Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Reet? Neat.

This month’s GQ has an article about a former GQ staffer who relocates to Washington D.C. and discovers that he is dangerously fashionable, although he is a bit plain for NYC (“Mr. GQ Goes to Washington” by Greg Veis).

Or as he puts it: “Also: pleats. Lots of pants down here be pleated. It’s crazy.”

Which sort of raises the question: who is that GQ guy that the magazine seeks to influence? In high school, I was deemed “very GQ.” Makes sense, I was in high school, trying to look like a bit of an adult (as we did back in the stone ages.) But GQ is an acronym for “Gentleman’s Quarterly.” The mascot found on the spine of the magazine is a 1930’s sculpture that used to sit on the late Art Cooper’s desk (he was the editor.) It is of a well-dressed man.

So who is going to help that guy above?

In my opinion, most magazines, GQ included, have lost their way when it comes to what the real world man (by that I mean any man over 30) wants to wear and looks good in. Sure they show flashes of classic style influence. But then comes the fashionable stuff that sells magazines and advertisers.

For example, flat front trousers are great when you’re standing up at a cocktail party. Less comfortable for extended hours on the plane flying business class let alone coach. But trousers haven’t always been pleated. Trousers used to highlight a well-muscled leg and slim physique. They were tight… As a matter of fact, trousers came along around 1800. Before that we wore pantaloons. Yikes.

“Pleats,” the fashion maven will insist, ” still look sloppy.”

So what we have here is a failure to communicate. A disconnect, if you will, between the fashion industry and the business district. And even more so with the professional tailors.

Pleats, I assert, do not look sloppy. Improperly tailored and ill-worn trousers look sloppy. (See above.)

But how many men do you know who take the time to have clothing properly tailored — chalked up while they’re wearing it, pinned, measured and noted? I wonder.

Properly tailored trousers with pleats look neat when worn correctly. That is when they fall from the natural waist in a clean unbroken line and finish the line of a suit. That’s hard to pull off unless you are wearing braces (called “suspenders” here in America) and the trousers are cuffed to add some weight to the bottom.

Do most men wear braces these days? I suspect not. Which means that their trousers are slipping under their bellies to rest more or less at the hip. Which makes the pleats expand. And ruins the whole effect.

How did we get here?

The elegant 1930’s pleats and cuffs fell by the wayside around WWII when cloth rationing went into effect. All that extra gabardine and serge was needed to help defeat the Axis. Then came the space age, with its emphasis on modernity and streamlined silhouettes. Pleats were still around, not everywhere, but evident. They were just shallower. And sooner or later the pendulum swung again and morning in America revealed the power suit and the accompanying full cut, multi-pleated trousers. Designers really got into the swing of things putting out trousers of proportions unseen since the hep got gone with their zoot suits with the reet pleat.

Did we start to work more? Exercise less? Or just eat to expand to fit our newly voluminous clothing? Who knows? But it all started to get to be a bit much for some folks who craved “comfort.” Especially the newly minted techno-millionaire/start-up class who got the job done while wearing clothing more suitable to painting an apartment or doing yard work.

As Americans we worship success and hope to emulate the formula of those who have achieved it. So we were saddled with Casual Friday, then casual everyday. And tailors everywhere must have gone hungry. We forgot how clothes are supposed to look when confronted with the world wearing 36″ x 32″ khakis and golf shirts. Comfortable clothing, the rational stated, allowed us free range to work longer and be happier.

It was a short step to complete slovenliness.

(Image Land’s End)

But things are coming back around. That same issue of GQ has Scott Schuman a.k.a. The Sartorialist shooting the best suits under $500. Sure they’re on the slim side with low rises based on the way that we wear our ubiquitous jeans, making it unnecessary to wear braces (or a belt in some cases.) But at least there is an effort being made by some to have us look better. Will these looks play in Peoria? Maybe among the younger (toned and tan) set.

And eventually, in a season or two, you’ll begin to see full-cut pleated trousers again and men can breathe a sigh of relief while heading to their tailors.

For we have all learned that fit is most important when there is less material in which to hide one’s flaws.

7 thoughts on “Reet? Neat.

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head with regards to GQ with one statement….”any man over 30″. I don’t believe GQ, at least from a fashion perspective, aims for this demographic. Strange, because they also seem to push $10,000 watches, travel to far away exotic (read: expensive) places and car’s that cost more then my home. I don’t know of many 20 somethings who can afford any of those. Granted, I hadn’t read the magazine for nearly two years, until I saw Ms. Adriana Lima on the cover and, of course, had to buy it. But, from that issue, not much has changed.

  2. I absolutely agree, re the pleats versus flat-front dilemma. I love flat-front trousers … except when I have to sit down, then they drive me insane … and I only wear pleated trousers with braces, but for some reason there’s a bagginess, a barrel-ness involved that makes me feel a bit like Sidney Greenstreet (not a fate I wish by any means) … perhaps I’ve lost some weight and need to have the trousers taken in? Pondering, pondering …

  3. Hi Turling, that is strange isn’t it? Luxury goods and the under 30’s. I really think that the demographic started out to be older and then slowly fell to the current targeted group. I suppose it’s because we all want to look “younger” in our youth-obsessed culture. When I get a fashionable haircut, I’m told that I look ten years younger! My normal cut always mets me a “you look great.” Hmmm.

    Aesthete, sounds like a trip to the tailor is in order. Congratulations! You may be able to take some material out of the leg to achieve a slimmer line without sacrifice. My trousers have lost a full inch on the taper towards my ankles. 19 instead of 20. The knee is a bit trimmer, too. Not much though.

  4. I have been so busy obsessing over what I am wearing, that I have not had a chance to notice whether my cohorts wear pleats or not. I will definitely pay more attention in the future. This post reminds me of my stint as a gift-wrapper at H. Stockton in College. I was completely clueless in the art of men’s clothing (and had to ask what “haberdashery” meant).

  5. Hello BA, in the long run it really is all about comfort. That and the forward vrs. reverse pleats (i.e. English vrs. Italian tailoring) ongoing debate. The English will tell you that forward pleats give a nicer line to the leg when standing. But, then, so will the Italians….

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