Buying trousers

Someone recently sought my advice on where to buy trousers for dancing (or pants, in American English). Reflecting on this question I realised that there are, for the curious, numerous angles to consider: style, fabric, manufacturer, historical context, and dance suitability. That which follows is my (entirely unqualified) views and advice on trousers for dancing.

Historical context

Many dancers’ first thoughts on trousers will be about historical context. Swing dance and music is remarkable for its association with a style of dress, popular during the first half of the 20th century, fundamentally composed of a suit or sportscoat, a shirt, neckwear, and leather shoes. Today, the dance floors at the world’s best festivals are shining examples of this combination interpreted for modern tastes. In reality varying styles of this formula were worn by various people, in various parts of the world, according to varying trends in fashion. However, the most common characteristics for trousers were a high waist, a wider leg, pleats, cuffs, and sombre colours. That concept is contemporarily adopted to different degrees: from enthusiasts of faithful historical reproduction, to acolytes of its essential elegance. Evidently, what you wear is entirely a personal choice; my purpose here is to reflect on a style today considered as timeless.

Brooks Brothers linen pleated trouser (Baird McNutt)

Style

A higher waist is advantageous: shirts are less prone to becoming untucked while dancing, legs appear longer, and the lower end of a rounder torso is not highlighted by trousers fastened underneath it. A wider leg similarly smooths curves in the transition between torso and leg. The ideal width is best measured relative to the proportions of the individual. Pleats gracefully accommodate the widening of trousers from the waistband, around the hip, to the leg. Darker colours suggest formality, show fewer creases, and disguise shoes marks from where careless dancers have kicked you on the dance floor.

Linen in all its wrinkled magnificence

Fabric

Natural fabrics are essential for style and for dance. Worsted wool, cotton, and linen are refined in appearance, are practical for athletic activity, and will find grateful future owners. Each cloth has unique characteristics. Worsted wool is woven from combed wool fibres: it is smooth in texture, drapes and curves gracefully, and resists creases and moisture; however it guards body heat. Woven cotton (as opposed to knitted cotton) is smooth in texture and does not guard body heat; however it is relatively rigid and creases easily. Linen drapes and bends relatively well and guards body heat even less than cotton; however it is rougher in texture and creases more than cotton. The ‘timeless style’ described earlier values the formality of the fluid drape and curve of wool while the practicalities of hot ballrooms ask for the porousness of cotton and linen.

The ideal fabric may be a wool/linen or wool/cotton blend that gives the formal appearance of worsted wool while benefiting from the breathability of linen or cotton. Even more sophisticated in appearance, while tolerably less airy, may be a finely woven (therefore lighter) worsted wool trouser. Ultimately practical for perspiring while formal, at least from a distance or in low lighting, may be a linen or cotton trouser in a dark colour.

Brown about town

Manufacturer

For most clothing there are four principal options: bespoke, made to measure, ready to wear, and second hand. Bespoke involves a cutter and tailor creating a garment that uniquely fits you, in a style and fabric of your choice. Bespoke is the ultimate experience in dressing, however it is so extremely expensive as to be impractical for many people.

Made to measure involves a model garment being adapted to your measurements in order to create, in a style and fabric of your choice, a generally well-fitting item of clothing. Customisation, fabric selection and quality guarantee are key to M2M. Whether it’s possible to choose a higher-waisted trouser, a finely woven and light wool cloth, and to return the garment for alteration if it doesn’t fit properly, will determine whether a particular M2M service is worth pursuing.

Ready to wear involves purchasing from a physical or online retailor. Trousers fabricated from natural fibres will demand a higher than average price. The trick is often to wait for the end of season sale. Brooks Brothers in the US manufacturers trousers approximately in the ‘timeless style’ described earlier: (almost) high rise, tastefully wide leg, pleats, cuffs, sombre colours, and in a range of fine worsted wools. Moreover their sales can offer substantial reductions.

Brooks Brothers wool pleated trouser (Reda)

The next sleight of hand, if you live in the EU, is to avoid paying sales tax when purchasing from the US. Various US retailers oblige European customers to purchase from the ‘international’ version of their online shop, with elevated prices that incorporate EU sales tax. Others only offer delivery by international courier, which will require you to pay EU sales tax on delivery. How to circumvent this: purchase from the US version of an online store (us an internet browser that allows you to use a US IP address if necessary); send your package to a US mailbox provider (I use Shipito); send your purchase from your US mailbox to you using the cheapest, slowest, non-tracked postage option. Usually only tracked parcels entering the EU by courier have sales tax applied to them.

Second hand involves visiting opportunity shops (or charity shops in the UK; thrift stores in the US) or vintage boutiques. More frequent visits will eventually yield a better selection of trousers that most closely fit you, in a style that most pleases you. The fact that that ‘timeless style’ mentioned earlier is generally out of fashion is greatly in your favour. Trousers that are moderately too large or too long can be modified by an alterations tailor (and cuffs can similarly be added).

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