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Slacks and dress pants are essentially the same thing. The terms are often used interchangeably depending on where you are in the world.
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What we’ll cover
In the menswear industry, there’s a lot of different words to describe the same or similar things. That’s especially true when it comes to men’s pants. Slacks, trousers, dress pants, chinos, khakis – the list is long and winding.
It’s understandable to be a bit confused when you’re filling up a shopping cart.
In this article, we’ll discuss each type of pants – and give some clarity on what each term means. We’ll also talk about styling tips, buying tips, how to wear slacks casually and formally, and much more.
By the end of reading our article, you should have a solid understanding of what to look for in a pair of slacks/dress pants, and, just as importantly, when to wear them.
Slacks and dress pants are essentially the same thing. The terms “slacks” and “dress pants” are generally used interchangeably. Some people combine the terms and refer to them as “dress slacks.” They are also commonly referred to as trousers throughout the UK and Europe.
Slacks or dress pants are loose-fitting pants that can be dressed up as formal wear or dressed down for a more casual look. They are composed of a waistband, belt loops, and a fly front. Most dress pants are made of cotton, with a variety of weaves. However, sometimes they can be composed of wool, making them warmer and more suitable for the colder months.
Dress slacks can be worn with matching jackets typically made out of a different material, dress shirts for business casual or semi-formal settings, or even just a simple t-shirt for a casual look.
Choosing the right pair of slacks for your wardrobe shouldn’t be a complicated endeavor, but it is a good idea to choose mindfully and carefully. The color, type, and fit of the pants you choose will impact when and how you can wear the pants, as well as how you feel in them.
Black dress pants are contemporary and will never go out of fashion. Therefore, every man needs a pair of black slacks in his wardrobe, thanks to the versatility of this color. Black dress slacks can be worn with just about anything, including patterned, bolder shirt colors or simply a crisp white shirt.
Dress slacks come in a range of gray shades, including light gray, medium gray, and charcoal. Fresh spring colors and more vibrant tones tend to work beautifully with lighter gray shades, while medium and charcoal gray work well with darker colors, such as navy blue on top.
Gray slacks can be worn to a host of semi-formal events, including business events, where they tend to be popular, as well as weddings, receptions, and get-togethers. They are also great for the office and more laid-back affairs, such as after-work drinks with friends and colleagues.
Most men limit themselves to darker colors when it comes to dress slacks, but there’s no need to be fearful of branching out with lighter colors.
When considering white dress pants, there is a range of tones and hues to choose from, including cream, ivory, off-white, and many more. Beware, however, that white slacks and dress pants are the most difficult to style. When it comes to shirt/blazer colors to pair with white slacks, a dark blue can often work well, adding a touch of sophistication.
White slacks won’t always be best suited to formal events, but in the summer months at beach weddings and outdoor events, white slacks can look smart and stylish, and have the distinct benefit of being cooler than darker colors.
Blue dress slacks are a definite requirement for your wardrobe. These men’s pants come in a variety of shades, from navy blue and light blue to true blue. You can choose to go bold with rustic colors such as a brown shirt or blazer, or why not try a light blue shirt, coupled with darker navy blue dress slacks.
Blue is by far one of the most versatile colors of dress slacks any man can own. You can wear slacks of this color whether it’s a business casual dress code, or an event requiring more formal wear. They are also great in more laid-back settings as well, such as outdoor gatherings and lunch dates.
Pleat pants are those pants that have folds of fabric, or creases at the front of the pants. Pleated pants are worn on the waist above the hip bone and, therefore, have a higher rise. Flat front pants, on the other hand, do not have these creases at the front and are worn slightly lower on the hips.
As pleated pants have an added amount of fabric, they are great for those men that have wider thighs or hips or a larger back. These types of dress pants provide more space and, therefore, a more comfortable fit if you are on the larger/more muscly side.
Flat pants, however, are an excellent option for slimmer men, as the outline is cleaner and makes for a more modern look over the more traditional pleated style.
We’ve previously talked about this with our suit styles guide, but let’s quickly get into the subtle differences between slim and classic fit pants.
Slim-fit dress pants have a slimming seat, providing a sharper, cleaner appearance that looks elegant and modern while also having a tighter fit around the waist area. They have a straight taper that runs the entirety of the leg. However, because of the tighter seats, they will look narrow and ultimately provide less legroom.
Those that are muscular or larger framed may tend to agree that wearing slacks that are slim fit can be restricting. However, on slimmer bodies, slim-fit dress slacks can look modern, sleek, and sophisticated. Style them with a smart fitted blazer for more formal events or possibly a jacket when in a casual setting.
Classic fit or regular fit dress pants are probably the most common variation of dress pants that you’ll come across in stores and online. They have an uncomplicated look and a timeless design. They can be used for a wide variety of occasions.
Regular fits will sit comfortably at the top of your waist, and unlike slim-fit, they will not fit too closely to the body – or too loosely, for that matter, making them very comfortable to wear. Similar to slim-fit, classic-fit dress slacks can be worn on any number of occasions, including black-tie, depending on what you wear with them.
The break of the pants is simply the creasing or the fold of fabric that sits at the front of the leg, above where it rests at your shoe when you are standing up. Both the width and length of the pant legs are deciding factors in how big or small the pant break will be.
There are three types of pant breaks:
One of the most compelling features of dress pants is that they can be dressed up and dressed down to work for nearly any occasion.
These occasions include:
While it might initially seem complicated, buying the right dress pants for your wardrobe is pretty straightforward with a few easy tips.
But great pants alone won’t help you look and feel your best. It comes down to the whole ensemble, and too many guys overlook the importance of what’s underneath. Wearing streamlined underwear and undershirts is not only a great way to avoid that “bunchy” appearance, but it also helps you feel more comfortable.
UnderFit specializes in making undershirts designed for exactly this purpose. The fit is close to your body, the materials keep you cool and prevent odor, and the comfort is well beyond your basic cotton undershirt.
Check out our crew necks, V-necks and the invisible undershirt to see what you’ve been missing out on.
Leigh is the owner of UnderFit, a premium men's undershirt brand based in Philadelphia, PA. You can follow Leigh on LinkedIn and Twitter.
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