When children dress like adults they are more likely to behave as adults do, to imitate adult actions. It is hard to walk like an adult male wearing corduroy knickers that make an awful noise. But boys in long pants can walk like men, and little girls in tight jeans can walk like women.
—David Elkind, The Hurried Child
We’ve now covered suits and shirts in our Men’s Fashion series, but what good are they without pants? Men without lower garments are either indigent or flashers, and while either case can win you attention, it’s not likely to be favorable. There’s no situation that doesn’t require pants—unless it includes an amorous companion—so let’s explore how to best swaddle your thighs.
Men today have an abundance of pant-styles from which to choose. For business-wear, a man might pull out some nice gabardine trousers or a stretchy pair of black cotton pants. Some men wear jeans to work, while others wear khakis. Both the drab and the swish might have a pair of “gray flannels” that were once a standard and have since tortured itchy little boys in church. There are even those who wear leather, or velvet; they would be rock stars, or their imitators. For today’s lesson, we’ll concentrate on what men are most likely to wear to the office: jeans, chinos, corduroys, and “slacks,” meaning anything of the wool or nylon-blend family.
Also, we threw together a little something at the end about shorts.
Blue, of course. Black, yes; white, sure; khaki, maybe; purple, never. Jeans are the universal standard for comfort, durability, and casual chic. Like whiskey, Johnny Cash, and pornography, they’re a little dirty and widely beloved, and it’s no mistake that top fashion designers—Hedi Slimane, Tom Ford, Helmut Lang—wear them every day. They’re dark, they’re faded, they’re in-between: whichever way, that wash has either just been or is about to be fashionable. The “dirty” look? That’s still right on target. Boot-cut, straight-leg, baggy: who can tell how you’re supposed to choose? All told, jeans inhabit a peculiar place in any man’s wardrobe: while they may always work for bagging leaves, they’re also subject to blink-of-an-eye changes in mass appeal.
E.g., acid wash.
Flipping the proverbial bird to all of this, you should choose your jeans by whatever cut looks best with your build. While a boot or straight cut works for most, personal style may say you don’t want to run with the crowd. Just don’t go crazy. After all, tapered jeans haven’t come back yet.
A rule: No man over 25 years of age should wear jeans with pant legs wider than the length of his foot.
Wash and color are important in how your jeans will complement your wardrobe. If you’re wearing your jeans to work, a darker blue will look more professional than a lighter one (lighter will look old, uncared for, and sickly with white shirts). Feel free to wear with a belt or without (a la George Harrison) but keep the waist at your waist. Sand-bagging’s for little boys.
Washing here does not refer to how the jeans are actually washed but the relative lightness/darkness, or distressing of the denim. Distressing? Oh, stone-washed, sandblasted, ripped, acid-washed, etc. Now, while distressed jeans often cost more than those untouched by erosion, the price-conscious jeans-shopper can give home-distressing a shot. For this you’ll need some heavy-grade sandpaper and a board. Slide the board inside each jean leg, and rub industriously. Bear in mind, author error has caused injury during such experiments. Let’s just say it sucks pulling shaved denim out of your knuckles.
Another rule: Do not have your jeans hemmed; this looks stupid. If you can’t acquire the right leg length, however, and must get your jeans hemmed—have it done by a professional who will do a proper jeans hem (short hem, about a half-inch wide; stitched through with heavy thread). Beware: you should wash your jeans at least once before having them hemmed. Jeans shrink, and you don’t want your once-perfect, newly-hemmed Levi’s to suddenly turn into high-waters.
In the end, it’s all about the fit: how does your ass look? Or, how do others think your ass looks? If they say it looks “fine,” then these aren’t the jeans for you. If the jeans look right, everyone will comment on the beauty of your derriere. This really isn’t a question of fabric tightness, mind you, but one of fit. If anyone says they’re able to imagine what your ass would look like unclothed (and this is said in a disapproving manner), these probably aren’t the jeans for you. Don’t take it personally, though. These just aren’t the jeans for your ass.
Lastly, ripping off the back pockets so your ass-cheeks become taillights is not only tasteless, it’s terrible on the fabric.
We lament chinos. We abhor chinos. If there’s one style of pants we could erase from the world, they’d be tan-colored and made of cotton, often frayed at the cuff. (“Perfect for the beach, for the party, or for reading the paper on a lazy Sunday. Available in sizes 28 to 38, in colors: mud, rock, moss, ennui, and bark.”) That businesses have eased off suits and allowed J. Crew drones to man every desk makes us tired. Let’s face it: most men a) don’t care how they dress, so long as it’s comfortable, and b) will wear the lowest-common denominator that they can get away with. If you think you’re any less a company-man by wearing chinos instead of a suit, look around and re-assess. Are you wearing a blue shirt? Uh-oh.
However, we understand men like these pants, if only because they’re popular, comfortable, easy to match, and cheap. Classy men have worn them, and we own some ourselves. Fine. A few lessons then, on the sporting of chinos.
First: Cargo pants were invented for the Army so soldiers could carry things. What the hell do you have in those pockets, your bong? Give it a rest.
Second: Do not feel the need to always buy tan or any of its close, likewise muted relatives. Be a little adventurous and try blue! Or brown! Or white! Even Nantucket red! That is, if you have a belt with little sailing flags on it, Chip…
Third: Chinos are not formal pants. Chinos are not formal pants. Chinos are not formal pants. Thank you for listening.
Cords are actually easy to cover because the same rules for chinos and jeans apply to cords as well (choose according to personal style, emphasis on good fit), except the wonderful thing is, the fabric’s actually closer to formal and can go over well in restaurants when your date eyes your pants.
We advise a thinner wale to a thicker one. The wale describes the thickness of the ridge that runs vertically down the pants. And while a thicker wale might seem richer—ooh, all that fabric, and in one solid bunch!—it actually looks cheaper when you’re a few feet away, and will appear that you’ve hugged your trunks in pipe cleaners. Strictly for DJs.
A rule: No horizontal corduroys. These are a rare breed, most often found in head shops or avant-fashion boutiques, and are a silly waste of fabric.
What can we say, we love slacks. They can match anything, from formal to casual (blazer or jean jacket, tie or T-shirt), and work on any occasion where a suit’s a bit too much.
Shop, as usual, to your personal style, but be very careful about the fit, in all places. That is, get close to your boys without touching, with the same applying to your bottom. Never accept a waist size that won’t accommodate an undershirt and dress shirt tucked in. Pleats can be acceptable in subtle cases, but avoided when more than one per leg.
Also, you’ll want a nice break over your shoe (where the cuff hits your foot) and always err longer over shorter. Pockets shouldn’t pinch or crinkle, and your wallet should sit comfortably in your back pocket, not hanging off your ass like a lungfish.
And finally, the fabric. A popular error on the part of designers is using ultra-thin fabrics when constructing the pants. Avoid these. They’ll look fine when you’re standing in place, but as soon as you move you’ll be MC Hammer. A good way to avoid this is by buying pants that are lined, adding a little heft to otherwise swishy funnels.
There are two types of men: those who will never, ever, under any conditions wear shorts and those who leap at the chance. While there’s a long-standing tradition, now dead, of boys wearing shorts and, upon their graduation to manhood (okay, to puberty), wearing long pants. The whole process was considered a rite of passage, one that, like so many other things, has died a somewhat unnoticeable death.
Choose the middle road: be the man who knows what shorts are for.
Shorts, as a part of a man’s wardrobe, are a necessity. They are what you exercise in; they are what you mow the lawn in; they are what you wear on vacation. To a very hot place. To a place where trousers would turn your backside into a dripping wall of sweat. They are, however, not what you wear to dinner. Or to a wedding. Or, in fact, to a funeral—even if they’re black.
When choosing a pair of shorts, go for those that don’t epitomize the word “short” all too much. Go for utility. Will you be able to go to the gym in these? Will you be able to cut the yard in these? Yes? Purchase.
Do you think they’re formal enough to wear to the office? Yes? Then please, let us show you to the trouser department. Third floor; yes, the elevator’s around the corner.
And, sir, we all thank you for your decision to not wear those shorts.