Ever the imperious editor of my wardrobe, last year I decided to purge a couple of real gems. I had two pairs of grey flannels — one charcoal, one mid-grey — made in Italy for Ralph Lauren. These are the trousers that sell for $350 or more, which I happened to score new with tags on eBay at a great price. As with all RL tailored clothing, the color and fabric quality were exceptional, and they were made from old-school heavy flannel that draped beautifully. They’d been my winter go-to for several years, but suddenly I decided they were flawed. What was the issue? The rise was only 10 inches, and tailoring, like football, is a game of inches.
This was around the time I was developing our ill-fated high-rise/tapered leg project with Bills Khakis, and I’d come to realize that trouser rise was now one of my dealbreakers. Now everyone has his own priorities, and few would be willing to dump such fine pants on eBay for $50, but that’s how I am. The difference between a 10-inch rise and the 11.5 on my pants from O’Connell’s is tremendous. Not only in how they look, but far more important in how they feel. That extra inch or more allows trousers to rest comfortably on your natural waist, above your hip bone, where they’re supposed to be since masculine style was codified during the Golden Age of Menswear of the 1930s.
Spring came, wiping away the need for flannel, and I forgot about this vital hole in my wardrobe until last month, when I realized I needed to find a replacement. I decided to do what I’ve done with other trousers: buy the full-cut, traditional model and then have them tapered, despite the huge added cost. Then I realized I had some rewards points from Brooks Brothers that would make their flannels, with a regular price of $250, more affordable, especially with the added cost of having them tapered at New York prices.
I’d had a pair of Brooks’ flannels before, and purged them when I got the RL pants. Made in the Far East, the pants had a papery waistband that was annoying — minor league compared to the albeit more expensive RL ones. And of course, as with virtually all of Brooks’ tailored clothing, the buttons are so poor you have to replace those, too.
The latest flannel trouser from Brooks — which is priced at $248 and offered in several fits — is made in Thailand of fabric by Vitale Barberis Canonico, a fine mill, even if it’s not located in the United Kingdom. The quality of the waistband seems better, and the lighter-weight fabric, though lacking the charming heft of a heavy flannel, allows the pant to be worn for a longer portion of the year, a nice bonus for lovers of the flannels-and-sportcoat combination.
But here’s what really sold me. When I asked my Brooks salesman about tailoring, he quoted me a price that left me incredulous. If I remember correctly, the hemming with cuffs was considered free and the tapering was some trifling pittance like $35. With the rewards points from my Brooks Card, I was able to get the pants tailored the way I wanted them and pay no more than full price, or $250ish out the door.
These trousers are in the Madison cut, which feature an 11-inch rise. For the tapering, I decided to experiment and take the leg opening down from my usual 8 inches to 7.5, with 1.75-inch cuffs. As the thigh was too baggy, I naturally requested that the trouser be tapered gradually from the top, not just pegged from the knee down. This is an important part of the instructions if you’re going to have this alteration done.
Now for a little meander down a side street. When you first move to New York, you’re terrified by all the stories about how expensive everything is. You’re constantly on guard of being shocked every time you walk into an establishment. Eventually I found that it wasn’t as bad as I feared (while the humid summers were far worse), and there are many bargains to be had with household supplies and food. But the first case of real Manhattan sticker shock came when I took in something to be altered. Sure it’s cheap if you use a dry cleaner in Queens, but if you want a real Manhattan menswear expert who’s going to understand how you want something to fit and actually deliver, you’re looking at jobs that quickly total hundreds of dollars. My tailor would have charged me $150 or even more to taper, hem and cuff these trousers.
So consider this an important FYI for those unaware: Brooks Brothers charges a very modest fee for alterations and, for me, did a fantastic job.
If you want that Ivy heyday look of a straight-cut undarted jacket with tapered trousers — a combo, by the way, that looked great on every young and fit guy from the heyday and deserves a return — this is what you want to start doing with your pants. That is, until manufacturers catch up to us and start making this cut off-the-rack.— CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD