What are Pleats?

example of pleats

Written by Tanya Zhang

What are Pleats?

If you've dug around fashion and sewing, you might come across the term: pleats. Pleats are a type of fold that is commonly used in fabric to create structure, shape, or decorative detailing. Pleats are essentially folds in the fabric that are secured in place, either permanently or temporarily, to add texture and volume.

Creating pleats involves folding the fabric in a specific pattern and then sewing pleats together with stitches or pressing. This creates a neat and organized look while also allowing the fabric to drape gracefully. Pleats can be made in different sizes, ranging from small and delicate to large and dramatic, depending on the desired effect which makes it so popular as a folding technique.

Pleats have been used in clothing for centuries and have gone through various evolutions in terms of style and function. They have been a staple in traditional garments, such as kilts or school uniforms, and have also been incorporated into high-fashion designs.

Pleats can add visual interest to a garment, create movement, or even serve functional purposes by allowing ease of movement or accommodating body curves. Overall, pleats are a versatile design element that can transform the look and feel of fabric, enhancing its aesthetic appeal!

What is the Purpose of Pleats?

The purpose of pleats is multifaceted and can vary depending on the specific context and garment design. Here are a few common reasons why a designer may choose to add pleats to a garment or item.

  1. Style and Aesthetics: Pleats are often used to add visual interest, texture, and depth to garments. They can create a sense of volume, structure, and movement. Pleats can be strategically placed to accentuate certain areas of a garment or to create a particular silhouette.

  2. Fit and Function: Pleats can serve a functional purpose by providing extra room and flexibility in garments. For example, in pants or skirts, pleats can allow for ease of movement and provide more space around the hips and thighs. We saw many face masks with pleats during the coronavirus outbreak. 

  3. Tailoring and Shape: Pleats can be used to shape and structure fabric, creating a more tailored and polished look. They can be used to control the fullness of fabric, especially in areas like waistbands or cuffs.

Overall, pleats serve both functional and aesthetic purposes in clothing and other fabric applications. They can enhance the style, fit, and shape of garments while adding an element of visual interest and sophistication.

Pleats in Men's Clothing

Pleats in menswear are primarily seen in trousers (pants) and occasionally in formal shirts.

  1. Trousers/Pants: Pleats are often found in dress pants, suit trousers, and some casual trousers for men. Pleated trousers provide a more relaxed fit and can be advantageous for men with fuller figures or those who prefer a looser silhouette. Common pleat styles for trousers include single pleats (one fold on each side) and double pleats (two folds on each side). Dockers Men's Classic Fit Signature Lux Cotton Stretch Pants-Pleated (Regular and Big & Tall)

  2. Formalwear: In formalwear, such as tuxedos or dress suits, pleats can be found on trousers to add a touch of elegance and sophistication. Pleated formal trousers often have a higher rise and are designed to be worn with suspenders. Here's a guide on how to wear suspenders for men.
    HAGGAR Mens E Clo Repreve Stria Classic Fit Pleated Front Dress Pant

  3. Formal Shirts: Although less common, pleats can be seen in certain formal shirts, particularly in older or more traditional styles. Pleats on dress shirts are usually located on the back or sides, just below the yoke. They allow for more ease of movement and provide a slight bit of extra fabric for a more comfortable fit.

Today, menswear trends don't have pleats as often as they did in the past which is why slacks and dress shirts without pleats are popular. Our favorite slim fit white dress shirt without pleats here. However, pleated pants and trousers continue to have a place in certain formal or traditional contexts, and personal preference plays a significant role in their adoption.

Most Common Types of Pleats

Box Pleat

KDS4444CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Box pleats are created by folding the fabric inwards in opposite directions, forming a box-like shape. This type of box pleat is often used in skirts or dresses and can be seen both at the front and back of the garment. Box pleats create a structured, symmetrical look and provide the skirt with a significant amount of volume and movement.

Knife Pleat

example of knife pleat
KDS4444CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Knife pleats are narrow, evenly-spaced pleats that are folded in one direction. The folds are pressed or stitched down, creating a sleek and uniform appearance. A knife pleat is commonly found in skirts, kilts, and some formal trousers. They can add a tailored and refined touch to a garment.

Inverted Pleat

Inverted pleats, also called reverse pleats or kick pleats, are formed by folding the fabric outwards in opposite directions. Kick pleats are often used in the back or sides of skirts, dresses, or trousers. Inverted pleats or kick pleats provide extra fullness and allow for greater ease of movement while maintaining a clean and polished look.

Accordion Pleat

Accordion pleats, also called fan pleats, are narrow pleats that are folded in alternating directions. They create a zigzag pattern, resembling the bellows of an accordion. Accordion pleats can be used in various garments, such as skirts, dresses, or blouses, and they provide a unique textural effect and fluidity when the fabric is in motion.

Sunburst Pleat

Sunburst pleats, also known as sunray pleats or crystal pleats, are a type of accordion pleat that starts at a single point and radiates outward, creating a sunburst-like effect. This pleating style is commonly seen in skirts, dresses, or tops and adds a dramatic and dynamic element to the garment.

Cartridge Pleat

KDS4444CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cartridge pleats are formed by tightly gathering the fabric at regular intervals, resulting in a series of small, evenly-spaced pleats. This pleating technique is often used in historical or period costumes, as well as in some formal or structured garments. Cartridge pleats can provide shape and fullness while maintaining a tailored appearance.

Other types of pleats include forward pleats, honeycomb pleats, rolled pleats, tubular pleats, and more!



What do pleats symbolize?

In fashion, pleats can symbolize elegance and attention to detail, showcasing the skill and craftsmanship involved in creating the structured folds. Additionally, pleats can convey a sense of movement and fluidity in clothing, adding dynamic visual interest to garments.

What are pleats stitches?

Pleat stitches are the sewing techniques used to create and secure pleats in fabric. These stitches are typically made by folding the fabric in a specific pattern and then stitching along the fold to hold it in place.

What is the difference between tucks and pleats?

Tucks are narrow, sewn folds in fabric, while pleats are larger, more structured folds often not fully sewn down.

What is the difference between pleats and gathers?

Pleats are structured, evenly spaced folds, while gathers are fabric pulled together to create a more relaxed, ruched effect.

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