Pleated Trousers: Forward and Reverse

43
Connery-Trousers
Sean Connery wearing trousers with double forward pleats

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.

Sean-Connery-Forward-Pleats
Sean Connery wearing trousers with double 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.

Daniel Craig wearing trousers double reverse pleats Pierce Brosnan wearing trousers double reverse pleats
Daniel Craig wearing trousers with reverse 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.

Dalton-Blue-Suit-Trousers
Timothy Dalton wearing trousers with triple reverse pleats

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.

Pierce wearing trousers double reverse pleats
Pierce Brosnan wearing trousers with double reverse pleats

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.

43 COMMENTS

  1. Very interesting and informative, Matt. I was advised by my tailor to always have pleats for the reasons that you have mentioned and have a single forward pleat. I was under the impression that double pleats would make the trousers look somewhat baggy but, as you point out, I think that depends on the quality of the tailoring. Would you say that pleats always look better with a higher waist than today’s trend? I never used to like the higher waist but can now see that the trousers often hang better and, of course, they avoid that atrocious and unsightly gap betwen the fastening jacket button and the trousers themselves.

      • This was my thought as well, especially regarding the height of Connery’s trousers. I wavered back and forth on waist-height – I’m a younger man, thin and with very long legs, built rather like Connery was, if a little less top-heavy, and I tended for a long time to wear a low-waist for a myriad of reasons. It can become a cagey proposition wearing a trouser with pleats and a high waist when you have long, thin legs – particularly when it comes to the fit of the shirt and length of your torso (as seen in image one, with Connery, he’s close to the line where instead of timeless he could appear dated, but for an inch or so and the cut of the his tailoring). Much of that is alleviated by the tendency toward thinner cuts of pant leg now, but the importance of that 1-inch at the top can’t be understated.

  2. I find forward pleats to be infinitely more pleasing that the reverse from an aesthetic standpoint. As for my own tastes, I prefer flat-front trousers with a medium rise. I find that this flatters my figure due to my compact torso.

    Matt, do pleats ever work with a medium rise, or should pleated pants always rest at the natural waste?

    • What does “medium rise” mean to you? A medium rise to me would be about an inch lower than Connery’s trousers. The trousers don’t need to sit as high as Connery’s do, but they need to be close to the natural waist.

  3. Matt, what about pleats’ size? My taylor says that there are “pleats and pleats”, meaning that with a shorter pleat trousers can be slimmer and not baggy. So, in practice there is another class of pleats, where they’re simply insinuated, with less cloth and a slimmer look. What do you think?

    • The size of the pleats should be proportionate to the size of your hips. Connery’s pleats are fairly large because he has large hips. Well-tailored forward pleats should not make trousers baggy. If forward pleats are making your trousers baggy they are not cut well. With reverse pleats, however, a slight bagginess can be hard to avoid.

  4. I always have pleats,two or single.
    As Italian my pleats are reverse,but the trouser are not “baggy”.
    Depends from the ability of the tailor.
    I not like flat front,unless that in sport pants in jeans cut.

  5. For anyone my age (44) a discussion about pleats can bring up interesting memories and conflicted feelings.

    I associated pleats with baggy trousers, although that was likely due to poorly cut, off-the-rack trousers from department stores in the mid- to late-80s. Because of this, a lot of men my age thought “Thank God!” when the styles and cuts of pants changed. However, I had a bit of an epiphany when I bought a pair of casual, heavy cotton chinos from Club Monaco that they called “utility pants”. This was a staple for quite a while at their stores and they had a slimmer leg with less tapering than you often saw at the time. But the big difference was that they had a single forward pleat as opposed to double reverse pleats. The difference in fit was astounding. Unlike other pleated pants, these made me look taller, slimmer, and like I *didn’t* have women’s hips (a big problem with all the other pleated pants I tried). That was likely the first time that I understood fit and style as it related to me, and I can tell you that I felt like Bond! This was 1987, and I often wore a black long-sleeved polo shirt with my tan utility pants so I felt like Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights.

  6. Because hardly anyone makes forward pleats, I’m almost always buying plain front trousers, though I do like both styles for different reasons. Black Lapel seems receptive to making forward pleats, so I may order a suit with them. Since thrifting a well fitting pair of Polo trousers with forward pleats, I can’t go back to reverse.

    Connery’s forward pleats are long, yet they look quite sleek. (This may be why the costumer for “Catch Me If You Can” mistakenly thought they were plain front.) It destroys the misconception that pleats must always make trousers look ill fitting and baggy. I think it also helps that they are stitched down for an inch below the waistband, which further helps in keeping them straight.

    It’s interesting that people who idolize Daniel Craig’s slim fitting suits from Skyfall forget that he wore more traditional cuts with a slightly closer fit just six years earlier, which honestly looks far better on him. It’s the sort of tailoring I go for, though I prefer natural shoulders. Many mistakenly believe that the CR dinner suit had flat front, low rise trousers just because he went without a waist covering. But what they don’t understand is that clothing will look good on the wearer regardless of style if 1. it fits well and 2. they don’t let the clothes wear them. The Brioni suits had a mid-rise that was perfect for Daniel Craig’s height and muscular physique. I also have to say that, for reverse pleats, Brioni does them as well as anyone can. I still wish they were forward pleats instead, but oh well. Milan will forever fight Savile Row on that unfortunately.

    As for the violently anti-plain front guys who have posted from time to time… well, you’re just as bad as the young folks who are ridiculously intolerant of pleats. 😉

    • Well said, Jovan. Sewing down the pleats at the top of the waistband helps direct the fullness to where it needs to be. It looks like the pleats are sewn down about 1.25″, so the rise could be that much shorter and the pleats would work just as well.

      I’m not against plain-front trousers, and I have a few pairs, but they are too tight around the hips for me. On my best pairs there are two darts above each rear pocket, and that makes a difference. If not, it’s best to have a dart on each side in the front, which I’ll be posting about shortly.

      • I find your second paragraph interesting. Given your knowledge of tailoring I would think that you would be able to find a cut of flat-front pants that looked good on you. Unless it’s a case of not liking the style enough to bother..?

        Something that I went through when I was younger, and I know a few people who go through this even at my age, was writing off a specific style or cut of clothing based on limited experience. For example, trying on one or two versions that didn’t fit me well and therefore assuming that the style in general didn’t look good on me. Part of this was a challenging shape (I used to be a pear shaped with a bit of a gut and hips; now I have the opposite problem having a 10″ drop) but the bigger issue was shopping at cheap department stores. Even today I love that almost miraculous feeling when you find a cut of a specific style that looks good on you.

        Regarding pleats, I wonder how long it will be until they become mainstream again? I’ve seen some non-successful attempts on casual pants in the last three years in stores such as Zara and H&M, but they seemed to just sit in the racks without selling. The thing that I really wonder about is if there will be a pleats “arms race” like with the number of blades in disposable cartridge razors. I can foresee that after some store has triple-pleat pants some fashion-forward chain says “Screw it! We’re going straight to FIVE pleats!!!”

      • Well, I said I found that flat front trousers fit me when they have two darts on each side in the back. Most do not fit me. Ideally for my shape I need darts in the front as well, like what many of Bond’s trousers have. Anyone can benefit from that.

      • So if I did understand your other article well, darts help to create more shape around the hips -rather than hanging straight ?

        One thing I don’t understand is that shirt darts are meant to shape the back of a shirt and take some extra and undesired fullness. So I presume it would be the same for trousers darts, yet you say that plain front trousers without darts were too tight for you and that you needed trousers with a darted front… to be less tighten I presume.
        Unless trousers darts and shirt darts are totally different, I am a little confused Matt !

      • It all depends how you look at it. The end of the dart is where the fullness is. On trousers the fullness is at the hip. On shirts it’s at the upper back. On a suit jacket you could say the darts shape the waist, but they also give fullness to the chest.

  7. Great article, Matt, very complete and very interesting.
    I always wondered why Brosnan and Craig wore reverse pleats -besides the fact that it’s an Italian tailoring tradition, and they wore Italian suits. But Brosnan wore lots of suits with English features such as double vents and flapped ticket pockets, so why not forward pleats too ?… Many there was another reason too. That said, I think the Brioni reverse pleats look very good on both of them.

    Matt, do you think it’s possible to transform double reverse pleats into forward ones ?

    • It’s not really possible to effectively transform reverse pleats to forward pleats because the grain line will be off. The crease will no longer line up with the pleat. You can re-press a new crease that lines up with the new pleat, but it won’t be straight down the leg.

  8. Is it fair to say that the ideal position of trouser height would be for the waistband to sit across the belly button?

  9. If I can add to discussions; I personally have avoided pleated pants for years, if to avoid the largley-unflattering baggy look that dominated menswear throughout the 90s. However due to your heavily detailed observations about Connery’s suits I have rethought the entire concept, and have grown to appreciate them. While I still prefer flat front pants, I view pleats as a more traditional British /European-influence, than bad taste- it just requires careful attention. Recently, I purchased a suit that closely resembles the charcoal suit worn in “Dr. No”, but it features modern reverse pleats instead of forward. With visual aid(sourced from this site), my tailor suppressed the top of the pleats, contoured/tapered the legs with deep cuffs and quarter break, and light waist suppression to the jacket. The results: of all my suits, this one is perhaps my nearest facsimile of any proper Connery-era suit. The take away: it’s all in the attention to tailoring and alteration.

  10. Pleats are like dangerous animals: if left to the wild they can be a dangerous foe to be feared. However, if properly tamed, and trained, they can become a trusted ally.

  11. Does anyone know the origin of forward and reverse pleats ?
    Reverse pleats are said to be an Italian specificity, but I have noticed from 1930s movies that reverse pleats were plentiful in the USA at this time whereas lots of people wore the forward type in Europe. I guess that later it became more “mixed”.

  12. What should be regarded as a suitable width for the various style of trouser,in the UK the narrower leg seems to reign supreme in fact the younger men are taking this to a ridiculous extreme & reverting to the drainpipe style of the 50s.Judging by the men in the many American tv shows we get the US seems to favour a more looser fit.

  13. quote:
    By the 2000s, most makers switched to reverse pleats with only a handful left making the more traditional forward pleats.

    Is there a particular reason for this? Is it easier/cheaper to produce trousers with reverse pleats insted of forward pleats or what?

    • Part of it was fashion. People thought reverse pleats were modern whilst forward pleats were old-fashioned. Another part of is that poorly-fitted reverse pleats that pull open look better than the forward pleats that pull open.

    • Are forward pleats preferable you think? In your answer to carmelo above you mention that reverse pleats aren’t quite as neat as forward pleats are.

      I’ve never tried trousers with forward pleats – it seems impossible to find. I have trousers with a single reverse pleat, but how big difference would you say it is between reverse- and forward pleats? From what I understand, trousers with reverse pleats are baggier?

      • I think forward pleats are always preferable unless someone wants to look wider. I see a very big difference between forward pleats and reverse pleats. Forward pleats make the hips look narrower whilst reverse pleats make the hips look wider. Reverse pleats tend to be a little baggier because of the way the trousers are cut.

  14. Unfortunately it’s impossible to find trousers with forward pleats, at least where I live. Here it is 99 % flat front and 1 % reverse pleats and thereby no trousers with forward pleats or darts. How is the assortment of trousers with forward pleats or darts in New York?

    Based on your great articles I think forward pleats or darts are preferred. but one can only buy what’s available and nowadays it’s hard enough to find trousers with a decent rise. By the way, what do think about flat front trousers?

  15. Matt , how do Forward pleats compare to reverse pleats in terms of comfort ? I only have experience with forward pleats. Are reverse pleats more or less comfortable ( as in ” roomy” ) than forward pleats ?

    • The roominess has more to do with the depth of the pleat than with the direction of it. I haven’t worn reverse pleats in over a decade, but I don’t recall much of a difference with the direction. Reverse pleats probably feel roomier because the fullness is coming from the outside of the leg. They certainly look roomier.

      • Thank you , Matt . One last question : Do Darted trousers have the same level of comfort as eated trousers ?
        And do you know any brand or Tailor who makes Darted trousers ?

      • Darted trousers do not offer the same comfort as pleated. They’re like flat front trousers but can give a better fit. I don’t know who makes darted trousers now, but Brioni and Isaia have sold them in the past. Many English bespoke tailors like them.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.