Though pleated trousers may not be currently fashionable, every James Bond except Roger Moore has worn them. There are primarily two different kinds of trousers pleats: forward pleats and reverse pleats. Forward pleats fold inwards and reverse pleats fold outwards. Reverse pleats are the type of pleats that were most popular from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Forward pleats are associated with English style whilst reverse pleats are associated with Italian style. In America the popularity of each style was more evenly split in the 1930s-1950s, and again in the 1980s when pleats became popular again. By the 2000s, most makers switched to reverse pleats with only a handful left making the more traditional forward pleats.
Forward pleats are sometimes called “inverse pleats” or “tuc pleats” (at Paul Stuart), and I recently heard someone call them “straight pleats.” They are even sometimes called “regular pleats” even though they haven’t been the regular pleat style for some time now. Because they are the opposite of what more recently became the standard pleat style, some people incorrectly call them reverse pleats. On forward-pleated trousers, the pattern for the trousers is extended from the crotch and inside of the leg twice the depth of the main pleat, usually down to the knee. The added fullness is neatly kept to the inside of the leg. When there is a second pleat, the extra cloth is taken from the outer edge on the hips. Sean Connery wears double-forward-pleated trousers with all of his suits throughout his five Bond films in the 1960s, during a time when pleats were becoming increasingly less popular. But Connery isn’t the only Bond to have worn forward pleats. George Lazenby’s tweed suit trousers in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service have forward pleats, and some of Timothy Dalton’s suit trousers in The Living Daylights have forward pleats.
Reverse pleats are the standard pleats today, or at least they were a few years ago before pleats completely went out of fashion. Reverse pleats first appear on Bond in The Living Daylights. Pierce Brosnan’s suit trousers in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies all have reverse pleats, and the herringbone linen suit trousers in The World is Not Enough have them too. Daniel Craig’s dinner suit trousers in Casino Royale have single reverse pleats, which are the last pleated trousers that Bond wears. The extra cloth for reverse pleats is all taken from the outside of the hips and legs. This gives the trousers a baggier look, which goes well with full-cut jackets because the trousers fill out the bottom of the jacket for an unbroken silhouette.
Though Bond’s pleats typically come in pairs, Timothy Dalton wears trousers with triple reverse pleats in Licence to Kill, and Pierce Brosnan wears trousers with triple reverse pleats with his blazer in GoldenEye. Whilst the second pleat on double-pleated trousers helps to keep the main pleat closed, a third pleat on the side only adds extra fullness. That fullness was very popular from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s, but in Dalton’s case it serves no practical purpose. When full-cut trousers were popular during that time, not only were triple-pleated trousers popular but other pleat styles were too. Some trousers had box pleats and inverted box pleats, usually with an additional reverse pleat towards the side. Thankfully Bond avoided these styles.
The purpose of pleats is a practical one, both to allow the trousers to expand when seated and to better fit the curves of the hips. The second purpose doesn’t apply to the currently fashionable trousers that sit low on the hips, since low rise trousers have less hip to curve around. Forward pleats usually look trimmer than reverse pleats, though reverse pleats are easier to fit with ready-to-wear trousers. This is because when forward pleats pull open, the crease no longer hangs straight down. When reverse pleats pull open, the front crease is still straight down. Poorly-fitted trousers with reverse pleats thus look better than poorly-fitted trousers with forward pleats. But in my experience, well-fitting trousers with forward pleats are the most flattering. Forward pleats are more slimming because they draw the eye inward instead of outward.
Though trousers pleats are currently out of fashion, there’s no denying the advantages. The common aversion to pleats today is that people associate them with baggy trousers. But when well-fitted, trousers can be trim whilst at the same time having the practical advantage of pleats. Sean Connery’s pleated trousers still have trim legs.