Proper trouser height – how to find your natural waist

One of the most commonly repeated mistakes men make, when wearing trousers, is in wearing them on or below their hips. It’s the most unflattering and boyish option for the male physique and not particularly comfortable.

The image above is where you'll commonly see men wear their trousers. This position, on the hips, shortens the legs and lengthens the torso, throwing the silhouette out of proportion.

The image above is where most men wear their trousers. This position, on or below the hips, shortens the legs and lengthens the torso, throwing the silhouette out of proportion.

Classic, well-tailored trousers look best when sitting on your natural waist (above your hips, where your waist narrows). Sitting in this position lets the trousers to hang comfortably, without the need for a belt to be pulled tightly, just to keep them up. With the trousers sitting at your waist, your hip bones act as a natural barrier to them falling down as easily, meaning the belt can do less work, adding to the overall feeling of comfort. With trousers below your waist, you’ll find yourself constantly pulling your pants up during the day, which most of us get used to, but once you have your pants above your hips, it’s hard to ever go back.

Aesthetically, with the trousers sitting in their correct position, it has the visual effect of lengthening your legs and shortening your torso, which makes for a more visually appealing sense of proportion.

Traditionally, for trousers being worn in this position, pleats are added to allow the cloth to clear the hip-bones and drape in a clean line to your shoes. The added benefit (or primary one, depending on your priorities) is that the pleats make for even more comfortable wearing, as they’ll expand as you sit down, removing the likelihood of any tightness across your thighs.

Seon Hwang and Salvatore Ambrosi. Seon, here, showing how the pleats add fullness to the trousers front, allowing them to clear the hip bones and drape cleanly to his feet.

Seon Hwang and Salvatore Ambrosi. Seon, here, showing how the pleats add fullness to the trousers front, allowing them to clear the hip bones and drape cleanly to his feet. (image courtesy of guerreisms.com)

Being worn on your waist also allows for side adjusters or braces to be used in place of a belt, allowing for small adjustments to be made for the perfect fit. Side adjusters aren’t a realistic option on hip-worn trousers, as they don’t have the necessary strength to defy gravity like a belt can give.

Side adjustment tabs. I have these put on all my suits now, in place of belt loops.

For most casual trousers (chino’s, jeans etc)these can be worn lower, if you prefer. The lower they are, the more casual they’ll appear. I wear summers linens and chino’s with pleats on my waist, but my jeans sit on my hips. Any higher and they don’t look right, in large part because they’re flat fronted and flat fronted pants usually look wrong when worn too high.

Paul Newman, showing that even casual trousers, worn above the hips are more flattering than those worn below

Paul Newman, showing that even casual trousers, worn above the hips can still work.

The first time your wear your trousers in the classic, waisted position, it will feel odd, but have some faith and stay with it for a couple of weeks and you’ll find it hard to go back to wearing your pants on or below your hips.

The final word is that if most of your trousers have been made with a lower position in mind (as most ready to wear trousers are these days), it may not be possible to simply lift them up, as the cut would mean they’ll become very tight in the crotch. If wearing trousers on your waist is something you’ve decided you’d prefer in the future, just be aware of this when making future purchases and choose pants which will sit properly, above the hips. Most makers vary the height with which they cut their waist and crotch, from model to model, so unless you’re having trousers made for you, you’ll need to try different cuts until you find one which works for you.

Andrew is an Australian born writer, covering the world's leading bespoke tailors and craftspeople in menswear, with a focus on authentic quality, over branding. He spends most of his days running his successful (god knows how) consulting company and travels frequently to Europe for work and writing. He's a passionate cyclist, former trainee professional golfer and lover of all things Cocker Spaniel. He's married to his best friend and significantly better half, Mehri.

8 Comments

  • Reply November 7, 2014

    Lachlan Rodd

    Hi Andrew, great article. I have a pair of heavy wool Ralph Lauren ones with side tabs that sit like this nicely, easily my favourite dress pants. Pleated, nicely finished and works with heavier cyclist thighs. Do you have any other suggestions for off the rack trousers that fit your description, these are very hard to find in Australia. (Melbourne)

    • Reply November 12, 2014

      Andrew Doyle

      Hi Lachlan, thanks very much. Nice to know someone else is in the same boat!
      I agree with your point about Ralph Lauren trousers, I’ve had success with several pairs in the past.
      I’d try Henry Bucks (check the downstairs room). They’re range is bigger than most places and the quality is always very high.
      r.e. heavier thighs; If you can’t find any that are ideal off the rack, just look for trousers with some extra allowance along the thigh seem, then have someone alter them for you. It won’t cost much and you’ll have the room you need.
      Hope that helps.
      Andrew.

  • Reply December 4, 2015

    Jordan Daswell

    Hey Andrew!
    Interesting article. I tried wearing my pants where you suggested today (they’re currently resting at my navel) and I have to say I felt a bit dorky. Normally they would sit at my hips due to they fact that I always considered people socially awkward if they wore them higher. Should I push past that stigma?

    • Reply December 8, 2015

      Andrew Doyle

      Hi Jordan. Haha, push through, push through! Like most changes to the way you wear something, it takes a little bit of time to get used to the difference because you’re so used to seeing yourself look a certain way. Even try wearing them a little higher at first and adjust as you begin to feel more comfortable with it. Within a couple of months you’ll feel ridiculous having them back where most men wear theirs.
      Part of it working properly is to do with the trousers themselves, ideally they’d be cut to sit higher (a higher “rise”) which makes them look much more natural when sitting above the hips. With a “standard” rise (which these days means “low”, if you raise them too much, then they’ll be tight at the crotch and seat and look a bit odd.
      From a ready to wear perspective, stores like bergbergstore.com, nomanwalksalone.com and cordings.co.uk all stock trousers with higher rises, which will look great worn above the hips. Maybe give a pair from any of those stores a try and see if you feel a difference.

  • Reply March 26, 2016

    Jay S

    You mentioned “I tend to wear my trousers somewhere between them being above my hips and below the narrowest point of my natural waist”. Where is this point with respect to your navel? How high do your actually wear your pants (again, with respect to your navel)?

    • Reply March 29, 2016

      Andrew Doyle

      For more formal trousers (i.e. not jeans and chino’s etc) then they sit a fraction below my navel. That’s just where I feel most comfortable with them and have them made accordingly. Others might prefer them slightly above or below that point. What matters is proportion; if your legs look nicely balanced with your torso, then trousers will look good.
      For jeans and chino’s I wear them a little lower (just above my hips) as they look too formal if they sit too high and that’s not what you want in an informal item of clothing.

  • Reply April 11, 2016

    Matt

    I have to say, trouser height is what keeps me for buying a bespoke suit in Sydney. It just reminds me too
    Much of how my mother wears her tracksuit pants! agree that pants very low on the hips can make legs look short, but if you look at the picture of Seon, above, his torso looks about 10 inches long, which seems even more distorted to my eye. The clinched waist and pleats also make the hips look kind of womanly. I’m sure they are more comfortable though.

    It’s interesting that so few catwalk suits are cut like this? Anyway, I suppose everything comes down to familiarity in the end.

    • Reply April 19, 2016

      Andrew Doyle

      Hi Matt,

      The tailors in Sydney (Bijan, John and Leng) would bring the height down for you without any issues, if that’s what you wanted.
      They don’t have to be worn overly high at all, just not flailing about the tops of the thighs where a lot of men wear them these days.
      Seon’s look is the extreme of the higher-waisted spectrum, but I think he pulls it off well. You’re right though, they would be very comfortable for him to wear, but they’re equally comfortable several centimetres shorter than that, too.
      The cat-walk is another beast altogether and completely fashion focused. No doubt fashions will change again in the years ahead and trousers will be up around arm-pits.

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