Let us praise the Hollywood waisted trouser. Derived from classic English brace-tops, improved with the addition of side adjusters or dropped belt loops, and made famous by American matinee idols on and off the screen through the 1950s, their distinguishing characteristic is having no waistband, relying instead on pleats, darts, and seams around the hips to define an elegant taper to the natural waist. When cut and fit properly, this construction is not only visually sleek, but extremely comfortable, with the weight of the garment distributed evenly across the hips rather than cinched at the waist -- rather like how well-cut shoulders render a coat weightless on the back. These are the trousers Astaire famously belted with a necktie, and which Sinatra never quite filled out onstage with the Dorseys.
They are the height of elegance from afore and abreast, extending a broad leg contour with deep pleats drawn into unbroken darts at the waist. From astern, however, like any other high-waisted trouser, what the Hollywood waist extends is the posterior -- not so much flattering as flattening it, up into the kidneys, almost admonishing any roving eyes to look elsewhere. It is for this reason that I suspect the vast majority of wives and girlfriends of the iGentry would rise as one to join my own better half in decrying it as a singularly unsexy abomination, best left with whalebone corsets on the ash heap of sartorial history. They want butts.
They are of course wrong, but perhaps for the right reason. The aim of fine men’s tailoring has never quite been “sexiness” as we know it today, but rather an aesthetic of balance and proportion, seeking to impart an ideal male form: broad shoulders, developed chest, narrow waist, long legs. A curvaceous bum doesn’t hurt, but it’s not really on the agenda. This might simply be because of modern tailoring’s prudish Victorian origins, or because one traditionally kept one’s coat on in polite company, or perhaps because fashions were once set by more [ahem] established gentlemen seeking to downplay their [ahem] establishment. Whatever the reason, “prominent seat” has always been discrete euphemism on Savile Row, not a client request.
The exception that proves the rule was the 1960s Peacock Revolution, and its 70s aftershocks. This was essentially a feminization of fashionable male dress, introducing a riot of color and pattern which had hitherto held no place in a man’s closet, often in lubricious new fabrics, drawn across the body with previously unthinkable swagger. Rather than improving one’s actual physique, these clothes were intended to show it off. Tightly crotched, hip-hugging pants topped off with button-busting shirts placed the spotlight very firmly on one’s least gentlemanly assets. If you had the body of an Adonis, you flaunted it, and if you didn’t, you looked rather ridiculous.
Looking chronically ridiculous will tend to take all the fun out of getting dressed in the morning, and that’s more or less what happened to an ever-expanding swath of ever-expanding adult males who simply threw in the sartorial towel in the 80s and 90s. What power-tied peacockery remained through those decades realigned with somewhat more classical (if overpuffed) proportions, sucumbing in the metrosexually empowered oughts to a low-rise, skinny-legged orthodoxy that looked best on the adolescent and the eating disordered.
Through all these unfortunate fashion cycles, your average adult male hasn’t actually grown any more comfortable with aggressively displaying his sexuality. Good for him. His time to enjoy clothes may have finally come again, on the starchy breeze of a New Traditionalism that advocates elegance, maturity, modesty, and taste. If it all sounds a bit stuffy today, that’s because we’ve been so thoroughly conditioned to aspire in all things stylistic to the young, sexy, reckless, and raw. But these are virtues that most of us don’t actually embody -- at least for very long. At a certain age it behooves most of us to take the long view and dial in a look that gets better with time.
Raise high the trousers, gentlemen. Make ‘em love you for your mind.
[Originally published in A Suitable Wardrobe.]