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
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Toams

Simon, great attempt to clarify topic which is influenced by too many factors.
I had recently MTM pants fitting which where cut to sit on natural waist – this was such an unpleasant feeling as I tend to breather from stomach rather than diaphragm (I think this is thing for most men).
Best way for me works when belt or side adjusters sit on tip of hip bone. You can play around with visual height by having waist band ending higher, but cinching agains bone.
Back raise can can vary more, until it’s tight agains lower back. Front raise should not go above fat/swell, rest is personal preferences.

Adam

I once heard the look of a shirt tucked into low cut trousers as “a torso walking around on stilts” and since then I can’t un-see it. The jeans in the picture are not quite that low but I think that a little bit of rise allows for a better transition from torso to legs, a visual platform for your abdomen to sit on, if you will. I’m not sure if this is just another way to describe the leg lengthening effect or if this is a double benefit.

I also find shirts stay tucked in a little bit better and having the pants fasten a little higher can be more comfortable. And if you’re wearing a jacket, you don’t get so much of that patch of shirt peeking out below the buttoning point.

Felix

Hi Simon,

what are the Chuckkas you are wearing in the jeans picture? They look great (especially in that colour combination).

Felix

Thx, just ordered them 🙂

Do you never wear belts these days, even with jeans? I used to always wear one with casual pants, but it has also grown old on me over the last two years somehow.

dachshund

I think this depends on the context. Looks to me as if your bespoke Levis don’t have belt loops, so that would work (and of course impossible to wear a belt!). I wear jeans without a belt only if I am wearing a t-shirt and sneakers, which is a super-casual look, but if I am wearing normal jeans with belt loops and a shirt tucked in, and particularly with a jacket, I would always wear a belt – to me it just looks messy without. And given that jeans often sit low on the waist, there can be a tendency for the shirt to ride up. so the belt helps prevent this and offers a bit of definition and a neater ‘border’, if that makes sense.

Diego

Hi Simon – is it me or in spite of all the great bespoke shoes that you own you still prefer Edward Green’s?

Diego

Thanks for the response, understood. Interesting to know that loafers and boots do not benefit as much from bespoke as perhaps oxfords do. Once you mention it, it kind of makes sense.

Good post by the way. I had to read some sentences twice but I think that at the end I got there. Quite informative.

Noel

I would have imagined they loafers do benefit from bespoke because the lack of lacing means they need to be tight fitting without it being uncomfortable. I take your point that a casual shoe doesn’t need to be as stylised as a bespoke shoe can be though.

DB

If you were to wear one, what sort of belt with make sense with shoes in mushroom suede? I’ve struggled with that question with a pair of loafers in a similar shade.

(One answer, of course, would be to avoid the problem by omitting the belt, as you’ve done here. Just curious what the alternative is if one prefers to wear a belt.)

DB

Thank you, Simon.

I’d actually seen that post, and I think I’ve internalized the basic advice that a belt should be closely related to your shoes (but needn’t match exactly). I just struggle with the application to this particular shade of suede. It seems like there’s not much that’s closely related?

Robin

An article on a very important subject.
I think I need to reread it and it would be great to have a video on this .

My own experience is ordering online MTM and realising how difficult it is to get the rise right which completely throws the balance of the trousers.
Also when altering the length on trousers being asked “how high do you wear them ?”. Evidently you straighten your back suck in your stomach and end up with the wrong leg length and a waist that now needs altering as well.

Casual trousers like jeans and chinos can seem a little ‘old mannish’ worn with a high rise so personally I would reserve a high rise for suit trousers.

Lesson I’ve learnt ….. what shoulders are to jackets is what rise is to trousers …. not easy to fix if done wrong!

Jason

Don’t you think a flaneurs height and body shape should be the deciding factor ?
Stylistically, I think high rise trousers look great on tall, thin people . On me, they make me look like Arthur Askey.
That leaves low or medium rise.
Low rise makes my legs look like Tyrion Lannister so , hey voila , I have the solution that I’ve long stuck to – medium.

Karol

A lot depends on how wide you hips are. Despite being slim, I inherited hip bones noticably wider than my waist. In that case higher rise seems to be far more flattering no matter what, since it improves the waist-arms ratio. Similiarly, for somebody suffering from some kind of regular stomach problems or upsets higher waist is better – the last thing you want when it starts is a trouser waist constricting you. Unfortunately, I speak from experience.

MW

Personally, I cannot recall the last time I found a low rise trouser flattering. I have a pair of jeans with a low rise and always find myself wishing they were higher.

I think for most guys of middle proportions (not super wide or very skinny), mid-rise trousers are the safe choice. I do really like my high rise trousers, but find they can look a bit too “vintage” or out-there if I don’t have a jacket on. It’s similar to, but not as extreme as, wearing suspenders.

Joel Cloninger

Simon,

One thing I seem to struggle with is finding that sweet spot. I have almost no room between my hip bone and ribs with long legs. I also have a small belly like most men ( I still wear slim fitting shirts with ease but I certainly don’t have a flat stomach). I also have a more backside than other men. High rises can look silly and low rise doesn’t cover my seat. Mid rise seems to slip down my belly. Any thoughts?

Jtkuga

Simon,

I guess you would call my preferred position mid-rise. It certainly is not high rise. The main difference for me, between low and mid-rise, is where it sits on my front as opposed to my back. All my trousers sit right above the curve of my my rear-end on the backside. I consider low rise my trousers that slant down, which I do not like. While I feel it looks acceptable from the front, and not bad with my suit jacket on, I think it looks terrible from the side, with suit jacket off, and makes me appear fat, even though I’m only a 33 inch waist. Unfortunately that is where most off the rack suits I have bought here in America sit. It is also a function, I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, of a curved waistband. My recent custom suit will (hopefully when I get it) will have more of a straight or flat waistband. I think it looks best all the way around, without appearing too old-fashioned, as I think high rise trousers do. It will also hopefully be slimming, as to not highlight my stomach, as I think low rise trousers do when viewed from the side. I guess I will find out soon enough when I go in for my first fitting. That brings me to another question. This is my first custom suit, would my tailor be able to adjust the rise at the first fitting, or is that something that I would not be able to alter at that point? Thanks.

Joseph

I do find that distinction bemusing, Simon. What do I call a rise that sits exactly at that narrowest point of the hip bone, neither above nor below?

Stellar read of an article, by the way. So simple, but so eye-opening.

Joseph

I value that recommendation highly. Mid-rise it is, then!

Chancellor

There’s not doubt a social normalization (for lack of a better word) that factors into this. I find high waisted trousers make my torso look too small and legs look too long whenever I wear them. That’s probably because I’m used to seeing everyone else (and myself) in low- and mid-rise trousers, so high rise trousers just look off.

However, I find high rise trousers much more comfortable than low- or mid-rise trousers. So I choose to wear high rise trousers. For more formal trousers that will be worn under a jacket, I wear them on the natural waist; for more casual trousers that will be worn without a jacket, I get them a touch lower–just above the hip bone, so still comfortable, but still high- rather than med-rise.

With RTW trousers, I notice that I always have excess material just under the seat where it transitions to the leg. I think that’s probably the result of the angle of the waistband, or to put it another way, the back and front rise not sitting where they both should (front too high, back to small). I think it’s a good example of the limitations of fit with RTW.

Richard0812

Hi Simon,
Excellent article and timing!
I’m off to W&S for my first pair of bespoke odd trousers, along with picking up a suit ordered before the lockdown. Having a bit of a belly has always made getting trousers to fit well and not slipping down a challenge. Not all tailors I have tried for suits have managed to get the fit right on the waist. Whilst hitching up trousers is not a big thing, knowing the fit is not quite right does impact on how I have thought about a suit. W&S managed to get it right with my first suit from them, so now feeling a little more confident in trying odd trousers.

George Rae

What about a post about high hip/low hip? Everyone has one hip higher or lower, and needs to be allowed for before seaming the waistband. Also trousers without pleats should not be pressed above crotch level – front and back.

Dan

Simon – I thought this article was phenomenal, and very helpful in that it was a pragmatic look at a subject that I’ve noticed become more important to tailors and MTM firms, but didn’t really understand. In my experience, I now see why I tend to like low rise trousers more. My body shape, while slim, collects weight around the natural waist (I think they call it love handles), which causes any mid or high raise to constantly fall under the waist if I get up or down a lot, which is very annoying at the office. I did get some custom pants from Stoffa (who i know you’ve mentioned) but didnt appreciate they only do high rise, which for me to fit right, meant it was above my natural waist a tad, which was pretty uncomfortable for me (plus, its an odd look to wear at the office unless everyone is a menswear enthusiast (which is not true at my park ave office). I’ve gravitated towards PJohnson MTM pants, and keep it at a low rise, which I now see why that is. Appreciate the details on this.

Dan

Your articles tend to be well written, interesting and readable. Not this time. I tuned out as diagrams showing low rise, mid rise and high rise line with a little explanation would have been enough. Too wordy. Also not a fan of the rise on your low rise jeans. You should go with a higher rise.

Anonymous

A high rise trouser will be more accommodating to the, ahem, better endowed.

Evatt

Great article!I have found that, the higher the rise, the less attractive a belt is. I believe it draws too much attention to the top of the trousers rather than the overall proportions. A belt on high-waisted trousers looks particularly “old man-ish”.

Nate

Would you say that smartness plays a role here?
Ie high rise for suits, mid for odd trousers and low for chinos/jeans

Nico

Dear Simon,

Excellent post, really educational. I believe this is where you redirected me on the waistband question on your cav twills post. I may reformulate it according to the terminology used here to try for better understanding:

I usually have mid rises with standard 2,5 cm waistbands fastened by a belt just above the front protruding points of the hip bone (iliac crest). I guess that looks mid rise, I would like to go for something looking a bit higher, not necessarily full high rise.

If I were to have trousers made with side adjustors sewn on the waistband seam and 4 / 5 cm waistband, still fastened at the same point,

would that turn out as mid rise functionally but close to high rise aesthetically? What I am looking for is just some variation is style, maybe a little leg lengthening, and I do not have a belly that might make things more difficult.

Thanks a lot,

Damian

As men get older, fat is more readily deposited on the lower belly. So trousers that transition with you into your mid-40’s will be fitting a body shape that will change.

Maintaining a good posture is important. A “neutral spine” eg not with a curve in your lower spine (think of sticking your bum out but keeping the upper part of your torso straight ) will help keep the waist of your trousers horizontal.

It can be hard to see changes to our bodies over time if our weight stays the same, and we’re not putting on a lot of muscle. Your trouser’s waist might still fit you, but it might have shifted to the “down at the front” plane. A tell tale sign is when you lay your belt flat, you will see it has been deformed into a curve. Time to mind the diet, and do knee raises to keep the muscles in your lower belly taut. And if you’ve no bum, start doing squats (even bodyweight ones) to build up your bum.

Nico

Thank you for the honest opinion, Simon. I am understanding, unless you state the contrary, that you consider your cav twills a high rise.

JB

I have a mixed experience of different rises. I’m quite tall (195 cm) and have a gut that seems to have decided to stay and a rather flat ass. I also have a long leg to torso ratio, meaning too high rise cuts me off in a very unflattering way. It sort of looks nipple height even if it’s on the navel.
I still haven’t figured it out (I’ve never ventured into bespoke trousers only mtm) but what seems to mostly work is about 1-1.5 cms under the navel, however this requires a rather curved waist, as the trousers needs to come above the love handles on the sides in order to not fall down constantly.
Side adjusters I have to say, doesn’t really function well for me, yet I’ve had them exclusively on all my trousers for the last few years, as I feel a belt will draw attention to the waist and highlight the way trousers cut my figure off.

Hugh

Thanks Simon – I’ll join the chorus of ‘useful article’.

I think the mid-high rise option is almost always more elegant. A downside, perhaps, is a lack of flexibility. The higher rise pushes you towards a tucked in shirt and a silhouette which is definitely masculine but not particularly forgiving if you carry a bit too much timber.
It is also a classic look which has fallen out of fashion for the time being and seems a bit unusual to most people.

Regarding comfort I think the higher rise is also better but comfort extends beyond the physical and if you don’t feel confident in what you are wearing (which seems to be the case with higher rise trousers for a lot of men) then you are not going to be comfortable.

Obviously, there is a place for low rise and most elegant is not always the end-goal.

Quick question – just to clarify, the grey flannel (high rise) trousers pictured above, are they the final Panico trousers?

Thanks again,

Hugh

DG

Great article Simon. I’ve for years worn trousers with the contemporary low rise look and have only recently discovered how much more flattering mid-rise can be. I think proper high-rise would look somewhat ridiculous on me though.

One thing that crossed my mind was whether you had any thoughts on how posture rather than “body shape” affect fit?
The side profile diagram in this article demonstrates a posture defect of “anterior pelvic tilt” whereby the pelvis tilts forward. This is common in office workers & cyclists (like myself) who have tight muscles at the front of the hips, & frequently weak glutes.
In other articles you’ve used the phrases “prominent seat” & a hollowed back to describe this posture as being features of body type, but to me these are elements of posture which can be addressed through exercise or physical therapy.
One risk of correcting ones posture however is that the clothes they’ve meticulously assembled for their previously defective posture will no longer fit correctly!

Greg

Hi Simon, and thanks for your interesting article.

I have made a couple of high-rise pants/trousers and though I love the look, find it unsetlling wearing them in public. They are definitely made to be worn with a sport coat, preferably closed, which completely defies the general trend of modern casual wear.

One poster commented about the originality of the high-rise, which our modern eye is no longer accustomed to. Doing some research into the visual aspect of the human silhouette, one aspect which struck me is what researchers calls the Leg-to-Body Ratio (or LBR). LBR indicates the proportion of leg length in relation to overall body length. This ratio increases as we age. Toddlers have a very low LBR, while adults have a high LBR. Here are two links to an image composite indicating the differences between the two.

https://imgshare.io/image/NdT6OY

https://imgshare.io/image/NdT50Q

The modern emphasis on a low male LBR silhouette coupled with a long torso would appear to indicate a social imperative of infantilization of the adult masculine form, a sort of appeal to the juvenile ideal of the eternal boy.

Guy Graff

Interesting and informative, a subject important and not frequently addressed.

I understand Simon’s viewpoint on this, I prefer hi-rise trousers in general . Always side adjusters or braces……….never belted. Belts divide your vertical image, not a good thing. Moreover, hi-rise lengthen your height/legs visually and also cover your shirt below your jacket waist button. That exposed shirt below the buttoning point never looked good to me. Again, that also raises the height perception.

As to wearing the trousers without a jacket, normally I would wear a knitted garment if not a jacket. Great combo. Not normally with simply a shirt, but in my view not a problem if I did.

Lastly, I never have rear pockets, w/ flaps or buttons. I would never use them for various reasons and view the clean look attractive. Each to his own view on that!

Michael R.

Dear Simon and readers,
It’s a pity many men are afraid of high rise double pleated trousers. I started off with low mid rise flat front trousers, then moved on to single pleated and double pleated mid rise trousers and now wear high rise double pleated trousers. I would say I am generally very conservative especially in colour. My style is probably best described as old fashioned as I like my coats long and pants high Rise and wide. I don’t think it’s much more noticeable than other formal trousers especially if your audience is not really trained in sartorial matters. I would highly recommend that you try Kit Blake trousers. They are my taste when it comes to style and I am quite happy with the fit and cost; also, I will use them as reference for bespoke trouser makers in the future as I have been struggling to explain what kind of trousers I like. The Wide high rise trousers Are immensely comfortable to walk in and if you have your coat on, nobody is really going to notice how high they are. Such trousers make me feel
like a “man” much in the same way proper shoes do, not that manhood should come from such superficial things, but I do hope you know what I mean.
Best
Michael

Jason Reed

Agree completely re Kit Blake – see my brief post below. I’m only saddened that I won’t have the pleasure of using them as a guide for bespoke trousers in the future!

Doug

I ask for your thoughts on style choices that flatter the side silhouette. I’ve always felt the high rise provides a nicer, smoother vertical line over the buttocks, and have asked my tailors to lessen the concavity of the coat back in addition to my preference for higher-rise trousers. The photos on the site of you in coats tend to feature very concave backs. Lower-rise pants tend to emphasize the backward bump of the buttocks. Your posture also seems to increase the S-curve through your back and over the bottom. I recognize that the curved back is often a feature of bespoke tailoring that emphasizes the tailor’s skill. That may be a motivation to favor curved backs but to me it comes at the expense of an appealing line.

Martin

Dear Simon, thank you for another essential article. My question for you is, do you only wear jeans with the five-pocket style and at a medium/low rise? Do you find alternative takes on denim trousers (e.g. high rise/pleated jeans) too showy? Thanks again.

John

Hi Simon, thanks for this article. I have been banging my head against a brick wall comparing rise measurements given in online size guides with my own trousers.

My question: is it fair to compare rise measurements given in size guides when shopping online in terms of giving an accurate idea of how far up the stomach a trouser will sit? In particular, rise is generally measured from the top of the waist band to the crotch seam; but does it depend on how far forward/back that seam is placed? In which case the rise measurement is only an indicator of fit.

For example, i have been wearing Incotex’s low-rise chinos from Trunk for a few years, but with age and lockdown-induced weight gain, i find such a low-rise to not be the best look. But i measure a 23 cm rise on these, where as 24 cm is considered a med-rise elsewhere, and i notice the PS shorts had a 23.5 cm rise yet you describe them as mid-rise.

Does the position of that seam change, and does it make much difference? Many thanks.

Jason Reed

I have recently spent a small fortune on several pairs of Kit Blake ‘Aleksander’ trousers and they have completely ruined me for anything low rise. My predominantly mid to low rise suit trousers (admittedly off the peg) feel almost absurdly uncomfortable by comparison.