What are low, medium and high-rise trousers?

Monday, August 3rd 2020
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Using a device to measure front rise

When I review suits, or trousers specifically, I often talk about the rise of the trouser: how it has been cut to sit on me, and how effective that is. 

However, trouser rise is not an easy thing to describe. Particularly when people use the terms high, mid and low-rise differently. 

So I thought it would be helpful to write a reference article, which defines the types of rise, discusses the places the waistband can sit, and explores how that relates to your body.

It will provide context for our future discussions of tailors, and might even help frame your own thoughts around the rise that works best for you. 


A high-rise trouser from Scott Simpson. Notice how small the waist looks

Now, when people talk about high and low-rise trousers, they often refer to images of trousers as examples. That is helpful, and I have included some here as well. 

But it's only really meaningful if you can tell how it is sitting on the body underneath. Otherwise all you can see is that one trouser is higher than another, and only on somebody else’s body, not yours.

So I have included below a simple diagram, pointing out the natural waist, the hip bone and the stomach, and how they relate to different trouser heights. 

If we use this to define the different rises, let’s start with high rise, as it is the one used most consistently. 

A high-rise trouser normally means one where the waistband sits on your natural waist (indicated in red). 

Your natural waist is the part of your body between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hip bones (indicated in blue). 

If you put your hands on your own body now, you can feel at the sides where your ribs end and your hip bones begin, with an inch or two of squishy flesh in between. 

That is your natural waist, and on most people it is the slimmest part of their body. This is one reason trousers are nice at this height: it is the smallest your waist can be. 

The natural waist isn’t absolutely precise, as there is an inch or two there to play with. But it’s more exact than most other positions, because it can’t be lower without getting out and over those hip bones, or higher without getting onto the ribs.

People sometimes talk about high rise in relation to the navel, but this isn’t always helpful as the relationship between waist and navel is different on different people. 

The navel is also on the front of the body, and here we are just talking about the sides. We’ll get to the front and back later. 


Low-rise jeans on me

Once the trouser waistband falls below the point of your hip bone, it is either mid-rise or low rise. These two cover everything from builder-bum lowness to trousers of a decent, flattering height.

It’s not easy to separate the two, and they are often used as relative terms more than anything else. But it can help to use them in reference to the hip bone itself. 

Because the hip bone is concave, the hips have a narrowest point as well, and it is at this height that most modern trousers sit. It is a fairly instinctive height for most people. (Indicated in green.)

We can define that point or below as being low rise, and that point or above (travelling up the hip bone) as mid-rise. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that if there are two such narrowest points - the waist and the hips - trousers should only sit easily in one or the other. 

But actually trousers can happily sit higher or lower - because there is (literally) another dimension to it. 

Where trousers sit is determined by front-to-back, as well as side-to-side. By the relation of front rise to back rise. 

This is illustrated in the image above, with the relevant points indicated: the small of the back and the stomach. 

All trousers sit somewhere on your lower back, from the top of your bottom to the bottom of your ribs. It’s a smooth curve, a spectrum on which there are many functional heights. But on the front, there are two more distinct positions: above or below the stomach (indicated in light blue). 

Even on a slim person, like myself, this has a big effect on fit. If the tailor tries to make the front of the trousers sit on the middle of the stomach, I know my stomach will push it down as I wear them. They're much happier above or below.

The effect becomes more exaggerated the fatter you are. Men tend to carry their fat on their stomachs, and as this increases, it forces the front of the trouser to either sit higher, right above the stomach, or lower, right below it. That’s why some larger men seem to have their trousers right under their nipples. It’s either that or just above the groin. 

A less extreme version of this is shown in the diagram above. From roughly the same starting point in the back, the straight line (orange) finishes above the stomach, while the slanted line (purple) finishes below it. 


The leg-extending effect of high rise

Assuming that all makes sense (and please shout if it doesn’t) what does this mean for you and your trousers?

Well, when you’re considering where trousers sit well on you - not uncomfortable, not constantly slipping up or down - these are the terms to think in. 

I’ve had trousers that are low, medium and high rise over the past 10 years, and I know that while high rise is very flattering when wearing a jacket, it doesn’t work on me for style reasons. And I know that low rise, while more contemporary, shortens my legs. 

So I usually have a mid-rise trouser - a good compromise, in my view, which maximises the length of my legs without becoming a real high-rise.

At the sides, it sits just below the top of the hip bone; it then sits in the small of my back and slants down a little to just under the point of my stomach. 

It’s in the context the terms set out here that I’ve worked through this over the years. 


A mid-rise trouser on me, by Kenjiro Suzuki

This only a first, baseline article. Something to help when the tailor asks where you like your trousers to sit. 

I think it makes sense for another one to cover the advantages and disadvantages of different rises. And perhaps after that, to look at the different rises and angles tailors have used on me, and why they have or haven’t worked. 

The angle taken by Camps de Luca is particularly interesting there. That waistband almost slopes up from the back to the front. 

As ever, I’m interested to hear what experiences you’ve had, and what lessons you've learned from having trousers made. Everyone is different and we rarely - unless we’re a tailor - get to see how they’re different.


Trouser fitting with Antonio Panico