Ask Belle: Going to Great Lengths

Jan 12, 2010

Dear Belle-

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?

MJL

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.

 

Wrong.

Right.

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

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  1. Galway Lad says:

    Our trousers are supposed to drag our shoe tops? Is this one of those things I’m going to have to adapt to living in America or am I allowed latitude as an Irishman?

  2. Galway Lad says:

    Our trousers are supposed to drag our shoe tops? Is this one of those things I’m going to have to adapt to living in America or am I allowed latitude as an Irishman?

  3. Former Army Chick says:

    I was in the military. The military (obviously) does not care for fashion…but God help you if your dress pants didn’t have a break! Some things you just don’t do in any society.

  4. Brotha Bear says:

    I dont think dress pants need a break. I think they should touch just above the point of a break. Isn’t that the whole point of wearing nice socks?

  5. Belle says:

    *swoon*

    They MUST HAVE a break.

    Nice socks are for when you sit and some sock shows. Or for when you have to take off your shoes at security.

    (I need to pick myself up off of the floor now.)

  6. Ms. B says:

    They have a tendency to hem your Dad’s too short at Nordstrom. But, don’t tell him I told you. The men’s department is so awesome, they can do no wrong…ya know

  7. Galway Lad says:

    Our trousers are supposed to drag our shoe tops? Is this one of those things I’m going to have to adapt to living in America or am I allowed latitude as an Irishman?

  8. Belle says:

    Galway Lad-

    Depends on whether you ply me with whiskey to overlook it.

  9. pqresident says:

    frankly, I am not a big fan of the break and have gotten into arguments with tailors about it. they say more break…I say less break. they say "I take it in 1 inch" and I say "you take it in 2 inches." when standing I think the leg should barely, barely bend…not break and flop around. but that’s another post I suppose…seeing the youngsters with their pant hems so low that the rear/heel side touches the ground.

  10. pqresident says:

    all that said, another great post, Belle.

  11. Belle says:

    Whether you like a little break or a lot, you need some.

  12. District Cut says:

    I agree with pqresident. Less is more, in my opinion. I also think it is a clear divide between Europeans and Americans, the break. Europeans usually prefer less break–maybe with the exception of England–while Americans are traditionally big on the break. But great post Belle. Thanks for starting the conversation.

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