How It Should Fit: The Classic Trouser
The waist of the trouser should sit comfortably on your natural waist, not your hips. Jeans are often cut to sit lower on the hips with a natural “sag” effect, but not trousers. This is why men who don’t often wear trousers feel that they are sitting uncomfortably high. There should only be about one finger of room at the waistband; just a little so they are not uncomfortably tight when sitting, but snug enough to keep them locked in place. A proper fitting trouser shouldn’t need a belt, and should keep your shirt from easily coming untucked- here’s another good tip for that.
There should be a few inches of allowance at the hips, since this is the primary area of motion – and thus tension – in the garment. If the hips are too small the pockets will flare and the fabric will show stress lines (or “pulling) across the front of the crotch and the back of the seat. It will also be difficult to fit your hands (or objects larger than your cellphone) in your pockets. If the hips on the trousers are too large there will be extra fabric “pooling” on the side seams and at the center back seam. In the tailor shop we used to call this a “dumpy seat”. If the pants are pleated the hips need to be cut large enough to accommodate for the depth of the pleat(s) – they should lay flat and not pull open.
The “rise” of the trouser, i.e. the distance from the top of the waistband to the “4 corners intersection” below the crotch, should follow the natural shape and size of the body. If it’s too small it will feel like you have a “wedgie” (which can happen in the front or back), it will feel uncomfortable to keep the pants on your natural waist, and the front of the trouser may be too “revealing” (especially if the hips are cut too trim as well). On the other hand, if the rise is too long, there will be an extra area of fabric hanging below the crotch and impeding your long strides, like a “drop crotch” pant would have.
This is where a lot of guys make the mistake of going too trim, in my opinion. You should be able to sit down comfortably, without the trouser fabric struggling to keep it together. If you notice a lot of fabric stress (wrinkling/pulling) at the upper/inner thigh when you sit, your trousers may be too snug. This will greatly affect the lifespan of your trousers, especially if you’re sitting at a desk all day.
The proper hem width for a trouser has become a popular question in our inbox. In my opinion, this largely comes down to personal preference. It’s more style than “fit”. I’m 6’2″ 195 lbs and most often wear a 16″ circumference (although I have pleated trousers up to 18.5″ and jeans that are closer to 14″). For off-the-rack trousers, I think these general standards are good for the overall balance and silhouette (again, this also depends on height, body shape, etc)… Size 30: 14.75″, Size 32: 15.25″, Size 34: 16″, Size 36: 16.75″, Size 38: 17.5″.
Another hot topic, and another personal preference. I’m typically a light break kind of guy, with the back of my trousers overlapping the top of my shoes by about a half inch, and hemmed at a slight angle (1/2″ shorter in the front). and hemmed slightly shorter in the front. This is a great break, in my opinion. As for general advice: for shorter guys I would recommend going with little to no break for a streamlined look, for taller guys I would anchor down that height with a good break.
A GOOD FIT
The example pair below is not perfect (nothing in tailoring ever is) but they give a pretty good idea of a good fit. Notice the fabric is laying flat and draping cleanly (no “pulling” or “pooling”), the pockets are laying flat, the shoes are nicely presented, and there is a slight break at the lower shin.