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Know your trouser width

5 July 2008

I like narrow trousers. I’m pretty sure this isn’t a fashion thing – they are trendy and have been for a good year or two, but I think it has influenced my choice in tailoring for longer than that.

(Side note on very narrow trousers: They only ever look good on thin people. Do not wear them if you have any softness around the middle. They will make you look immeasurably fatter. Like a blancmange on matchsticks in fact. I’m consistently amazed at exactly how fat they can make men look that I would otherwise have considered slim.)

I like narrow trousers because they suit, to my eye, my other clothing choices – slim shoes and tailored jackets. Having a rather large number of shoes I would like to display, it also helps having slimmer trousers that will rest on to of the shoe and not envelop it.

I know it was considered stylish for a long time to pair fuller, wider trousers with short, nipped jackets (Cary Grant, Oxford Bags) but I prefer to put together items that balance rather than contrast. As Coco Chanel said: “Fashion is architecture; it’s a matter of proportions.”

However, I have a problem: perhaps due to several years of cycling, I have larger than average thighs and bottom. So trousers that are too narrow or too low-waisted get as far as my thighs and stop. This is particularly a problem with contemporary jeans, though less so with formal trousers.

For jeans, I end up going for more traditional cuts – Levi’s 501s are pretty good, as are the Kilgour range of jeans, which are purposefully cut higher and use a clean, dark indigo in order to be smarter.

As a result of this, it is always worth me keeping in mind how narrow I like trousers to be, in precise measurements, when trying trousers on. Without a ready comparison, it can be surprisingly hard to try on a new pair of trousers and get an idea of how narrow they are compared to your optimum width. You can, of course, compare them to the trousers you were wearing that day, but if these are very different in style or material they won’t help much.

It also helps to get an assistant to pin the trousers at the length you would have them hemmed to – width can vary surprisingly along the trouser leg, and it is easier to see the width when the ends are not crumpled up on top of your shoe.

All of which is a long way of saying that I now make a point of knowing the widths I prefer, in inches. I recommend doing something similar.

My preferences are (measured as the circumference of the leg at the bottom – just measure the width when flat and double it):

Suit trousers – 16 inches. (Anything less than this I would class as very narrow).

Jeans or more casual trousers – 17 inches.

I’d be interested to hear other people’s preferences.