Peter Zottolo, a photographer and electrician in California’s Bay Area, has a secret. His favorite pants, a pleated navy pair from Japanese brand Camoshita, have an elasticated waist and a drawstring that he can tighten or loosen on a whim. When he wears a button-down shirt or sweater that conceals these features, “they just look like dress pants,” said Mr. Zottolo, 46. “No one knows you’re the most comfortable man in the room.”
Mr. Zottolo is part of a wave of in-the-know men who are pulling on trousers that say “smart” from ankle to pocket but confess “sweatpants” sotto voce at the waist. Elasticated, drawstring-furnished waistbands were once reserved for gymwear and swim trunks. Now, however, you can find them cinching everything from chinos to corduroy slacks to formal suit pants from Brooks Brothers and ultrawide, capital-F-fashion trousers from luxury brands like Loewe.
These sneaky hybrid designs—sometimes called “Easy Pants”—are forgiving on post-WFH paunches but don’t look slovenly. That makes them ideal for men unwilling to abandon lockdown-era comfort as they re-enter a world of office meetings and IRL Hinge dates.
Fasih Awan, 28, an engineer at San Francisco fintech company Block, used to wear suits to work but now relies on wide-legged, box-pleated drawstring styles from New York tailoring brand Stòffa and Australia’s Informale. “Now that the office is less busy and I’m only there a couple of days a week, a suit feels like too much,” he said. He thinks drawstring styles, when sharply cut, can “elevate a casual outfit” to work-appropriate heights and even skew formal-ish if paired with a nice sweater.
Brooks Brothers creative director Michael Bastian agrees that drawstring pants are an appealing work option for guys who “don’t have to wear a suit every day.” Yet they present certain styling challenges, said Greg Lellouche, owner of online retailer No Man Walks Alone. “You have to think about the intersection with the shirt at the waist,” he said, adding that trousers whose drawstring is hidden on the inside—like Mr. Zottolo’s Camoshitas—are easier to work with. Visible drawstrings are too much for many workplaces, he said, calling the sight of aglets or knots dangling beneath a shirt hem “one step too far for business casual.”
Most experts we spoke to advocate a shirt-out look, but if you’re tempted to tuck, Paul Witt, owner of Wittmore, a menswear brand and store in Los Angeles and Malibu, Calif., suggests wearing a luxe linen T-shirt and dressy sneakers or loafers. For the office and social gatherings requiring smart-ish attire, Mr. Bastian of Brooks Brothers suggested wearing drawstring trousers in a dressy gray suiting fabric and pairing them with a cashmere crew-neck sweater. But, he cautioned, the pants’ ability to transcend their lowly roots as pajamas has its limits. “I wouldn’t ever recommend wearing drawstring pants with a shirt and tie,” he said. “That looks stupid.”
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Appeared in the July 30, 2022, print edition as ‘We’re Strangely Drawn to These Pants.’