In search of the perfect black pants

From fabric to pockets, an expert tells us what to look for when on the hunt

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Matching the pattern

Don Deisch, COO of Oxxford Clothes, talks about what makes a good pair of trousers at Oxxford Clothes in Chicago, Tuesday, January 17, 2012. Deisch notes the matching lines in the pattern. (Heather Charles, Chicago Tribune / January 17, 2012)

They're the BFF of our wardrobe. The first thing we grab when we need to look presentable but don't want to think hard about it: our go-to pants.

It doesn't matter if we're male or female, young or old, a pair of dark trousers is the one thing we all rely on.

For a few years now I've counted on the Max Mara pants I bought at a consignment store for $60. By "counted on" I mean worn way more than I should. In fact, a while back, I wore them to work 10 days in a row.

With that kind of a work ethic, my pants deserve a comfortable retirement. So, finally, I'm thinking about investing in a new pair.

Because I was clueless about what to look for when shopping for this essential, I went to an expert to find out.

He's Don Deisch, the chief operating officer of Oxxford Clothes (, the high-end suit-maker that has outfitted presidents (George W. Bush), sports icons (Joe DiMaggio) and discerning political felons (former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who dropped $205,706.72 there).

Deisch, a tailor by training, knows his way around a pair of pants. If he employed the very finest fabrics, he said, "I can sell you pants for $3,000." I declined.

But he took a pair of Oxxford's $695 trousers off a hanger and painstakingly used them to illustrate what I (and you) should look for. Deisch gets it: Most of us wouldn't dream of spending that kind of money on a single pair of pants. But his tips can help both men and women who want value at whatever price.


"Fabric is key," says Deisch. "All wool is not the same. Short, stubby fiber is going to be less expensive wool. That's why you're going to have $70 pants and $700."

Higher-end fabric is soft, will breathe, last longer, be more comfortable, drape nicely, and the wrinkles will hang out better overnight. (By the way, always hang pants by the cuffs for best wrinkle removal.) Oxxford uses only all-wool fabric, but most women's pants for sale in retail stores have a little stretch fiber in them.

Tip: Feel the fabric of pants you're considering and you'll soon be able to discern bad, better, best quality.

Tip: Patterned fabrics, such as plaids, stripes, should line up perfectly along front and back seams.

Seams and stitching

Check the leg seams to be sure they're flat. There should be "no ridges or bumps. … Does it look like the two sides are fighting each other?"

Where the waistband is attached to the rest of the pants, the seam should be flat, with no ripples or bunching.

"Are stitches nice and even and straight? ... Most people can tell the difference between sloppy sewing even if they don't sew."

Raw, fraying edges at any seam is a lower-quality tipoff. So are threads hanging instead of clipped off.

Tip: You can tell a lot from looking at belt loops (more common in men's trousers). "They should be straight! That means they (the makers) cared. They took the time to get them straight." Also, raw edges inside the belt loop where most people wouldn't look suggest cost-cutting, perhaps in more crucial areas.

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