Q and Answer: How High Should Trousers Come Up?

Peter writes to us to ask: I read Monty Don’s article about dirty attire and I love the idea of high waisted men’s pants. But how high is too high? Also, where might I find such pants?

Although there are guidelines for how trousers should fit, there aren’t many rules for how they should be styled. The rise of your trousers is largely about your taste, body type, and the prevailing fashions of the day. Slimmer men can get away more easily with lower rises, while heavier men often need something higher, but at the end of the day – it about what looks good on you. Personally, I find rise to be something of a balancing act. 

For trousers I might wear with a coat and tie, I prefer a higher rise for three reasons. First, it helps avoid that dreaded shirt triangle that Jesse wrote about, where the bottom of your shirt peeks out from beneath your jacket. It also gives a longer leg line, and better proportions between the torso and legs – which I find to be nice when the jacket is worn open. You can see this demonstrated by Jake from The Armoury here

The problem with a rise that’s too high, however, is that unless you’re extraordinarily handsome (like Cary Grant & Co. above), they can look unflattering when you’re not wearing a jacket. Possibly not a big deal if you never remove your coat, but something to consider if you do. 

So, finding that sweet spot – where a rise is high, but not too high – is largely personal, and dependent on your dress habits, taste, and body type. For myself, I prefer trousers that come up just below my navel, although for more casual pants (i.e. anything I wouldn’t wear with a tailored jacket), I don’t mind going lower. Note, the higher you go, the more you might want to consider pleats. They’ll help visually break up that expanse of fabric that can take up your upper thighs and hips. 

Unfortunately, there aren’t many good options when it comes to higher rise pants. Ralph Lauren used to have something they called their Preston fit – which I thought was great – but they recently remodeled their whole line of trousers, so all the old cuts have been discontinued. You might want to stop by one of their stores to check out the new line, and to see if any Preston cuts are on sale. The ones made in Italy are exceptionally nice, but they’re also very expensive. Note that the legs will be a bit full, but you can have them slimmed from the knee down. 

Outside of them, there's Brooks Brothers’ Black Fleece, O'Connell’s, and J. Press for dress pants, and then Ring JacketJack Donnelly’s Dalton cut and Bill’s Khaki’s M2 model for chinos. For what Monty Don was wearing, you can check Old Town. Worse comes to worse, if you can’t find anything you like, you can also try made-to-measure through J. Hilburn or Luxire

Where to Buy Good Pants (Part One)

Readers often ask us if we have any recommendations for where to buy good trousers. Usually grey flannels, as those tend to be the most useful, but other styles as well. So I reached out to a few friends to compile a list. Like with our guide on where to look for a suit, this isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but hopefully people will find it useful as a starting point. Today we’ll cover some expensive options, and tomorrow we’ll tackle the more affordable places.

  • Rota ($220-395): An Italian line with a slim leg and slightly higher rise. The construction is great, the fabrics excellent, and there are some cool details such as an extended waistband (which looks nice when you’re wearing your trousers without a belt). Note, the Rota Sport line is garment washed, so while the cut is originally same, the waist, thigh, and hip areas will be slightly slimmer. Rotas are mostly available ready-to-wear, but you can get them made-to-order through No Man Walks Alone. Doing so means you can choose from a bigger fabric selection.
  • Ralph Lauren ($200-450): Ralph Lauren is a big umbrella label, with lots of stuff at different tiers of quality. I personally like their Italian-made line of trousers through their Polo label (also known as Blue Label for how the label is blue). Their Preston cut is a more traditional fit with a higher rise. As with all trousers, you just have to make sure that the thigh, seat, and rise fit the way you want. The legs can be slimmed from the knee down and the waist adjusted accordingly. Prices are high (usually north of $400), but you can find them on sale at Ralph Lauren and select Bloomingdales stores for $200-250 at the end of every season. Just look for a made-in-Italy label, and note that it may soon be made-in-USA
  • Brooks Brothers Black Fleece ($200-575): Another great option if you like a traditional rise, but this time, the legs are slimmer than Ralph Lauren’s Preston cut. Thom Browne, who designs the line, often puts a little loop at the back of the waistband, but you can have that removed by a tailor if it’s not to your liking. Brooks Brothers also regularly discounts their stuff at the end of the season, and the Black Fleece line is sometimes discounted more heavily through online flash sales. 
  • Clay Tompkins ($250-400): A relatively new company, but one worth considering. Clay Tompkin’s trousers are cut somewhat similar to Howard Yount’s (which we’ll review tomorrow), but they feature some nice details such as adjustable side tabs. Those not only give a unique stylistic touch, but they’re also useful for when you need to adjust your pants in increments smaller than an inch (which is the only thing possible when you’re wearing a belt). I’m also told that if the red stitching on the back pocket isn’t to your liking, Clay can make your trousers without them. You can read more about Clay’s trousers here.
  • Panta ($239-379): A favorite of mine. No frills or flash sales here, just really good pants made in NYC. These are slimmer than many of the more traditional cuts at J. Press and Ralph Lauren, but not as slim as Howard Yount or Epaulet. The guy who runs this place, Ed Morel, also has an unusually good eye for fabrics. That means you’ll get lots of stuff that’s slightly more interesting (but still very tasteful) than what you’ll find elsewhere. Additionally, they can do made-to-measure and custom if you email them. The downside? They rarely hold sales, so the prices you see are what they are (though, maybe that’s a good thing?). 

Come back tomorrow, when we’ll talk about where you can find good trousers at more affordable prices.   

(Thanks to Ivory Tower Style, Luxe Swap, and This Fits for their help with this post. Also, credit to Panta for the photo above.)


Ghurka Trousers

The older I get, the more I’ve come to accept that I have a fairly boring sense of personal style. Shetland sweaters with button down shirts and chinos; soft shouldered sport coats with flat fronted wool trousers and blue dress shirts; and more recently, white t-shirts, dark leather jackets, and a pair of really worn jeans. Every once in a while, however, I get the urge to experiment more. This past week, I’ve been thinking about Ghurka trousers for summer.

Ghurka trousers come from that period of history when the British occupied North Africa and India - a time that left a very uncomfortable political legacy, but seems to be a continual source of style inspiration for books, movies, and clothing. They’re typically high waisted, made from a heavy cotton drill, and characterized by a unique self-belting design. That belted rigging allowed British officers to easily cinch their trousers as they lost weight – an issue I definitely haven’t experienced as I’ve entered my 30s. Still, I find their unique style very appealing. They draw to mind all those beautiful safari images in old Banana Republic catalogs, before Banana Republic was bought out by The Gap.

A couple of weeks ago, StyleForum member TTO posted a photo of himself in some Ghurka trousers, which reminded me of a very military-inspired look Five once posted at Superfuture, which in turn reminded me of a photo of Ralph Fiennes in Anderson & Sheppard’s vanity book. Granted, none of these are looks I could see myself wearing, but these photos do inspire. 

Ghurka pants have been offered in the past by Japanese workwear brands such as Engineered Garments and Haversack, as well as American “dad outfitters” such as J. Peterman and JL Powell. Pete also wrote about them when he covered Whillas and Gunn for StyleForum, and I’ve seen old Ralph Lauren versions on eBay. Some of these are still being offered; some not. I noticed that J. Peterman, for example, still sells theirs.

TTO tells me he’s tried the ones from Silverman’s and What Price Glory. The Silvermans are simpler and less cluttered, as they have no extra pockets or button-down belt loops. They’re also sturdier in their fabric and stitching. The downside is that they’re rather short (measuring a ~29.5” inseam on a pair of 36” waisted trousers). This is probably historically correct, as British officers most likely wore these with gaiters and boots, but they might be too short for the modern style enthusiast. What Price Glory’s pants are longer, but they come with a bit more detailing, which may or may not be to people’s taste.

The other option are Ghurka shorts, which Jesse has written extensively about. Engineered Garments and Go Fujito have made versions of them in the past, and styled them in ways I wish I was cool enough to pull off.

(Photos via Giant Beard, Five, and To the Manner Born)