Elasticated waists – the good and the bad
Elasticated waists are becoming increasingly popular in men's trousers. And I think they do have a place - when they are practical, and don't undermine the style.
But it's important to consciously draw a line - to be aware of when this undermining starts to happen.
A few recent experiences helped me draw that line for myself.
The first was about pyjamas.
Two years ago I had some bespoke pyjamas made by the Spanish shirtmaker Burgos (above), a process that began at our pop-up shop earlier in the year. They were in a nice, modern-feeling chambray, and I covered them on PS here.
Over time, however, I became a little frustrated with the trousers. They were too high in the rise at the start, and I had this altered. But even then, they were not that comfortable and had a frustrating tendency to slip up and down.
Earlier this year, I bought a pair of linen pyjamas from Anderson & Sheppard, and the fit was much better. They rarely moved on the waist, despite being ready-made, and were more comfortable.
The reason seemed to be that they had an elasticated waist.
Partly, I think this is a situation that’s unique to pyjamas.
Pyjamas are usually made from a soft or lightweight material, which elastic can cope with more easily than a heavy one. And that lightness of material can make cords rather uncomfortable - you can feel them tight against your body, even if the cord is a wide one as it was with Burgos.
Pyjama trousers are also usually cut straight up-and-down, with no tapering from the seat into the waist. This means the elastic or cord has more work to do than on regular trousers: there is more to cinch in, and so it’s more of a challenge for a cord.
I think the Anderson & Sheppard trousers were also a particularly good example. The tension is good, the elastic wide, and there is a flat panel at the front with no elastic - just a couple of mother-of-pearl buttons - which makes them look cleaner and more elegant than a simple elasticated waist.
The reason might also be slightly personal.
Right now, I get up around 5:30 to 6:00am with my 14-month-old daughter, in the dark.
I keep the lights off, so as not to wake up my wife. I need to get to my daughter in the next room before her murmuring turns into screaming, waking even more people up.
So being able to simply slip on pyjama trousers - in frankly indulgent cashmarello fabric - is wonderful. It’s the perfect combination of practical and luxurious.
My second experience illustrated the opposite: where I don’t want, or need, elastic.
Last year I got a pair of summer trousers from Informale - Steve Calder’s casual-tailoring brand - in olive linen (above). They had an elasticated waist, as well as a drawstring.
I loved wearing them: partly because I’ve always struggled to find that colour of linen for tailored trousers, but also because they were so light and easy to wear. But, I only wore them with an untucked tee or polo shirt. Never with anything tucked in.
I know others are happy to wear elasticated trousers like that, but for me it looks too messy. It’s too redolent of a scruffy man wearing a T-shirt tucked into sweatpants.
A clean, well-fitting waistband is an attractive thing, and shouldn’t be discarded easily. It draws the attention to one of the slimmest parts of the body, and provides a nice transition point between loose material above and below.
I think the only reason to wear an elasticated waist with something tucked in, personally, is as a fashion statement. As something like the model below is doing - in a De Bonne Facture lookbook.
I can see why this is an effective look, and subverts some expectations of a shirt and trousers, but it’s too fashion-led for me.
Fashions that are interesting because they’re unusual rarely last long. After a while they just stop being unusual.
I include an image from De Bonne Facture in particular, because I also got a lovely pair of their straw-yellow linen drawstring trousers that Summer - from No Man Walks Alone.
They worked equally well, but again only with things untucked.
On to the final elasticated experience.
Building on my enthusiasm for the linen trousers, Steve sent me a pair of his flannel easy trousers to try. These have elastic around the waist, as well as belt loops (below).
These didn’t work for me, unfortunately. (Something I’ve already spoken to Steve at length about, as is PS policy with feedback - no one is being ambushed here.)
They didn’t work because flannel is too smart. The slight ruching of material that happens on an elasticated waist is fine on pyjamas, OK on casual linen trousers, and hidden if you wear something untucked. But it looks out of place - for me - on flannels, and I’m not going to wear an untucked T-shirt with flannels either.
You can use a belt to cover up that waistband, as there are belt loops, but then there's little point in the elastic.
So this is where I draw my line.
I’m sure others will place theirs differently - either disliking elastic on pyjamas, or loving it even on smart trousers. But either way, I think it’s useful to draw one, rather than stumble into a fashion look or one driven purely by comfort.
I like clothes too much to be driven entirely by comfort. And I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid being a fashion victim. I’m not sure pushing 40 with three kids is a good time to start.
P.S. Daks-style trousers (below) are an interesting side-point. They use elastic in the back half of what are usually rather smart trousers.
The difference there I think is that the elastic is rarely under much strain. It’s only trying to tighten by a centimetre or two, and as a result it’s normally invisible when the trousers are worn.
It also helps that the elastic is only in the back of the trouser, and that there is a fairly structured waistband around it.