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Five ways to wear: Formal trousers

Five ways to wear: Formal trousers

No matter your age or preferences, your wardrobe could probably do with a pair of formal trousers. Not only do they alleviate wardrobe fatigue—as a fresh alternative to your usual jeans and chinos—but they can also be as universally wearable as your other go-to trousers. 

We often say that mixing and matching smart and casual clothes is one of the primary ways to look stylish. Formal trousers are a case in point. With a blazer and lace-ups they're smart—ideal for a wedding or formal party—but with casual clothes like minimal trainers and t-shirts they're style-conscious in an adult and subtle way. 

To help you rethink your formal trousers, we've compiled five outfits ranging from traditional to more modern. Thread's Alice Watt talks us through each look.

When you want something more thoughtful than a suit

Outfit: Formal trousers, white shirt, navy blazer, pocket square

Why this works: "Smart separates can be more considered than a suit. They look as if they've taken some thought to put together—and yet the only thing you actually need to do is make sure the jacket and trousers are completely different colours so they don't appear like a mismatched suit.

"It's seemingly small details that make this outfit extra nice: a patterned pocket square adds interest, and the tieless, unbuttoned shirt keeps things smart, not stiff. You could switch the Oxford shirt for a formal shirt if the event's more buttoned-up."

Photographed: Oliver Sweeney indigo linen blazer (£349), MVP white Oxford shirt (£25), Reiss grey wool trousers (£110), Marks & Spencer printed pocket square (£12.50), Selected black leather shoes (£110)

When you don't want to rock the boat

Outfit: Formal trousers, formal shirt, knitted tie, brogues

Why this works: "This is a classic way to wear formal trousers—and yet the knitted tie and brogues keep it from looking too prescribed or stuffy. Black brogues would instantly make the outfit 10 times more formal." 

Photographed: MVP blue Oxford shirt (£25), Reiss charcoal trousers (£110), Moss Bros navy knitted tie (£20), Reiss suede belt (£50), Oliver Sweeney tan brogues (£249)

When you're not quite sure of your plans 

Outfit: Formal trousers, polo-neck jumper, denim jacket, brogues 

Why this works: "Listen, polo necks can be polarizing—but also adult. Wearing one gives you an air of sophistication—while a denim jacket keeps this outfit relaxed and up to date. You could wear this almost anywhere, from work (maybe sans jacket) to dinner out. And more than that, it will impress: again, it achieves that balance of smart and casual that not every guy thinks to try."

Photographed: orSlow denim jacket (£285), Reiss polo-neck jumper (£85), Reiss grey wool trousers (£110), Selected leather shoes (£110)

When you're bored of all your clothes

Outfit: Formal trousers, navy jumper, leather minimal trainers 

Why this works: "Sick of your brogues? Leather minimal trainers make your trousers look and feel more modern. Tired of jeans and chinos? Formal trousers are a snappy alternative. Can't even look at your jumpers? With formal trousers and minimal trainers they'll feel fresher. 

"This outfit is a kind of boredom-breaking catch-all, but I like it for two reasons: 1. It would look good on a guy of any age, and 2. It's smart without being too officey—so it works nicely for dates or parties. It would look more formal if the trousers were darker grey or navy." 

Photographed: Research Garments shirt (£49), MVP merino jumper (£35), Reiss charcoal trousers (£110), Jigsaw leather trainers (£98)


For Sunday lunch

Outfit: Formal trousers, long-sleeve polo shirt, white trainers

Why this works: "You'll want to feel weekendy but smart, and this combo's a good bet. This top and shoes with jeans or chinos would be quite basic, but the trousers elevate everything. This works mostly because every item is detail- and logo-free." 

Photographed: Nigel Hall long-sleeve polo (£110), Reiss charcoal-grey trousers (£110), Selected white trainer (£70)

Plus: How to pick the right formal trousers 

Go for these details and you'll end up with a versatile pair.

  • Fit: Slim or straight
  • Fabric: Textured rather than shiny or suit-like
  • Colour: Probably grey. "It's the easiest colour to dress up or down," Alice says. "If you're a smarter dresser—or you have a favourite grey blazer to wear with your trousers—try navy."