As a child, I remember my dad sitting at the dining room table, surrounded by stacks of papers and piles of receipts. He would rub his eyes, his face set in a mask of grim determination.
“If there’s one thing I could spare you from when you grow up,” he said, “It would be doing taxes.”
Now that I’m more or less grown, I hate doing taxes as much as anyone. They are, however, a once a year affair, made much less unpleasant by competent accountants and cloud-based spreadsheet software. If I had a son, my first wish for him, instead, would be that he never have to deal with the impending disasters caused by previous generations’ flagrant disregard for our environment. If I had two wishes, my second would be that he never have to shop for pants more than once in his adult life.
Despite the ever-widening array of clothing choices available to the modern western man, pants are something he can really never get away from, always there to remind him that his waist is bigger than he’d like it to be, his legs not quite as long. And by his, I mean mine. I recently went to the mall with the sole purpose of finding the perfect pair of pants. I decided that when I found them, I would buy multiples and wear them every day, tailoring the rest of my wardrobe around them. After trying on what felt like hundreds of pairs, all of which were either too big in places, too small in places, or unfit in some other wholly unpredictable and demoralizing way, I decided it was time to seek professional help.
“The perfect pants, from a structural perspective, are ones that can go from a casual setting to a formal setting,” says Michael Nguyen, owner of Garrison Bespoke, a downtown Toronto tailoring shop that caters to professional athletes, bankers and the cast of the television show Suits.
“I make George Stroumboulopoulos grey mohair slacks for walking around in,” he says. “Grey is versatile, plus mohair is stain-resistant.”
Nguyen’s fabric suppliers have lately started offering tweeds, wools and mohairs that, in addition to looking lovely, offer the benefit of elasticity. “The modern man needs stretch,” Nguyen says decisively, adding that he’s started making casual pants from heather grey cotton jersey, combining the sophistication of suit trousers with the comfort of sweats.
I wasn’t sure I could see myself wearing those, but the appeal was obvious.
With fit, I want something that’s comfortable, of course, but still somewhat flattering. A colleague who engaged in a similar quest had a beautiful pair of high-waisted pants made from soft khaki cotton. They look good on him, but I suspect something similar would make me look too much like Joaquin Phoenix in Her.
The secret to a good pair of pants, according to Nguyen? Finding the sweet spot of where they sit on your waist.
“The perfect pair of trousers has the right rise, and the right rise is different for different people,” he says. “A lot of men’s-wear companies have moved to low-rise pants because they’re comfortable.” But, he adds, “low-rise pants are actually very unflattering on a lot of people, especially as you get older.”
Nguyen advises his clients to opt for pants with a slightly higher rise in the back and a lower rise in the front.
“It makes your butt look nicer… sort of like a push-up bra. You think women aren’t looking at your butt?” I had genuinely never considered this.
After an hour of talking rises, leg widths, butt shapes and what kinds of pockets will make me look less “hippy,” I was beginning to understand the problem: There’s nothing wrong with my body; it’s all the pants’ fault. Attempting to find a pair of great-fitting pants in the mall is like going on vacation with only all-inclusive resorts to choose from.
Sure, there are nice all-inclusives out there, but what if I want to stay at a B&B? Or, in the case of Nguyen’s trousers, a penthouse with its own butler?
“So,” Nguyen says, with the confident nonchalance of a salesman who knows he’s already sealed the deal. “Can I make you a pair?”
I stare down at the book of swatches in front of me, open to a soft grey Dormeuil fabric with the look of harris tweed but the gentle stretch of sweatpants. I think not about how these pants will work with the rest of my wardrobe, nor of the cost (which is considerable), but of the son I might someday have, and the dressing room trauma from which he might be spared.
Future generations will surely thank me for this, if nothing else.
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