What are slacks? A comprehensive guide for gentlemen

What are slacks? A comprehensive guide for gentlemen

Slacks and dress pants are two of the most popular types of men’s trousers, and they are available in different styles and colours while offering a high level of versatility. Slack was derived from the Saxon word slak used to describe things that were not tight, such as the loose end of a rope or a sail. So, what are slacks?

Slacks of different colours and designs
Slacks are versatile and stylish pants that bridge the gap between formal and casual wear. Photo: @tonyslacks (modified by author)
Source: UGC


Slacks are men’s trousers characterized by a loose-fitted construction. They are mainly worn with matching blazers, nice shirts, or comfortable tees. Slack pants are usually made of wool, which makes them lightweight. They have a straight cut and a crease down the front of each leg. So, what does it mean to wear slacks?

Origin of slacks

Why were trousers called slacks? Slacks evolved from the early forms of trousers worn by men in the 19th century. They were initially wide-legged, often high-waisted, and accompanied by frock coats or tailcoats before they evolved to become the sleek and tailored pants in style today. These timeless and versatile wardrobe staples have evolved far beyond their formal origins, becoming essential to contemporary fashion.

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What are slacks?

They are versatile and stylish pants that bridge the gap between formal and casual wear. They are characterized by a more relaxed fit compared to dress pants, offering a balance between sophistication and ease of movement. They are worn from the waist to the ankles and cover each leg separately.

What kind of pants are slacks?

These pants are mostly made of cotton and wool, which significantly influences their overall aesthetic and feel. Their allure lies not just in their design but also in the fabrics that grace them.

Also, they effortlessly adapt to different settings, such as business meetings, casual outings, or semi-formal formal events, making them a must-have in any man’s wardrobe. Understanding when and how to incorporate them into your wardrobe ensures you are always dressed appropriately.

Close-up of a man in black formal shirt and gray long slack
Slack pants are usually made of wool, which makes them lightweight. Photo by 9Air
Source: Getty Images

Slacks vs dress pants

Slacks and dress pants are often used interchangeably but have subtle differences. Slacks tend to have a dressier, more tailored appearance than any other formal pants. From humble beginnings to haute couture runways, slacks pants have weathered the ever-changing winds of style, emerging as a symbol of sophistication and versatility.

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Below are the differences between dress pants and slacks, shedding light on their materials, fit, construction, formality and design. While both outfits belong to the trouser family, they cater to varying degrees of formality and style preferences.

  • Formality: Slacks lean more towards semi-formal occasions and everyday wear. Dress pants are ideal in formal settings.
  • Construction: Slacks feature a more relaxed construction with minimal tailoring, emphasizing comfort with a looser fit. Dress pants feature a more structured construction with precise tailoring and attention to detail.
  • Materials: Slacks use wool blends or flannel to enhance comfort and versatility. Dress pants are made from premium materials like cotton, wool or polyester to improve durability and a luxurious feel.
  • Design: Slacks have simple designs with minimal embellishments, while dress pants have intricate design elements, enhancing their formal aesthetic and sophistication.
  • Fit and silhouette: Slacks feature a looser fit, providing ease of movement and a relaxed silhouette. Dress pants feature a slim design that hugs the thigh to match the tailored silhouette of a formal suit, creating a sleek, polished appearance.

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Chinos vs khakis: Key differences and top styling tips for men

A man in grey slacks and brown belt
Slacks are a versatile and essential piece of clothing that can be dressed up or down for various occasions. Photo by MykolaSenyuk
Source: Getty Images

Chinos vs slacks

Slacks and chinos are different. Chinos are often made in a more casual style than slacks, fall between formal and casual pants, and can easily be dressed up or down. Chinos are defined by their flat-front construction, and they taper down to the ankle for a modern, sleek look.

Slacks vs khakis

Khakis are typically made from heavy cotton canvas and have a boxy, loose cut. Most slacks have a tighter fit, come in various colours, and are dressier than khakis. Also, slacks are commonly worn as a formal option for casual wear, while khakis are associated with casual wear.

Types of slacks

There are four different types of slacks, and choosing between them comes down to a combination of your body type and style. These include:

1. Tapered slacks

These pants have a straight leg from the waist to the knee and then taper slightly to the hem, giving a more tailored, fitted silhouette. Due to extra room in the seat and thigh area, they are ideal for an athletic fit.

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2. Straight leg slacks

The pants run in a straight, narrow line from the waist to the hem and do not taper towards your ankles. They are ideal for every body type.  

A man in black slacks
Slacks are commonly worn as a formal option for casual wear. Photo by Airdone
Source: Getty Images

3. Wide leg slacks

These pants have wide legs, resembling the original form of slacks. They are less formal and have extra room in the seat and legs.

4. Pleated slacks

These pants feature a series of vertical folds at the waist. They make the waist area look slim while allowing for extra room in the pant legs.

Are slacks dress pants?

Slacks are a versatile and essential piece of clothing that can be dressed up or down for various occasions. Unlike dress pants, slacks are not tight or elastic.

What colour are slacks?

Slacks are available in various colours, such as navy, grey, khaki, and beige. They also come in different patterns, such as plaid and check, to suit different occasions, personal preferences, occasions, and seasons.

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What are slacks called in the UK?

In the UK, slacks are called trousers. They are clothing worn from the waist to between the knees and the ankles, covering both legs separately.

What do you wear with slacks?

You can match a custom-tailored casual shirt with the same colour slacks for a unique, modern appearance. You can also pair it with a blazer for a formal look. Add some fashionable sneakers or loafers to complete the ensemble.

slacks for men
Slacks feature a looser fit, providing ease of movement and a relaxed silhouette. Photo: @tonyslacks (modified by author)
Source: UGC

Is slacks a formal attire?

Slacks are naturally casual and are always more casual than dress pants. However, you can still wear slacks in semi-formal outfits.

What are slacks? Above is a comprehensive guide for gentlemen on slack styling tips. These pants stand as a testament to the evolution of fashion, seamlessly blending formality with versatility.

READ ALSO: How to choose suit colours: a guide for picking the perfect shade

Briefly.co.za recently published an article on choosing suit colours. Suits are evergreen but fashionable pieces that create the most elegant and stylish looks for men. Although most men believe they only need a particular shade, the reality dictates that there is a suit for every occasion. Here is a guide for picking the perfect shade.

Source: Briefly News

Bennett Yates avatar

Bennett Yates (Lifestyle writer) Bennett Yates is a content creator with over five years of working experience in journalism and copywriting. He graduated from the University of Nairobi (2017) with a Bachelor's in Information Technology. In 2023, Bennett finished the AFP course on Digital Investigation Techniques. He started working for Briefly in 2019. You can reach him via email at bennetyates@gmail.com.

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