Why US Wool Trousers fit like garbage bags

Many people do not realize that trousers from the 1940’s were cut differently than those made today. They tended to have higher waists, fuller thighs and very unflattering seats. The wartime pants designed for the US Army took these traits to new highs.

Note: This information also applies to the Summer Service Trousers (commonly known as “Khakis”.) They are the same pattern as the wool serge trousers.

The standard issue wool serge trousers were made in two very different cuts. In 1937 the Army began to replace the WWI style breeches with the new straight leg trousers. In short order, complaints were received about the crotch, seat and thighs being too tight. Initially, these were brushed off as the machinations of style conscious young men, but 1” was added to the rise in late 1941. Within a few months (as the Army expanded after war being declared) there were so many complaints that the OQMG (Office of the Quartermaster General) ordered all procurements of wool trousers to cease until pattern adjustments were worked out. In March 1942, the pattern was altered with an additional 2” in the rise, as well as substantial increases in the seat and thighs.

How do I know this? Simple. I’ve been measuring real WWII pants for 20 years and…I read it in a government publication.
See: pages 42-43 “Clothing the Soldier of WWII”, QMC Historical Studies No. 16, by Erna Risch and Thomas Pitkin, September 1946.

The early cut wool trousers may look sharp and accentuate one’s curves rather seductively, but the crotch and thigh seams are very prone to blowing out during even relatively tame physical activity. Simply squatting down often results in a rear fly magically appearing.

The modified trousers, those with contract dates from April 1942 and later, are at the other end of the spectrum. They are definitely not “sexy man pants”. The waist now often reaches the navel, the legs are baggy enough to make a drug mule smile, and the backside appears to be concealing a well loaded diaper.

A comparison from early vs. later pattern pants (Size 38) is:
Rise: 30” vs. 34”
Thigh circumference: 27” vs. 31”

To relate this to modern clothes, I checked a pair of “relaxed fit” jeans: These have a rise of 30″ and a thigh of 30″. The seat was only 1″ smaller than the late cut wool trousers, so the only truly notable difference is the rise.

These are historical FACTS. Another fact is that we copied the originals exactly. I currently have 22 pairs of authentic wool trousers, ranging in size from 30” to 46” waist, and divided up by early and late cut. I have checked and re-checked the sizing tables and our trousers match up to the authentic garments.

Why not make the slim cut? Experience. Since 2001, we had copied the later, baggy cut. Sometime in 2010 or 2011, after some complaints about the unflattering appearance, we did a run of the early pattern pants.

They were an absolute disaster…echos of 1941-42 all over again. 30-40% were returned as “legs/ crotch/ waist too tight”, we were constantly repairing blown out asses and legs, and we caught hell because our pants were “wrong”. But they measured off against the originals dead-on.

Our current wool trousers are again based on the post-March 1942 trousers, with one adjustment from the WWII trouser dimensions. I downsized the patterns to fit modern sizing. Up until about 20 years ago, a “size 36” had a waist measurement of 36 inches. When people began porking out in the 1980’s, garment companies began stretching the truth. Now, the waist on a “size 36″ measures 38”, 39” or maybe even 40”. It’s depressing but true. Don’t believe me? Fine. Get a tape measure and see for yourself.

Therefore, our size 36 trousers are based off original WWII size 38’s and so forth. So, for my photo verification exercise, I have a pair of our reproduction size 36’s compared to original size 38’s since those are the same size by measure.

 

Even a quick glance allows one to see the dramatic difference in the two originals- comely cut slacks on the right, baggy-ass-sh*t-sacks to the left. Our reproductions are actually slightly smaller (3/4″) in the seat and thigh than the original.

Below are the spec labels in the two original trousers to show the contract dates. “Special” simply indicates the presence of the “gas flap” on the fly opening.

Notes:
1. My measurements are in centimeters. FR & RR = Front Rise and Rear Rise. The seat and thigh measures need to be doubled to get the circumference. Divide by 2.54 to get inches.

2. Both “Specials” and “Service” trousers were subject to these pattern changes. I am not sure there were any “Specials” made prior to the changes.

Why did I choose 34″ inseams?  Simplicity. Yes, this is too long for most people-  but they will fit just about anybody aside from NBA players. These have straight legs with tacked cuffs which are the easiest of all trousers to hem.

Perhaps the most important fact is that this trouser design simply sucks. Like M41 Jackets, the wool trousers are a piss poor field garment. The pattern was literally that of dress slacks- the tight cut and lack of double needle interlocked seams doomed these from the day they were issued. Adding a half a bolt of fabric to the pelvic region was stop gap at best.

Customer satisfaction

It’s also a fact that some people don’t like looking as though they’re wearing an adult diaper that’s about to explode. I understand completely. Many don’t realize that the clothing of the 1940’s was not cut the same as today’s garments and this is how they were made in WWII. Not liking the fit does not necessarily mean a reproduction is defective or of poor quality.

The problem with this peculiar world of recreating history is that enthusiasts demand everything to be “just like it was in WWII”- but it often happens that they don’t know what that actually means. Particularly with regard to fit and color customers are very often wrong.

My information does not come from social media, video games, or war movies. My primary source is what most people lack- a room full of originals. I have authentic examples of just about everything, often quite a few of them.  These are supplemented with hundreds of reference books, including some original documentation. Lastly, I am friends with many advanced collectors and authors who are experts in particular fields who I often communicate with to help close any gaps in my own research.

This is what I have done, full time, for 25 years. I work very hard to get things right. Sometimes it seems all I do is measure old clothes and work on sizing tables.

Both our and the original WWII US wool pants fit like garbage bags, but it’s not a mistake. It’s because the US Army Quartermaster designed them that way. And we copied it to save history.