Look, Ma, no pleats! Plain-front pants are showing up again.
Pleatless pants made their debut in the menswear spring sportswear collections, and the trend is expected to be even stronger for fall, say designers.
Andrew Fezza, Michael Kors and Bill Robinson are among the designers embracing the trend.
"You get a little tired of drapey, floppy pants," says Mr. Robinson, who is devoting almost one-third of the pants in his fall collection to flat-front styles. "I think younger men may go for plain-fronts. . . . Pleats now look too establishment."
Although designers say they were inspired by pleatless styles of the late '50s and '60s, today's plain-fronts have higher waistbands and roomier thighs, and the legs taper to the ankles instead of being stick-straight. The pants also come in such new fabrics as wool and rayon blends and cotton finishes, which feel like suede. Michael Kors gives his wool flannel plain-fronts a shot of Lycra spandex for extra ease in fit.
Although primarily limited to high-end designers, plain-front pants also are being offered by a handful of better-priced sportswear companies including Nautica, Ruff Hewn and Marithe/Francois Girbaud.
Still, retailers are lukewarm about the new pants. "It's being bought with an eyedropper," says Colby McWilliams, director of men's fashion for Neiman Marcus stores.
Many retailers, including Stephen Davis, owner of Davis for Men stores in Chicago, recalls the controversy when pleats first came onto the scene during the '70s. "It was a fight you wouldn't believe [converting men to pleats]," says Mr. Davis.
"I can't think of a thing about them [plain-front pants] that is positive," says John Jones, men's buyer at Ultimo in Chicago. "The only flat-front styles I like are jeans and jean-styled things."
Yet David Chu, designer and president of Nautica, is not worried. "Pleated pants are still the popular choice, but the plain-front pant is making a comeback in fashion circles across the country." Nautica introduced plain-front pants this spring and will continue to offer them for fall.
A point of caution: flat-fronts are for the fit. "If you're in good shape, plain-front pants will make you look taller and show off your hard work in the gym," says Mr. Kors. "I don't think it's a style for out-of-shape men."
Chicago architect Marvin Herman gives plain-front pants a thumbs-down. "I only like plain-fronts in jeans. It's wonderful to be part of fashion, but not so good to be a fashion victim," says Mr. Herman, 51, who likes pleats because of the "softness" they give pants.
A more recent convert to pleats is Dr. Chuck Musfeldt, a general practitioner in Chicago, who started wearing pleated pants two years ago. "Most physicians don't care how they dress. You're too busy taking care of patients." Yet Dr. Musfeldt, 37, found it necessary to become interested in fashion with the recent launch of his health-care consulting business. "I'm now lights years ahead of where I was in fashion," says Dr. Musfeldt, an advocate of pleats because they're "almost as comfortable as scrubs but a lot better looking."