There are some fashion trends that repeat themselves throughout history, and pleated pants is one of them. Pleated pants have been considered in-style off and on since the 1930s, but they first made their appearance much earlier. Of all the trends resurfacing in this era of embracing the retro decades of the 80s and 90s, you might wonder: Why are men once more wearing pleated pants?
Some fashion trends tend to crop up again and again, and we often don’t seek to understand why. Yet looking at how people dressed in ancient times has told us much about how people lived and what they believed to be modest. Might we be able to determine an underlying reason for pleated pants making a comeback?
Let’s begin with looking at when pleated pants have – and have not – been in vogue.
Decades in which pleated pants were popular
Pleated trousers have spent as much time out of fashion as in. To see what potential societal causes could be responsible for this trend, you first must look at when the pleats were in style and what was going on in those decades. By doing so, we might be able to both understand why pleats are coming back into men’s fashion today and predict their future comebacks.
The first pleated pants surfaced in the Regency Era (1820s)
The 1820s saw a complete change in the design in men’s pants. Up to that point, men’s trousers did not have a full-length leg. Pant cuffs rested on the calf, and for boys the cuff might rest higher at just above or just below the knee.
Clothing designers worked to create a pant that did extend the full length of the leg. They experimented with different ways to handle draping the fabric down from the waist to the loose leg cuff at the ankle. Pleats were one of the methods that stuck for a time, but they disappeared just as quickly.
To see how people lived in the Regency era, one need not look further than the literature published during the period. Both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are excellent examples of the time period, while also showing women’s desire and willingness to break gender norms.
A 5-year heyday thanks to Parisian clothing designer Lars Larsen
Around 1910 Lars Larsen, who came to be known as Monsieur Larsen through his design house, designed pants with pleats as we see today. But these pants didn’t last long – pleats had disappeared again within 5 years or less. There were many reasons that pleats were not favored, including the fact that they looked awkward when the pleats were not cut and fitted properly. Most men found them impractical.
From 1930s Western attire to 1950s celebrities
Pleats weren’t to be seen widely in fashion until the latter half of the 1930s, when Western wear made them a staple of many country boys and Western films. Pleats made it easier to move in the pants, which was important for famous cowboys (and cowgirls).
By the 40s producers had also adopted the pleated trouser as part of the costume for many musicals, like Oklahoma or Carousel. Pleated pants continued to be popular as the country recovered from the Great Depression and took a conservative stance in fashion and other aspects of life.
The last time we saw pleated pants regularly was in the 80s
You can see by every 80s movie that pleated pants were all the rage in the 80s. What made them come back could be anyone’s guess, but it might be more obvious when viewed in light of what was happening in the country at the time. Although young adults of the early- to mid-80s were liberal in many ways, parents and society in general were extremely conservative. Communities were banning music, and the Satanic Panic led to a lot of censorship.
When and why flat front pants were in fashion
Pants with a flat front were most common in the Victorian Era, the Roaring 1920s, as well as the 60s and 70s. If you think about it, these were more liberal decades. There certainly seems to be a correlation between the conservative nature of society and pleated pants.
Since the mid- to late-90s you can see a new style in which most pants have a flat front, but suits and more formal attire is more likely to have at least small pleats. Conservative for business and formal, and the more liberal flat front trouser for casual wear.
Why is Harry Styles wearing pleated pants?
Does Harry Styles wearing pleated pants point to another new era? Not likely. Pleated pants may be seen more often in casual wear for the time being, but it is likely just another way that people are embracing the retro styles of the 80s and 90s. Our society is one that is balanced between conservative and liberal in many ways, and so perhaps it should be expected that fashions from times gone by will continue to resurface in the least likely of places.