Ask Belle: Going to Great Lengths
Jan 12, 2010
Yesterday, my co-worker (who reads your blog) told me that my pants are too short because you could see sock when I was sitting down. Being a guy, I don’t normally care about these things but this seems like a structural question not a style one. Can you help me sort this out?
Determining the proper length for men’s pants (and women’s) is truly one of the great style questions of our time. On the one hand, you don’t want your pants to drag on the ground. And on the other hand, no one wants to be seen wearing high-waders. After all, this is the U.S. Capitol not a clam bake in Cape Cod.
Perfectly hemmed pants should touch the top of your shoe and break just slightly at the ankle. If that definition means nothing to you, let’s try visual aids.
See how the right pant leg bends inward at the ankle? That is a break. Pants should ALWAYS break. If you sometimes wear shoes of different heights (Oxfords vs. cowboy boots, for example), you’ll need to do a little math to get the most mileage out of your pants.
First, figure out the difference in the heel height (tall shoe – short shoe = difference between shoes). Then divide by two to figure out the happy medium between the two heights.
If this equation yields a number between .75″ and 1.5″, you should buy pants that are a little longer than usual. So if you are traditionally a 32 x 32, you should buy 32 x 34. Then have the pants hemmed to bridge the gap between the two heel heights.
As a result, when wearing the shorter shoes, the break should be a little deeper, but the back should not touch the ground. And when you are wearing the taller shoes, the pants should have only the slightest break but hang long enough that you aren’t venturing into faux pas territory. A good tailor should be able to help you figure this out if it seems like too much work.
For ladies, I recommend that the front of your pants skim the top of your shoe with a slight break. This will eliminate unattractive pooling at the bottom and give you a clean leg line. However, this does mean that you will need to have two pairs of suit pants, one for flats and one for high heels, if you switch heel heights often. Yes, this is a bit of a pain, but since it eliminates unsightly frayed hems it saves you money in the long run.
Finding pants that are the correct length can be a challenge, but nothing looks worse than pants that are too short or dragging on the ground. In this case, the effort (and the money spent on the tailor) is worth it. And if you need more information on how to buy pants for men, see this comprehensive guide from ShopWiki.