Like lapel width, the rise on a pair of pants is one of those things that go in and out, or rather, up and down, over the decades. But what exactly is it?
When you buy a pair of pants, do you look for the rise? If you are new to the finer points of men’s garments, the rise may not be your first consideration. So, in this article, let’s hike up our pants and address what trouser rise means and what sort of rise is best for you.
A young Cary Grant in The Red List wearing spectators and full cut trousers that sit on the natural waistline
What is Trouser Rise?
Trouser rise is measured as the distance from the front waistband between the legs to the back waistband. This may be generically referred to as the “crotch.” Low rise pants have a smaller measurement and sit lower on the torso while higher rise pants have a higher measurement and sit higher on the torso.
This may be in the range from 7-13 inches depending on the size of the pants (smaller sizes have lower rise height). The waistband of low-rise pants rests at the hip bones, mid-rise between the navel and hip, and high rise at the natural waistline (close to the belly button or directly on it).
These low rise pants elongate the torso and make the jacket appear very short
To remember this easily, keep in mind the two reference points of hips (low rise) vs. belly button (high rise). Rise height matters because the amount of fabric in this area dictates how long your legs and your torso are perceived to be. A higher rise makes your legs look longer, while a low rise elongates your upper body. As we’ll discuss later, this will factor in what sort of pants rise you choose.
A mid-rise trouser rise at left–not too high, not too low. Photo by @sebastianmcfox
Pants Rise and Fashion
As mentioned in our introduction, pants rise is heavily impacted by fashion. High-rise also referred to as “long-rise” or “high-waisted,” pants have had a bad reputation for several decades because they are associated with either out-of-touch granddads or young nerds with their pants hiked up to their chests.
Steve Urkel’s high-rise pants defined his nerdiness – if he’d just worn a jacket, lengthened his hem and worn some real socks, this would have been a totally different look
High-rise trousers are colloquially referred to as “old man pants” and were worn by the likes of Steve Urkel on Family Matters and Martin Short’s character Ed Grimley on Saturday Night Live. Of course, these are either intended for comedic effect or illustrate simply that the majority of people don’t think about how to dress well.
These high waisted trousers in Night After Night were du rigeur in 1932 – just look at how long they make the star’s legs look!
Some older men may recall that “back in the day,” high-rise trousers were the standard, and this is true. If you look at illustrations in Apparel Arts or vintage advertisements, you’ll see high-rise trousers, also with wider legs, so quite the opposite of the skinny and low fits promoted in today’s fashions.
The style of the 1930’s was dominated by high-rise trousers with a longer, wider leg
The changeover to a lower rise is only a recent development. Ironically, along with a move to casualization, lower-rise pants are at the opposite extreme on the continuum, sometimes lying below the hip bones, or in the case of streetwear down toward the buttocks.
As with most things in life, it’s best to avoid the extremes. If you choose a mid-height rise, you can be assured that what you wear from the waist down will have enduring value. However, the middle of the pack can be boring too, so there are other factors to consider.
What Rise Should You Choose?
Sven Raphael Schneider often opts for higher-rise pants because they drape nicely over fuller thighs
Consider Your Body Type
The first consideration in choosing trouser rise is your body proportions. Because there’s more fabric in the rise of high-waisted pants, they create the impression that your lower body, and especially your legs, are longer. On the other hand, low-rise pants make your upper body appear longer because your pants only start at your hips.
So, if you have a long upper body, high-rise pants will counterbalance that and make you look more proportional. On the other hand, if you are short waisted, a lower rise should be your choice to make your upper body appear longer. Of course, if you wear a suit jacket or sport coat and keep it buttoned when you walk around, these differences will matter less.
Jan (@mrjantleman) of the Armoury Hong Kong showing how high-waisted trousers can elongate your legs and balance your torso and lower body.
Similar to pleats, a high rise can make your more comfortable if you carry weight in your abdomen. Often high-rise pants will also be pleated. As a side benefit, a higher waistline also helps disguise your belly.
If you wear low-rise pants, even some holiday overindulgence at the dinner table will give you an overhang or muffin top above your waistband. This makes the tucked-in bottom of your shirt look sloppy in turn, and if you wear a knitted sweater or vest, this in combination with lower-rise trousers will visually emphasize your gut.
Sven Raphael Schneider wearing bespoke mustard yellow high-rise pants
Higher-rise pants are therefore more flattering under these several conditions. When sizing, be aware that if your waist measurement is a certain size but you have a belly, you may need to have high-rise pants let out at the waist because it sits up where your stomach is and not at your hips.
Ethan Newton of Brycelands in Beijing demonstrating how high-rise trousers can be flattering to different body types; note the pleats as well
The shape of your body also tends to change with your number of years, and pants rise is also a part of dressing appropriately to your age. While younger men have a wider range of possibilities when considering rise, an older man wearing low-rise pants risks looking like he is trying to recapture his lost youth. However, for younger men too, low rise will maintain a perception of youthfulness, but a strong motive for wearing tailoring and classic menswear is to avoid dressing like a boy.
Low rise pants are a distinctly youthful look
Usually, this means not wearing flip-flops, a t-shirt and a backward baseball cap as your day-to-day outfit, but to be perfectly frank, a moderately high waist gives you a more mature appearance than pants that hang off your hips.
Check How the Pants Fit
Your decision then goes to which is more comfortable for you. When you try on a pair of pants, if the waistband is level and you feel like the crotch is bunching up or confining you, you may need a higher rise. On the other hand, if it looks like there’s excess fabric in the rise and the material is hanging down, you need a lower rise. On the internet, you can find some old tailor’s formulas for calculating the optimal rise for you based on taking your usual pants waist size, dividing by 52 and then multiplying by 18. So, if you have a 34 waist, you would calculate 34/52 x 18, giving you a rise of 11.8.” This seems about right, but try the formula for yourself.
Consider the Aesthetics of Your Look
Other aesthetic considerations come into play when choosing rise height. Note as well that high rise trousers usually will help keep your shirt tucked in as a whole simply because the shirt has a long way to rise out above the waistband. With lower-rise pants, simply moving around, bending and getting up will force you to re-tuck your shirt throughout the day.
Keep in mind that because your waistband is higher your tie will either have to be quite short to keep it just touching your waistband. Though the image of Oliver Hardy has some comic intent, such short ties were more common with the high-rise trousers of the time. Otherwise, you’d need to tuck your tie into your waistband or wear it sprezzatura style with the blades hanging below the waistband. The trick to pulling this off is to make it obvious that it is intentional.
If you like looking fashionable and contemporary, a low rise–in a slim fit, along with a fitted suit jacket or blazer–will be your choice. However, if you prefer a traditional, even vintage, look, opt for a higher rise. That’s the way men during the Golden Age of menswear wore them, and they knew what they were doing in creating a clean, uninterrupted transition from the jacket to the pants.
Green velvet dinner jackets are elegant, but only when paired with pants high enough not to show the shirt under the buttoning point
There should never be a small triangle of shirt showing below the buttoning point of your jacket when you have it closed as this disrupts the flow of your look. If your trouser rise is too low, that bit of shirt will certainly be visible where the quarters (front skirt) of your jacket begin to separate. You can disguise this gap with your tie, which is a little better though technically still incorrect form, but the best solution is a higher waistline; some mid-rise pants will be high enough.
With lower rise pants, your shirt will be visible below the buttoning point. Photo of Fabio Attanasio via The Bespoke Dudes.
Although many men don’t think much about the rise when buying a pair of pants, those who are true sartorialists understand that it has a tremendous impact on how the trousers fit, how they look and how they feel. Though the current trend is toward lower rises, a medium to high rise usually has more benefits in terms of appearance and comfort. The choice ultimately depends on your body shape and personal taste. So, what sort of rise do you prefer?
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