So, you just picked up your first new suit. Something in 100% worsted wool, two or three button (better yet: three-roll-two, the best of both worlds) in navy or charcoal with a nice natural shoulder and canvassed lining (a topic for another day) and matching flat-front trousers. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself having made an educated choice, as you stand in front of the three-way mirror. However, the trousers are long with unfinished bottoms, so the salesman asks you “How do you want the pants hemmed?”, as he readies a piece of chalk to mark the inseam length. You manage to reply, “Uhhh. You know. Just…regular is fine, I think.” At this point, it’s obvious to both of you that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
What he’s really asking you is, “How long do you want your pants? Do you want the hems finished with cuffs or no-cuffs?”
Length is pretty obvious. Do you want a pool of excess fabric around your shoes, Tropical-Storm-Earl-Approved high-waters or something in between? This is referred to as “break.” In general, break is divided into “no break,” “full break” and anything in between, which is usually described in increments of break, like “slight” or “medium.”
When your pants have no break it means the hems of the pant legs are hovering over the tops of the shoes.
A full break means the back of the pant leg hem reaches the top of the heel. The actual break can be seen clearly on the front of the pants above the shoe instep.
Like everything else in fashion, trouser break goes up and down depending on what the latest trend is. Currently, it seems like super-skinny pants hemmed to the ankle (or worse) are all the rage. This is… what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yeah. Dumb. Your socks should never be visible when standing. My personal preference is no break. It provides an uninterrupted line from waist to instep and holds a nice sharp crease. If you wear braces with your suits you have the option of tweaking the break to perfection by adjusting the height at which you wear them. If you wear a belt, make sure you get the pants hemmed when they’re sitting at their eventual resting place. Otherwise, you’ll end up with pants that drag on the floor.
What about cuffs? This seems to be one of the more misunderstood aspects of trousers. There are plenty of “rules” tossed around ranging from restrictions due to the wearer’s height, the number or absence of pleats and/or political affiliations. The most common rule spouted by salesmen and tailors alike is “pleated pants = cuffs, Flat front pants = no cuffs.” I have no idea where these rules come from, but they don’t make a lick of sense. Traditionally, pleats with no cuffs have been worn in England and are considered classic business wear. In the U.S., flat front pants with cuffs are classic American Trad, going back 70 years or so. The only reason I can think of is that, given the current popularity of flat front pants over pleated pants, people are lazy and would rather not do the extra work involved in a hemmed cuff. Bottom line, there are no rules as far as cuffing is concerned but there are some good reasons why you should:
1) Cuffs provide a more “finished” look to your hems. Think of them as the crown molding of trousers. Some people might say that crown molding is “fussy” and a “clean line” is more attractive, but ask any contractor and he’ll tell you that it’s dang hard to finish a joint cleanly enough to look good. Same goes for pant hems.
2) Cuffs add weight to your pant legs. This is very important, especially with more fitted flat front pants. Anyone who has been seated for any amount of time in flat front pants has sported the dreaded “crotch spider:” an array of wrinkles emanating from your strained groinal area. Also, with most suit pants only being lined to the knee, many lighter and/or rougher fabrics tend to get caught on your socks (if you wear “over-the-calf” styles) and ruin the front crease, furthering the rumpled look. The extra folds of fabric in a cuff help pull the pant leg down to smooth out the wrinkles and keep your creases sharp.
3) Cuffs add structure to the leg opening. If you’ve ever had your pants get caught on your instep or heel, you know why that’s important. Cuffs keep the leg opening from catching and present a much sharper appearance.
Obviously, my personal preference is for cuffs. In fact, I cuff all of my pants. The only pants that shouldn’t be cuffed are: black/white tie trousers (tuxedo pants), jeans and any pants that might get stuff caught in the cuffs (like trompsin’-through-the-woods or huntin’ pants). Everything else is fair game: chinos, cords, tweeds, flannel, moleskin, seersucker etc. Keep cuff height proportional to your height. The average is 1.5”. If you’re a little shorter, get them 1.25” high. If you’re taller, go for 1.75”. If you need a place to store extra business cards, go for the full 2”.
The Duke of Windsor says, “Cuffs are the dog’s bollocks!”