Should I Cuff My Trousers?
Cuffs (called turnups by the Brits) are a curious phenomenon. They seem to have emerged from country clothing - an innovation to keep one’s trousers out of the much and mire. They grew popular, though, for entirely different reasons. Cuffs add a bit of visual interest to the end of your trousers, but perhaps most importantly they also add some physical weight, which helps your pants hang attractively. They even help your trousers hold their crease.
To Cuff Or Not To Cuff?
So: should you cuff your pants? It’s really a matter of personal choice. The traditional answer is that cuffs go with pleated trousers, and plain hems with flat fronts. To some extent, that’s true. I think a pleated pant really cries out for cuffs. The American traditionalists, though, have long cuffed their flat-front pants. I say cuff pleated trousers, and decide whether to cuff flat-fronts based on personal taste.
What Should I Cuff? When Should I Cuff?
There’s also the matter of formality and aesthetics. A cuffless pant is generally more modern and sleeker. A cuffed pant is more traditional and a bit fuddy-duddy. (That gets mixed up a bit when the avant-gardists are also pseudo-traditionalists, like Thom Browne.) Thanks in no small part to Mr. Browne, fashion has swung towards cuffs. I personally prefer cuffs - for the weight and visual reasons listed above - so I’m happy with that turn of events. I’d just caution against cuffs on casual pants. They fit on what Derek has called “dress chinos,” but on run-of-the-mill chinos, they look out of place.
What’s Height Got To Do With It?
Traditionally, alterationists have advised taller men to wear cuffs, and shorter ones to avoid them. I’d say that while shorter men might do well to avoid a large break when they’re chosing their trouser length, they should feel fine wearing cuffs. Traditionally, cuffs are worn with at least a small break, but recent fashion has allowed for cuffs worn without break. Our friend MistahWong, pictured above, is 5’7” and wears breakless two inch cuffs as a matter of course. He always looks great.
How Big Should My Cuffs Be?
If you chose cuffs, what size should they be? The boldest fashion-y types are proclaiming to the world their two inch cuffs. I’m fine with that (I like cuffs, after all), but two inches is really a sign around your ankles that says “I AM TRENDY, SEE?” If you’re cool with that, I won’t stop you from wearing two inchers.
Traditionally, the size of the cuff is determined by the size of the man. This is reasonable, I think. I personally wear 1 3/4” cuffs, and I’m a long-legged 6’3”. I think they look strong but not outrageous. 1 1/2” is also a very reasonable choice. I’m not personally a huge fan of cuffs smaller than that, but it’s your choice - some choose 1 1/4” cuffs. Look and see what looks like it fits your body and your sensibilities. After all, the very short (and very sharply dressed) Matthew Fan wears two inchers, and he looks great, but he’s self-assured enough to carry off a statement.
So, Let’s Summarize!
Cuffs are a personal choice.
I prefer cuffs on pleated trousers - they help the trouser hang better. On flat fronts, it’s your call.
Don’t cuff your most casual pants.
Shorter men should be careful not to wear their pants too long, but shouldn’t worry too much about wearing cuffs.
There was a time when all cuffed pants had a full break; that’s no longer requisite.
2” is huge, 1 3/4” is big, 1 1/2” is moderate, 1 1/4” is small. Wear what looks and feels right.
Photo: Most Exerent

Should I Cuff My Trousers?

Cuffs (called turnups by the Brits) are a curious phenomenon. They seem to have emerged from country clothing - an innovation to keep one’s trousers out of the much and mire. They grew popular, though, for entirely different reasons. Cuffs add a bit of visual interest to the end of your trousers, but perhaps most importantly they also add some physical weight, which helps your pants hang attractively. They even help your trousers hold their crease.

To Cuff Or Not To Cuff?

So: should you cuff your pants? It’s really a matter of personal choice. The traditional answer is that cuffs go with pleated trousers, and plain hems with flat fronts. To some extent, that’s true. I think a pleated pant really cries out for cuffs. The American traditionalists, though, have long cuffed their flat-front pants. I say cuff pleated trousers, and decide whether to cuff flat-fronts based on personal taste.

What Should I Cuff? When Should I Cuff?

There’s also the matter of formality and aesthetics. A cuffless pant is generally more modern and sleeker. A cuffed pant is more traditional and a bit fuddy-duddy. (That gets mixed up a bit when the avant-gardists are also pseudo-traditionalists, like Thom Browne.) Thanks in no small part to Mr. Browne, fashion has swung towards cuffs. I personally prefer cuffs - for the weight and visual reasons listed above - so I’m happy with that turn of events. I’d just caution against cuffs on casual pants. They fit on what Derek has called “dress chinos,” but on run-of-the-mill chinos, they look out of place.

What’s Height Got To Do With It?

Traditionally, alterationists have advised taller men to wear cuffs, and shorter ones to avoid them. I’d say that while shorter men might do well to avoid a large break when they’re chosing their trouser length, they should feel fine wearing cuffs. Traditionally, cuffs are worn with at least a small break, but recent fashion has allowed for cuffs worn without break. Our friend MistahWong, pictured above, is 5’7” and wears breakless two inch cuffs as a matter of course. He always looks great.

How Big Should My Cuffs Be?

If you chose cuffs, what size should they be? The boldest fashion-y types are proclaiming to the world their two inch cuffs. I’m fine with that (I like cuffs, after all), but two inches is really a sign around your ankles that says “I AM TRENDY, SEE?” If you’re cool with that, I won’t stop you from wearing two inchers.

Traditionally, the size of the cuff is determined by the size of the man. This is reasonable, I think. I personally wear 1 3/4” cuffs, and I’m a long-legged 6’3”. I think they look strong but not outrageous. 1 1/2” is also a very reasonable choice. I’m not personally a huge fan of cuffs smaller than that, but it’s your choice - some choose 1 1/4” cuffs. Look and see what looks like it fits your body and your sensibilities. After all, the very short (and very sharply dressed) Matthew Fan wears two inchers, and he looks great, but he’s self-assured enough to carry off a statement.

So, Let’s Summarize!

  • Cuffs are a personal choice.
  • I prefer cuffs on pleated trousers - they help the trouser hang better. On flat fronts, it’s your call.
  • Don’t cuff your most casual pants.
  • Shorter men should be careful not to wear their pants too long, but shouldn’t worry too much about wearing cuffs.
  • There was a time when all cuffed pants had a full break; that’s no longer requisite.
  • 2” is huge, 1 3/4” is big, 1 1/2” is moderate, 1 1/4” is small. Wear what looks and feels right.

Photo: Most Exerent

Luciano Barbera says this is the perfect cuff. Who are we to disagree?

Luciano Barbera says this is the perfect cuff. Who are we to disagree?

A couple people have sent me this amazing video of Cab Calloway performing “The Jumpin’ Jive” in the film Stormy Weather (1943).  If the Hi De Ho Man isn’t enough for you, the dancing, by the Nicholas Brothers, will explode your mind.  And all performed in proper evening wear.

I love the way these pants move - fabrics were much heavier, on the whole, in days of yore, and the drape that comes from the combination of those fabrics, high waists, and well-placed pleats and cuffs is spectacular.

I’d also heartily recommend that you check out Fayard Nicholas watching and commenting on the video, which you can check out here.

Q and Answer: How much should my pants break?
Darren writes: When you write about pants slacking due to excess fabric, how should  they be tailored?  I have some shoes that fall lower on the ankle than  do others, so I am wondering if there is a certain point on my leg where  my pant leg should rest or should it be based on a standard type of  dress shoe?
It’s exceedingly important to wear the type of shoes you’ll be wearing with your pants when your tailor is fitting you.  If you don’t, and if you don’t wear your pantwaist where you intend to do so in real life, everything your tailor does will be guesswork.
Now, how should your pants be finished?  That’s a matter of personal taste.  Here, however, are a few guidelines.
Cuffs or no cuffs?
Casual pants, like chinos, should be finished without cuffs.
Dress pants can usually go either way.  The classic rule is cuffs with pleats, and plain hems with flat-fronts, but that is anything but hard-and fast.  The great advantage of cuffs is that they add weight to the bottom of the pant, which helps them hang straight and true.  This is particularly important if there are pleats, but it’s important if there aren’t pleats as well.
Pants without cuffs are generally seen as cleaner and more “modern.”  This is not to say that cuffs are old-fashioned, but leaving them off gives a more stripped-down appearance.  Cuffs have their origins in sports and outdoorwear, but they’re also generally considered (at least in the US) more formal than plain hems.
I personally prefer cuffs whenever they’re appropriate, and like my cuffs big.  I’m tall, and I find that at less than 1 3/4”, my cuffs look weirdly small.  I often wear 2” cuffs, which are, frankly, a bit exaggerated.  Some shorter men believe that cuffs, by breaking the vertical line, make them appear shorter, but some look great even with large cuffs.  Certainly, though, be aware of proportion.
How long should my pants be?
Length is very much a personal preference.  The influence of Thom Browne’s exaggeratedly shrunken styles has led pants in a shorter direction the past five years or so, towards no-break and even high-water pants, particularly in summer and in casual trousers.  That said, if you prefer a break, you won’t be seen as curmudgeonly or out-of-touch while the too-long pants scourge continues to afflict most American men.  The picture above is a classic medium break - I’d hesitate to go past this, but if this is your preference, you’ll look great.
For uncuffed pants, I tend to err a little bit on the shorter side, with only a slight break or even no break at all.  Typically, a fuller pant will call for at least a bit of break, while a narrower pant will look good with less.  I also usually ask my tailor to put a little bit of slant in the hem - to make the pants a bit longer in the back than on the front.  This gives me a bit more coverage without making my pants bag.  Many quality pants also come with a bit of same-color fabric “tape” which can be sewn into the hem to lend it a little heft.  By all means have your tailor do so.

Q and Answer: How much should my pants break?

Darren writes: When you write about pants slacking due to excess fabric, how should they be tailored?  I have some shoes that fall lower on the ankle than do others, so I am wondering if there is a certain point on my leg where my pant leg should rest or should it be based on a standard type of dress shoe?

It’s exceedingly important to wear the type of shoes you’ll be wearing with your pants when your tailor is fitting you.  If you don’t, and if you don’t wear your pantwaist where you intend to do so in real life, everything your tailor does will be guesswork.

Now, how should your pants be finished?  That’s a matter of personal taste.  Here, however, are a few guidelines.

Cuffs or no cuffs?

Casual pants, like chinos, should be finished without cuffs.

Dress pants can usually go either way.  The classic rule is cuffs with pleats, and plain hems with flat-fronts, but that is anything but hard-and fast.  The great advantage of cuffs is that they add weight to the bottom of the pant, which helps them hang straight and true.  This is particularly important if there are pleats, but it’s important if there aren’t pleats as well.

Pants without cuffs are generally seen as cleaner and more “modern.”  This is not to say that cuffs are old-fashioned, but leaving them off gives a more stripped-down appearance.  Cuffs have their origins in sports and outdoorwear, but they’re also generally considered (at least in the US) more formal than plain hems.

I personally prefer cuffs whenever they’re appropriate, and like my cuffs big.  I’m tall, and I find that at less than 1 3/4”, my cuffs look weirdly small.  I often wear 2” cuffs, which are, frankly, a bit exaggerated.  Some shorter men believe that cuffs, by breaking the vertical line, make them appear shorter, but some look great even with large cuffs.  Certainly, though, be aware of proportion.

How long should my pants be?

Length is very much a personal preference.  The influence of Thom Browne’s exaggeratedly shrunken styles has led pants in a shorter direction the past five years or so, towards no-break and even high-water pants, particularly in summer and in casual trousers.  That said, if you prefer a break, you won’t be seen as curmudgeonly or out-of-touch while the too-long pants scourge continues to afflict most American men.  The picture above is a classic medium break - I’d hesitate to go past this, but if this is your preference, you’ll look great.

For uncuffed pants, I tend to err a little bit on the shorter side, with only a slight break or even no break at all.  Typically, a fuller pant will call for at least a bit of break, while a narrower pant will look good with less.  I also usually ask my tailor to put a little bit of slant in the hem - to make the pants a bit longer in the back than on the front.  This gives me a bit more coverage without making my pants bag.  Many quality pants also come with a bit of same-color fabric “tape” which can be sewn into the hem to lend it a little heft.  By all means have your tailor do so.