Should I Cuff My Trousers?

November 12, 2012

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 ¾" cuffs, and I’m a long-legged 6’3". I think they look strong but not outrageous. 1 ½" 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 ¼" 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 ¾" is big, 1 ½" is moderate, 1 ¼" is small. Wear what looks and feels right.

Photo: Most Exerent