Elasticated waists – the good and the bad

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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. 

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Nick

I completely agree with all your points, apart from the one on pyjamas, I have both variants (sting and elastic) and I would say there are pros and cons in each one. With the string you have the option of a very loose fit, but I agree that’s not always comfortable if you want to wear them out of bed. The elasticated trouser must be a fad though, being 26 (which I imagine falls into the target age range for this type of trouser) I cannot imagine any marketing department will ever convince me that I look good in those.

RT

I’ve never liked either the look or feel of elasticated waist trousers and have never liked wearing pyjamas out of bed. I never feel comfortable sitting around in night clothes and I get dressed as soon as I’m up. I find that trousers need a little more solidity (and perhaps structure) for me to find them comfortable, something that both pyjamas and sweatpants lack.
I do, however, have a perfect compromise in an old pair of sailing trousers, which have a combined elasticated and drawstring waist, but are very much like a slightly heavier pair of chinos, with duck canvas reinforcement patches on the knees and around the pocket openings. They seem to be indestructible and, very much like your Armoury chinos, have softened wonderfully over the years. I never wear them out – it would be too much of a look”, I think – but they’re wonderful to slip on at home, with a sweatshirt or knitwear. Definitely not tucked in, though!

Nick Hand

Hello Simon,

Interesting article; I had wondered when you would weigh in on this (as the elasticised waist on more “formal” trousers does seem to be having a moment).

I find that I prefer pyjamas with just the draw string, and I also recently had a pair of linen trousers made bespoke also with just the draw string (but not the elastic). They have quickly become a favourite for lounging around the house on the weekend, and always worn with shirt untucked as you suggest – except when worn with a PS Friday polo; they actually seem to look good (to my eye) accentuating the casual nature of the polo. Worth a try perhaps with your Informale trousers from Steve.

Andy

Morning Simon,
Marks and Spencer do a chino with elastic sides very similar to the Drake’s and are very comfortable and remarkable value.

Regards Andy.

Luke

Great article, Simon. I myself cannot imagine ever wearing smart trousers with an elasticated waistband. For me the line is easy to draw.

As to the pyjamas point, my favourite pair actually uses a drawstring, but the string itself has a considerable amount of give. It’s not elasticated, but its weave is quite loose. Having had both elasticated and traditional draw string waists in the past, these to me strike the perfect balance. A true case of the best of both worlds. Perhaps consider something like this for your next pair?

Il Pennacchio

I could easily see myself choosing those elasticated flannels to wear on a long trans-Pacific flight

Michael

Hi Simon,
What kind of polo shirt could work with these linen trousers with elastic band ?
One from Smedley wich is more tailored or a more casual one? Does it matter that much? Of course wear then untucked.
Do you think a casual shirt untucked could work, short sleeve like a Ripley shirt from PWC?

JB

I’ve dabbled in elastic waistbands and I’m torn.
I had one pair made up similar to informale, they worked ok, but the elastic was just too soft/loose in itself so the drawstring had to do most of the work. And much like you, I found the worked best with something untucked.

I also have A&S Linen PJ’s and while they’re lovely, I wouldn’t mind a drawstring to re-enforce the fit if I wear anything in my pockets. I guess the argument can be made that you don’t need to use the trouser pockets for anything, but I find if they’re there, I use them.
Side note Simon: How do you find washing and caring for the linen A&S? I found my navy PJ’s shrunk even on a cold (30C) wash although not too much. But they fade quite quickly and are a nightmare to maintain/iron. Perhaps a heavier linen would be preferable…

Michele

Ok but what about a scrubs top tucked into scrubs pants, heavily drawn in with the waistband folded over?

Andreas

Call me crazy, but all of my trousers have either an elasticated waist or side adjusters, as I can’t stand the sight of a belt in ANY situation, no matter how informal. And since side adjusters are usually only found on bespoke, MTM and high end of-the-rack, I wear trousers with a stretchy waist like 80% of the time. In a thin wool or corduroy, I think they pair nicely with casual sportcoats (Boglioli, etc.) and refined knitwear.

Jason

I think elasticated wastes and drawstrings should, with the exception of beach and bedroom attire, be confined to the care home when all bladder and sphincter control has been lost.

Ian A

Yes, good point!

Martins

If I may ask, how is the raise height on informale? Compared to “normal” jeans for example?

Martins

Good to know! Means ill stick with yeossal! 🙂 quality not at permanent style level, but I have not found nicer semi mtm shop for the price as of yet!

Russ

For me big elasticated waistbands are a pain, whether on underpants or sweatpants. They squeeze your waist and leave red marks. I’m not fat, and I don’t have a paunch, but I am nonetheless a typical middle-aged man whose 4 pack is now a distant memory. I hope you’ll do a couple of more articles of this type, Simon, which extend also to better known brands such as Hamilton & Hare (worn by the Royal princes too, I hear). The irony is that many readers of this site spend large sums on bespoke suits, coats and nowadays on high quality leisure clothes, but those same readers are often left needing guidance as to what they can comfortably wear underneath. I’d love to hear more about the most comfortable pants, nightwear and vests.

Ed

Hi Simon, apologies as this is not main point of the article but I’d just like to say how impressed I’ve been with informale – their summer linen trousers and also their gilet are both favourites. Their speed of response to queries and delivery is also fairly spectacular given the Melbourne location. It’s notable as there are some real differences in service levels from some of the ready to wear retailers that you cover from time to time – could service level be a category for your annual review? (Apologies in advance if it is already). Regards,

Nick Y

G’day,

Waistband would make it into smart wear like we or not. This is due to work from home trend. For those who doesn’t like wearing sweatpants or shorts, trousers with waistband is an upgrade. Remember that we are getting lazier with Covid in terms of fashion. However, I agree on not tucking anything into waisted pants it looks odd, like wearing slippers with socks.

Ric

Hi Simon, I unfortunately disagree about the easy trousers t010 from Informale, which I absolutely love wearing with anything tucked. I think we have to admit that comfort is not going to go away as a key driver for men’s trousers, even in tailoring, and I personally feel Steve nailed just the right compromise between the 2. Of course it’s just my personal opinion, it really depends on the context you’re wearing them. But my point is: I think you’re right saying that such topic is so subjective and fluid (esp. These days with lockdowns and habits changing everywhere, also on waistband) we can only draw personal lines, and respectfully agree or disagree with others’ opinions. Thanks for bringing this on the table though, very interesting article!

Jordan Healey

Contrary to your experience with the Informale T010 Easy trousers, I really like them. I wear them with a belt so the only person who would know about the elastic would be me or anyone else that could recognize the trousers.
I wear them with more casual clothes mostly – Wolverine boots, bomber jacket, t-shirt or knitwear.

Jordan Healey

I think in the instance of the T010, the elastic allows the trousers to comfortably fit a wider range of waist sizes (without being loose or sitting funny when belted).

Jordan Healey

I think it’s just a ready to wear thing/trick, it’s more common in womenswear for RTW pants to have elastic in the waist – particularly at the back. I think elastic in the sides like the T010 is cleaner than back elastic.

Chad Prom did a very similar trouser a few years ago which I also own and have worned and loved for 2.5 years and they’ve probably been my favourite pair of RTW trousers.

As for the side adjuster thing, yes side adjusters and daks achieve a similar thing. I think this is just another way of doing it.

BespokeNYC

Thanks Simon, very timely article given we’re likely to remain in work from home mode for quite a time. I know some men find it empowering to wear a suit to work at home, but I’m increasingly looking at more comfy / casual outfits (while trying to avoid the temptation of sweatpants). Elasticated waists seemed to be a good halfway house but I still haven’t taken the plunge yet, largely because they often seem to be in very summery materials like linen and I wanted something with more body.

I’m guessing the issue is that an elasticated waistband isn’t able to support heavier fabrics so well? Was your issue with the Informale flannels just because you didn’t like the look of the formal material in this cut, or is the weight of the fabric an issue too? Any other tips on fit much appreciated – it seems that saggy butt is another potential issue with the more slouchy cut!

Slight sidenote but, speaking of Informale, just wanted to say how impressed I am with the cargo pants I got from them at your popup shop last year. It was actually a bit of an impulse buy, which I usually don’t do, but Steve was so enthusiastic and knowledgable, I decided to give them a try. As with so many quality products, it’s only after repeated wear that you really start to notice the difference in the materials and the construction. They’ve now become a staple for me and I really want to try more of their things. Just a shame the shop is so damn far away; here’s looking forward to the next popup!

BespokeNYC

Yes, the cargo pants for sure, as well as some well-worn beige chinos from Rota (similar to yours from the Armoury). I guess the elasticated waistband sounds like an even greater level of comfort and ease though.

Also we just had a baby in December so am bending over to change nappies, kneeling on the floor, and generally moving around in a sleep-deprived haze more than ever; all of which adds to the appeal of something I can just slip on!

zo

same! except 10 months in. ive taken the plunge, and i now have a small collection of drawstring trousers that i regularly wear to WFH. Crewnecks and drawstring trousers are my new uniform. and sometimes denim.

Aaron Daniels

I am also not a massive fan of elastic waistbands – I was quite disappointed that the Peter Christian flannel trousers, which are a reasonable cloth weight, have a partially elastic waistband. Quite often I find with elastic waistband trousers if I put a phone in the pocket it pulls them down more than even a pair of jeans that are a bit too loose in the waist.

All that said, I do somewhat like the linen trousers in a louche-y way – doubt I would wear them outside much though.

TM

It is truely confusing why a good green summer/linen fabric is so difficult to find for bespoke trousers

TM

Feels like a great PS fabric to offer! A nicely colored olive in heavy weight linen.

R Abbott

This is a hideous look. I haven’t seen it very much, but I have seen more and more drawstring trousers, which are similarly bad. (Drawstrings looks fine on casual linen but can’t imagine buying drawstring wool trousers).

One of the unfortunate trends in recent years is the move toward increasingly casual clothing, You see people wearing pajamas or sweatpants to the grocery store, to the airport, etc. Some people seem to live perpetually in sweatpants.

Why anyone would want to make ordinary trousers look more like sweatpants is beyond me. If you just don’t care than why spend the money when you can just buy sweatpants. And if you do care, why would you want to make ordinary trousers look more like sweatpants?

My bet is that this is a fad. I can’t see this lasting.

Sorry about the rant but just couldn’t help myself!

Warren

Hi, I purchased a pair of light black woollen travel trousers in the autumn from Sunspel during a sale, now I generally dislike elastic as it has a tendency to fail but the trousers look neat and are comfortable, and I wouldn’t be seen dead with anything tucked in!

Josh H

I also purchased a pair of drawstring trousers from Sunspel in the sale, but in corduroy, for working from home. They are super comfortable (I often wear them for 12-15 hours a day – the perks of being a lawyer!) and I’m a big fan of the drawstring being on the inside of the trousers rather than outside, which I think provides for a cleaner/smarter look whether you tuck or untuck you tee or polo short etc. (I tuck, but each to their own).

Richard

Do you have any particularly strong opinions on “high-low” dressing.

For example, combining a light brown bespoke summer jacket with drawstring plain cream cricket pants (I have modified with cuffs) for walking around London or on holiday.

Fine or faux pas?

Lewis

Just picked up some cashmere blend elasticated trousers from Sunspel in their sale – the leg needs taking up. What’s the consensus on having cuffs/turn-ups vs. a plain hem? They’re off to the tailor tomorrow…

Lewis

Thanks Simon. It’s sometimes hard to remember what looks good when you barely leave the house 🙂

Michael

Hi Simon,
I am looking for a pair of drawstring linen trousers but can’t seem to find any of them. Informal is out of stock ,also De Bonne Facture.
Do you know something about this pair?
https://www.margarethowell.co.uk/men/shop/trousers/slant-pocket-trouser-linen-plainweave-army-green

Thank you!

Michael

Hi Simon,
What size did you took in the drawstring linen trousers from informale? Was it your regular size ?

Thank you

Michael

Hi Simon,
I received a pair of linen drawstring trousers from Informale . Did you get turn ups on your pair and if so how many cm do you advise for them?
Thank you