Trousers are usually in the background of an outfit. They play a secondary role, setting the stage for whatever you’re wearing up top. As such, it’s easy to forget about them – especially when you’re building a wardrobe. Just as important as color is finding things in the right cloth. Spring and summer trousers are relatively easy since everything boils down to linen, cotton, and tropical wool. Your options can explode once it comes to fall and winter. A rundown of some of the more useful fabrics to consider:
Wool Flannel: This is your workhorse. If you wanted, you could build a wardrobe of just light- to mid-gray flannel trousers and be done with it. The fabric will go with everything from sport coats to sweaters to some casualwear, and depending on your region, can be worn almost year-round. Wool flannel is something like a smarter counterpart to cotton flannel – it has a bit of a nap on the surface, which gives it that soft hand and incredible comfort (the material was once even used for underwear).
When buying a pair, pay attention to the weight and weave. Mid-weight to heavyweight trousers will provide better insulation and drape. There’s also worsted flannel, where you can see a subtle twill running under the nap; then woolen, where you can’t. The first will be harder wearing, but the second will often have a bit more variegation in the color.
Cavalry Twill, Covert Twill, and Whipcord: For all intents and purposes, these are basically the same thing. These steeply angled twills, made from either cotton or wool, were originally designed for hardwearing environments (think: countryside retreats and sporting events). Today, however, much like rustic tweeds and waxed cotton outerwear, they’ve come to define a sort of autumn and winter style that can be worn almost anywhere. You’re just as likely to see these today in downtown cafes as country homes.
Corduroy: A little less useful with sport coats than the options mentioned above, but so wonderfully democratic and utilitarian. It has been said that “corduroy has stood for what is right in our lives. Intellectual rigor. Fresh air. The comfort of a crackling fire. It is a fabric as forgiving and enduring as our spirits at their best.”
Corduroy is made with wales, which is a term for the textured ribs running down the pants. The thinner the wale, the more modern the trousers will look; the wider the wale, the frumpier and old school. Needlecord, which is the thinnest of wales, can be especially nice as five-pocket jeans.
Tweed: Tweed can be tricky, as so many are either too loosely woven for trousers (which means they’ll bag easily) or they’re too bold for practical wear. The most useful in this category will be Donegal, which is a medium- to heavy-weight tweed that gets its name from the Donegal county of Ireland (where the fabric has been traditionally made, even if Donegal today is generically used for a style). Donegal tweed is defined by its non-lustrous, slubby yarns, which have flecks of colour throughout. That’s what gives the fabric that beautiful texture you can see instore.
Moleskin: Every description of moleskin has to start with a caveat that these are not, indeed, made from the skin of moles. Instead, this is a cotton fabric with a soft, almost suede-like texture. Like many of the fabrics mentioned above, moleskin started its life as a country cloth, used for hardwearing activities such as getting through thick, prickly brush. Today, it’s a common material in fall and winter clothes.