me wrong- the slim-straight tailored lines within most of menswear (Drake’s, Ring Jacket, and Anglo-Italian come to mind) are nice for a presenting an every man look that is still sharp.  However, its because of the fact that it is an every man look which results in me not really batting an eye at it.  I’d be more impressed if people brought over the relaxed vibe from casual wear and retained it in suiting.

There are a select few who do wide legs within tailoring (worn with a shirt and tie at times), which does give me hope for a more wide adoption of wide legs (haha)..  It’s usually done by the guys who already have a vintage mindset or at least have a history of collecting vintage pieces.  One such example is Arnold Wong, who routinely commissions bespoke suits with wide legged trousers that literally look like they’ve been pulled out of a 1940s Apparel Arts catalog.  I love how consistent he’s been with it,

Other dressers include Ethan Newton and Peter Zottolo, who have a few wide legged trousers worn for character but typically prefer a slightly tapered straight leg in most of their outfits. Most tapered trousers require a higher hem, so that they can lay cleanly without breaking and crinkling; I don’t like that.  A wide legged trouser also allows you to get the trousers closer to the shoe without breaking, making for a very clean look especially when anchored by a hearty turn up.

Plus there is that indie girl thing of a “small top and big pants”.  I think this gets that look across well.

Now a lot of what I love about wide legged trousers in casual style could (and should) be applied to tailoring. Obviously they’re much more comfortable; I don’t understand how guys want to feel fabric on their thighs and calves, especially if it’s a warmer fabric like flannel. But the real kicker here comes in terms of the visual relaxed vibe.

Looking relaxed and easy in tailoring is a hard feat for many guys. I’m sure that idea of being stuffy is what puts quite a few people off from trying suits! This is why a wide leg is great. Not only does it cut away from the slim-fit J. Crew/H&M aesthetic that we see almost everyday on a #menswear IG account, but it also just appears to be relaxed.

It’s always going to be about capturing that same “elevated pajama” vibe that characterizes the casual side. The only difference is that now you’re wearing a jacket and tie.

Having a softly tailored jacket (with a slightly extended/drooping shoulder) also helps further this narrative by playing with the relaxed fit of the trousers.  If the whole outfit is slouchy, then you’ll look and feel slouchy.  I don’t think that padded or shaped shoulders (like pagodas) work well with wide leg pants, even if that is how it was done in the Golden Era as well as in the 1970s.  Having it be slouchy on both ends is the way to go, and Arnold Wong and his colleagues certainly understand that.

Wearing wide trousers also provides a easy avenue for doing a period or vintage inspired look within classic menswear! The wide legs immediately bring vintage to people’s mind, but like I said, a soft jacket will make it look and feel more easy, not to mention versatile.  In other words, you can live out your true fantasy of dressing like it’s the 1930s-1940s without being too costume-y. It’s different for sure, but not as bold as wearing a heavily padded period suit. I also just don’t like the idea of a soft jacket (with a fuller/not-slim cut) against slim pants. And yes, I know it was a thing in the 1920s and 1960s.

I also like the fact that many of my inspirations wear the wide legs with loafers (both with and without socks), leaning into the relaxed vibe. It’s something I also follow when I wear my wide legged pants, but more so because lace-ups and wide legged pants feels too “period”, where as loafers with tailoring is a rather “recent” style move.  Loafers also just look cooler due to the the slimmer foot profile and low vamp.  Vintage Menswear guys also have an aversion to loafers, so my interest in it may just be my subversiveness coming out.

In any case, it really does look like a modern interpretation of the 1930s-1940s that is still perfectly wearable in the modern day.  And if they can do it out in Japan, London, or at Pitti Uomo, then I can do it too!

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Shin from my Japan trip.

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Now contrary to popular belief, I don’t have many wide legged trousers, at least for tailoring (and not casual wear). To me, a wide leg pant is something that has a leg opening larger than 8.5-8.75″, which was my standard width for a long time.  It got me through a lot of my menswear journey, being a healthy straight leg that made me look proportional.

However, the more I saw guys like Arnold Wong embrace the wide leg look in contemporary tailoring, the more I wanted to bring it back for myself.  It’s almost like I was going full circle, back to where I first started my menswear journey!

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The outfit above probably represents what my tailored aesthetic will be moving forward: soft, classic cut jackets and wide pants.  It’s really no different than what I used to wear back in the day, just with more relaxed jacket.

The jacket is my linen brown checked jacket, which really has become my ultimate summer sportcoat, working well with striped shirts and patterned ties. The jacket is a great match not only for my spearpoint shirt, but for these wide gabardine trousers, separated from an odd suit.  You shouldn’t be surprised that I look best in a brown jacket and grey pants.

The ensemble literally looks like it’s been ripped out of a 1930s Apparel Arts spread, perhaps from one covering Europe due the inclusion of the beret.Obviously, the true vintage trousers and pinned spearpoint shirt probably help, but the vibe is still immaculate. The only anachronistic properties would be the shape of the lapels (reverse bellies weren’t common back then) and the use of loafers.

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My 1940’s gabardine suit that I ripped the shoulder pads out of.

Now that I’ve delved deeper into how I want to portray myself with tailoring, I’m trying to ensure that any new trousers I get are wide legged, whether I’m commissioning something or buying RTW/vintage. .  This is a sentiment I’ve talked about in a few blog posts, like my Ascot Chang suit or my MTO pants from Hertling.  Both are great, with the latter being the widest of the two (8.5 vs 8.75-ish), but I definitely think I’d be even happier if they had leg openings of over 9″.   I’m not going to throw away my old pants, as I still like doing more trad-ivy looks, but its something for me to consider moving forward!

I’m pretty confident in my aesthetic choices, mainly so I don’t have to feel ashamed for my “bold” pieces.  It’s allowed me to incorporate some odd trousers (with wide legs) that I’ve gotten from different vintage stores and flea markets, to even some bolder period suits that I used to be too scared to wear outside of an event.  My off-white Palm Beach suit and the the grey 1940’s gab suit above (both with 9.5″ legs) come to mind.

Vintage military chinos and workwear style denims already have  wide leg, which makes it easy to throw on with a jacket and tie and approximate a vintage look, despite it being much more casual and subversive than any outfit back in the Golden Era. They’re still nice, but I think they create a different vibe rather than a simply a tailored look that happens to be wide. My SJC chinos are probably the closest I’ll ever get to a versatile pant with a wide leg, though I’ve had to give them up since they were just too tight in my inner thigh; the outfits I wore with them are still damn good.

Which ever trousers I select, a soft jacket definitely help offset the wider proportions and makes it look easy and wearable in the modern day.

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You gotta love that straight line and incredible drape!

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SJC trousers.

I love a DB with wide legs since the closed quarters help add to the visual interest of the trouser silhouette.   Plus I just don’t like DBs with slim legs.

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A suit with loose trousers ordered from Natty Adams.

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1940’s Palm Beach suit.

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Soft jacket and wide pants.

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Even my pal Andy is getting on the wide leg/soft shoulder aesthetic. He also likes the 1930s style.

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Tailor extraordinaire John Robinson wearing some wide leg canvas pants he made himself.

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My Hertling pants skirt the line between straight and wide.

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The 1940’s gab suit.

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From the 70s essay. The wide legs work great with boots!

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Palm Beach suit with the Anthology knitted tee! Can it get anymore relaxed than this?

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Light grey cinch-back flannels from the 1950s.

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More Hertling.

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I need to reproduce this suit or at least use it as a molding block for future commissions.

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Can’t forget the Teen-aged denim, which are the widest jeans I own.

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Small top, big pants.

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I also retained the wide fit on this 4×2 1940’s style flannel suit. 

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Uniqlo U wide legged pants dressed up!

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Mixing casual and formal here. It’s really just wearing a blazer with a tee shrit and wide leg pants.

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Conclusion

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Wide leg pants are great, for both casual and tailoring, and you can definitely wear them in the modern day  You just need the confidence and the right vibe to pull it off!

Its funny to see how often this blog circles around back to the things that got me into menswear to begin with.  I think that I’m in the minority when I say that I got into clothing simply in pursuit of a vintage aesthetic, but that dedication to it really resulted in how I’ve crafted my own unique style. Somethings have never changed, like my love of spearpoint collars, but others required quite a few years to build up confidence.  The wide leg trouser is a great example of that.

I loved wearing my wide legged trousers back when I was only wearing period tailoring, but I was ashamed to wear it outside of that.  As a result, I wore very skinny pants for a long time until getting more into the classic menswear community showed me that a bit of room is always nice. And so, I had what I considered a classic, versatile leg opening that was fine.  Just fine. But who want’s to stay just fine?

Soon I began to see the wider world adopt the wide leg, whether it was in street/skate style, the renewed interest in workwear/milsurp, or the slouchy Tailoring Adjacent look made by a new crop of designers. People were beginning to see the visual interest and comfort; they weren’t scared of the vintage connotations and perhaps were embracing it ever so slightly. Bringing that flair with my existing pieces to produce Casual Ethan was fun and certainly unlocked something with in me. Could I not bring this newfound confidence for wide fit pants back into my tailored aesthetic?

The answer was yes. Luckily, I was not the only one who was doing it, as Arnold Wong, Peter Zottolo, and Ethan Newton were among the small minority of guys rocking a wide leg with their bespoke jackets.  It’s a nice look that hearkened toward their own love of the Golden Era, but not too overt, as they still wanted to look presentable. This use of a wide leg and a soft jacket was the welcome inspiration and update needed to bring my interest in 1930s-1940s style into the contemporary menswear world.  Only this time, I’d lean even further into the vintage flair with my spearpoint collars and vintage ties!

Whether it’s with casual wear or tailoring, using the wide leg is an intentional choice. It’s not sloppy, but in fact the opposite. It shows that you have mastery over your silhouette and are choosing to do something “non-traditional” (even if it’s an old look). It results not only in comfortable clothing but in a playful vibe that harkens to the past and what is currently happening in the wider world of men’s fashion.  I never liked trying to be safe and centrist.  You’ve gotta go left, which here means going wide legged.

So yes, I feel like I’m reverting back to the Ethan that started this blog five years ago, though not the #menswear wannabe, but the hidden vintage enthusiast unsure if his future colleagues would take him seriously in 9.5″ legs.  That kid is back now, rocking those wide trousers like never before.  Like with all things, I feel like this was necessary for me to fully own my past and incorporate it with my current look, bridging the gap between vintage and modern to show that you can definitely wear pieces of both today.

I just can’t wait for the day I’ll get to do this at Pitti for the world to see.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan M. Wong

9 comments

  1. Pete Vee · August 16

    They are a good look for me I like a fuller trouser but with a tapered opening and a cuff, not full all the way through. I think they look great. Some of the fuller cut to me are too much and it looks like your in someone else’s clothes – as in they look too big. We’re all different though and I totally respect your choice. I’ve worn slim fit too and they’re just not that comfortable!

    Like

  2. Wunder · August 17

    Nice post and fok yes, great style!

    I’ve been buying Polo’s old chinos from ebay, Andrew and Hammond are nice wide models. I have large behind and it has been difficult to find trousers with enough space in the back. First Hammond-pants I threw away because of the shock, which I regret now.

    I got two pairs of Uniqlo U:s wide-fit linen-cotton trousers from the spring collection which are also great.

    Q-U-E-S-T-I-O-N:

    Your opinion on jeans-shorts, the jorts? Do you see options there?

    Like

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