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20. April 2018

The Mad Tailor: Trouser length


Maximilian Mogg

Today’s episode of The Mad Tailor will focus on trouser length. There is perhaps no more urgent topic given the floods that plague Instagram daily. My intention with this article is, first, to shed some light on the topic and then I will provide my personal opinion.

Underwear should not be seen

One of the basic rules of classic menswear is: underwear should not be seen. As such, for example, jackets should not be removed in the evening, unless one’s host has given express permission – a dress shirt is considered underwear. NB.: Beside aesthetic considerations, this is the reason why no part of one’s shirt should be visible below the button of one’s jacket. The same logic applies to trousers and socks. Nobody is particularly interested in seeing your socks. The back of one’s trousers should, therefore, extend in a straight line to the middle of the heel of one’s shoe. (To gentlemen hoping to avoid having fabric bunch up on their shoes, I recommend cutting the hem of their trousers at an angle. This is called a military cuff.) The same logic applies to trousers with turn-ups – ideally only worn on trousers with pleats. Trousers with turn-ups should not be shorter than trousers with straight hems. Finally, the narrower one’s trouser leg is, the more willing one should be to deviate from standard length to ensure the trousers will still fall straight.

Tommy Nutter knew how to create long legs!

Why wear shorter trousers?

All of that being said, it is not entirely wrong from a historical and practical perspective to wear trousers with turn-ups slightly shorter. The expression ‘turn-up’ comes from ‘turning the hem of one’s trousers up’. This served, for example, to protect them from inclement weather. This trend was started by Edward VII, who requested that this tailor make his trousers with an integrated turn-up as he did not want to have to roll up his trousers in bad weather. Following this logic, a pair of trousers with a five-centimetre turn-up would be worn five centimetres shorter than standard length (the same applies of course to any other length of turn-up). Turn-ups, therefore, are not formal and are best paired with heavy flannels, tweed, etc..

Short, yet still “correct” length.

On visual advantages

There are those who argue that there are certain advantages to shorter trousers. Some gentlemen say that they elongate one’s silhouette. I cannot confirm this hypothesis. Personally, I find that high-rise trousers and long narrow lines stretch silhouettes, whereas shortened lines give the appearance of no longer fitting correctly. There is another motive one might commonly hear. Namely, a desire to show off one’s shoe. I consider this affected and boastful.

Personal opinion: Break is a sign of luxury

I associate cropped, overly slim trousers with an extreme Pitti-Peacock style. “I want to show off my socks, shoes, and trousers, so that everyone knows that I have style”. Furthermore, as I like to conceal my slim legs with wide-fitting trousers (a positive side-effect of this is how comfortable it is), cropped trousers end up fluttering strangely at the hem. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I recall being told by a friend in London that overly short trousers worn with turn-ups were characteristic of those who wanted to save on material in times of austerity. For me, therefore, a pair of trousers worn to the middle of the heel with high turn-ups and full break is a sign both of understatement and of subtle luxury. Now that you have my view on the matter, I encourage my readers to experiment and find what works best for them.

From left to right. 1. Classic length. 2. Correct, if though a little too loud imho. Korrekt, wenn auch für meinen Begriff ein wenig laut. 3. Go Home, Trousers! You are drunk!

Further information

First, just before World War II, turn-ups and flap pockets were forbidden to save on material. Second, turn-ups allow trousers to fall better as the hem is weighted and thus always one’s trousers fall back into shape more willingly. One can achieve a similar effect on trousers without turn-ups by simply leaving enough fabric at the hem to achieve the necessary weight. MM/DC