Design, Photography, & Fashion

What Are Pleats? A Comprehensive Guide to Different Pleat Types and How to Wear Pleats

Written by MasterClass

Jun 14, 2019 • 3 min read

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Fashion designers and seamstresses have been using pleats to create volume, texture, and dimension in garments since ancient Egypt. From pleated front trousers to accordion-pleated skirts and dresses, the dynamic folding technique is a staple in fashion today.

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What Are Pleats?

Pleats are a type of fold in fabric that can take on many different looks. A basic pleat is when the fabric is folded back on itself, thereby creating an accordion-like appearance. However, pleats come in many shapes and sizes. Some are evenly folded throughout, while others are all different sizes. Some pleats are ironed and pressed, while others are more fluid. Pleats that are stitched into place are considered tucks, and tucks are generally just used for decoration, as they have no explicit purpose in fashion.

How Are Pleats Used in Fashion?

Pleats are used create volume in a garment. The fabric is gathered or folded together, which creates a fuller silhouette. Pleats not only provide an aesthetic function, they are also practical, as they allow for freedom of movement and airflow within a garment. When sewing pleats, make sure to leave an extra seam allowance at the top, as you’ll need extra room to sew and fold the pleats. You will often need a lot more fabric for a pleated item so make sure to follow the fabric requirements in the sewing pattern carefully.

10 Common Types of Pleats

  1. Accordion pleats: This type of pleats can also sometimes be called “knife pleats,” “sunburst pleats”, or “fan pleats,” and they are a form of tight pleating where the fabric is evenly folded throughout. Accordion pleats are generally used in skirts to give fullness, and the pleats form a zig-zag design at the hem.
  2. Box pleats: Box pleats are popular for skirts adding shape to the waistline. A box pleat is achieved by folding two lengths of fabric away from each other in opposite directions, meeting them in the middle of the backside of the fold. A standard men’s shirt has a single box pleat at the back, in the center of the neckline.
  3. Kick pleats: Kick pleats are also ideal for A-line skirts as they allow some movement and flexibility in the narrow shape. They are inverted pleats, usually at the back, that lend a little fullness to the garment.
  4. Rolled pleats: Rolled pleats use a great deal of fabric and they create tubular pleats and a bulky seam. The fabric is rolled to form a tube throughout the length of the fabric giving the item a lot of extra body and volume.
  5. Forward pleats: Forward pleats are used in dress pants and khakis as a way to create more dimension and shape at the front of the legs. Forward pleats are specifically ones that open toward the pants’ zipper, while pleats that open toward the pockets are called reverse pleats. These were popular around World War II, but a fabric shortage required pants to be manufactured with a flat front, i.e. no pleats. For example, most jeans today have a flat front.
  6. Cartridge pleats: Cartridge pleats are most often used for skirts or sleeves to create a voluptuous fabric without making the seam bulky. Instead of folding the fabric, the fabric is gathered by creating two loose rows of stitches and pulling the thread to gather the fabric. This creates narrow pleats used for puffy sleeves and bell-shaped skirts.
  7. Honeycomb pleats: Honeycomb pleats are folds in the fabric that create a honeycomb-like pattern, and this technique is usually used for smocking, which is an embroidery technique to create designs on pleated fabric. This is usually for decorative purposes on necklines and cuffs.
  8. Organ pleats: Organ pleats resemble a pipe organ with the evenly rolling nature of these rounded pleats, which are most often used for skirts and dresses.
  9. Plissé pleats: Plissé pleats are gathered like cartridge pleats and then wet and dried under weight or pressure to creating flat, narrow pleats.
  10. Kingussie pleats: These pleats are named for a town in Scotland because they are often used in Scottish kilts. Kingussie pleats start with a box pleat and then knife pleats fan out on either side, usually on the back of the kilt.

Learn more about fashion design in Marc Jacobs’s MasterClass.