Trousers lengths and hems are creeping up the leg faster than Christmas is coming. In recent years, we’ve seen the length of a man’s trouser getting increasingly cropped and even rolled at the hem as we shun the standard suit pant length.
Seen as a moniker of personal style (instead of an adherence to dress codes), the correct trouser length tends to be more of an afterthought when selecting a suit for most when priority often falls to jacket fit or sleeve length.
So, what actually is the correct trouser length you should be wearing?
“Although there is some room for personal preferences with the length of your trousers, there shouldn’t be too much deviation from the gold standard: trousers that “break” just over the top of your shoe,” says Nick Sangster, tailor and co-founder of the Afternoon.
“Essentially, a trouser break breathes character into what can otherwise be a beautiful, but plain, pair of trousers.”
Tripping over the rules pertaining to trouser length? Here’s what you need to know about the breaks, cuffs and hems to step up your trouser game.
Determining The Trouser Break
The trouser break is the fold or crease of fabric above the bottom of the front of the trouser leg. Essentially, it’s where the hem ‘breaks’ or meets the shoe.
“Almost like a kink in the trouser leg when standing upright,” explains Sangster. The break signifies proper pant length. And, this season, having a trouser break is the best portrayal a man’s ability to dress well.
“The trousers shouldn’t rise too high up the calve when sitting down, and when standing up, you shouldn’t be able to see any of the sock or crop any of your shoe (when wearing a low-cut shoe),” insists Sangster. “That way, you don’t detract from either the trouser or the shoes.”
Formal Vs. Casual Trouser Length
While the break is crucial for traditional trousers, there is plenty of room to adjust the break to suit your own style. But first, consider this: how formal is occasion is that you’re going to attend? And, how fashion-y do you want to appear?
“Overall, it’s important to avoid the dreaded sack-suit look, where the trouser drags at the heals, or the very high-cut leg, which some might consider inappropriate for a formal suit,” says Sangster.
“However, the aforementioned really only applies to a formal trouser if you want to stick by the rules.” So, when rocking a more casual trouser, there is plenty of room to have a higher cut.
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Formal Trouser Break
For most corporate offices, semi-formal and formal events (black tie) — where a sharp suit and nice leather dress shoes are essential – a slight to medium trouser break should be incorporated into the leg.
“Men should aspire for a subtle break over the top of their shoe with formal trousers,” says Sangster.
Avoid full breaks in today’s fashion arena, as well as no breaks — the latter can undo all that hard work you put into a sophisticated tux, and appear cheap instead, with a cropped trouser.
If the dress code is unclear, stick to your traditional guns. “A subtle break, as a general standard, should be your guide in almost all scenarios.”
Casual Tailoring Trouser Break
The formal rules of style may not always work with casual tailoring. Still big this season, casual trousers — from linen pants to chinos and jeans — come available short or cropped.
“Shorter cuts are often styled with casual sneakers and shirts,” says Sangster. “We see more and more men opting for casual trousers, hemmed around one and half inches above the cuff of the shoe, paired with casual shirting and slim low profile sneakers.”
And, it’s really a case of do whatever you want to achieve a particular high-low look.
Cuffs Vs. Straight Hem Trousers
Trouser turn-ups or cuffs are a great touch to casual styles (think chinos and linen) but they’re not fit for formal wear, as general rule.
As a rule, flat fronts — the more formal style of pant — should have no cuffs (think gents on the Continent), single-pleated pants are deemed versatile, and two pleats should always have cuff (British mid-century).
But again, do your research. Formal events are increasingly laid back nowadays, which is crowning the the cuffed hem king this season, regardless of pant type.
“We are seeing a lot of cuffed or ‘turn up’ hems this season,” says Sangster. “While there doesn’t really appear to be a strong trend toward cuffed hems, we have definitely noticed an increase in men enquiring about turn up hems.”
Trouser Alteration Rules
If you’ve got a new pair of trousers that need hemming or a favourite pair of trousers that are too long, getting the length — and the stitch — right, is important. The key? Blind hemming.
“There’s nothing worse than being able to see the hem of the trouser. If you’re uncertain of the length, ask your tailor to retain as much excess fabric as possible, just in case the hem needs to be taken back down again.
The other word of caution when altering: wear low-cut shoes, not high-cut boots.
“When the trousers are fitted and the boots are on, the trousers look great. As soon as men switch in a pair of low-cut shoes, the cut of the trousers is too high and looks awkward,” says Sangster.
“As a rule, never wear a pair of boots when getting fitted unless you intend to only wear the trousers with boots.”
Wide Leg Trouser Length
A relaxing of the iconic slim-fit trouser – thanks to the Japanese and British mid-century designers – has seen a push for roomier fit trousers, in a wide-leg.
“Men seem to be enjoying the opportunity to wear comfortable trousers that are versatile with street wear,” says Sangster. But keep the length short, to pack a style punch, avoid your shoe being swallowed up.
“The wide-leg trouser is, indeed, a trend, and should be purchased only after you have a invested in a trouser with a regular break.
“Have your wardrobe staples in order before getting too experimental: it’s better to purchase a piece of clothing that’s versatile with many looks,” adds Sangster. “Not a pair of trousers that only work in limited circumstances.”