What does perfection in clothing mean? Of course, being ‘perfect’ is an impossible state, like anything in life. Yet the press fold, a permanent crease found primarily down the front of trousers, is an attempt at perfection. It is an artificial sign of correctness founded by the British establishment, and now subverted by fashion. Wearing trousers with press folds is a strangely satisfying pleasure.
Some history, mined from the internet: press folds were apparently first invented when a British monarch, quite possibly Edward VII, got his trousers wet in the rain. He is claimed to have handed his trousers to his personal tailor, who pressed them to create a permanent crease. Allegedly taking place in 1896 — when Edward was only a prince, not yet king — there is also a version of the story that he handed his trousers to the wife of a local farmer who added the crease and unknowingly created a sartorial institution.
The point being, its invention was happenstance, like many of the eccentricities we now consider to be firm traditions of tailoring. Pure, weird coincidence. Which makes it even more apt for fashion to appropriate press folds for its own purposes.
Press folds give an impression of neatness, maybe even nerdiness. In trousers of volume, they can control or manipulate the way cloth falls. If a pant is flared, a fold can hold the kick. On trousers where every detail has been purposefully reduced, they can focus the eye. And press folds are not restricted to trousers: many avant-garde designers have shown how to use press folds to create extraordinary volume all around the body.
A confession: I don’t own an iron. Most things I wear as they have dried. And yet I have a fondness for trousers with press folds, which are carefully kept hanging neatly in my wardrobe. There is something perverse about their formality, in abrupt contrast with the rest of my disheveled wardrobe. Appropriately, they get their own special treatment. My press fold pants are never shoved in the washing machine. I may not have my own personal tailor or kind-hearted farmers to press my pants, but I do have a very accomplished dry cleaner.
London-based journalist Charlie Porter is men's fashion critic for the Financial Times. A leading voice in fashion, art and contemporary culture, he has previously worked at Fantastic Man, GQ, The Guardian and The Times, and contributed to titles such as i-D, British Vogue and The Face.