When purchasing pants, there’s so much a man needs to consider that whether or not they have cuffs tends to fall relatively low on the list. In fact, cuffed pants or those with an ordinary bottom should be foremost on your mind when looking to adorn your legs, as they alter the entire appearance of your trousers, for good or ill.
Cuffed Pants Defined
All slacks of every kind have a hem at the bottom, but cuffs are another beast entirely. A cuffed pant leg is one that has a notable portion at the end that is turned up and then often stitched in place at the seams, creating a fabric layer around the foot opening of the pants.
The purpose of cuffed pants are to help defend against damage, fraying, wetness, mud, dirt, and general wear and tear. They date back to the early part of the 20th century when they were adopted as a standard of class.
The Purpose of Wearing Cuffed Pants
Though the original intent of the cuff was purely functional, it has since been co-opted as a mark of quality and fashion forward dress. Bespoke tailors commonly add cuffs to their suits and trousers since they are constructing garments of higher quality than you would find when shopping off the rack.
When you want to add an air of style, professionalism, and class to your attire, then cuffed pants are a necessity. They alter the appearance of height and add a dressy cut to any pants. Even jeans with a cuff are considered to be more formal than those worn without.
Tuxedos and Cuffs
The one addendum to wearing cuffed pants is when donning a tuxedo. Though a tux is the height of masculine attire, a cuff detracts from the smooth, fitted lines intended in the case of a black tie piece of clothing. Therefore your tuxedo should never have cuffs on the pants.
How Big a Cuff
Determining how large the cuff of your pants should be is actually fairly formulaic. Standard cuffs for men of average height or below – that is to say 5’9” or less – is 1.5 inches. Taller men will want a cuff that is 1.75 inches, since they are going to naturally have a longer leg.
A Note on Cuffs and Height
The shorter a man is, or the more he wishes to accentuate his height, the less cuff he should have. A cuff shortens the appearance of a pant leg by making it appear to end sooner than it does by reducing the length of the seam line. Men seeking to make themselves appear taller would do well to avoid cuffed pants, or reduce the cuff to a scant 1.25 inches, rather than the standard 1.5.
Cuffs and Pleats
In order to determine whether or not a pair of pants should have a cuff, counting pleats is a good way to go. Here’s the basic rules when it comes to pleated and flat-front pants.
- Dual pleated pants should always have cuffs.
- Single pleated pants can be worn with or without cuffs.
- Flat-front or no-pleat pants should not be worn with cuffs.
Most tailors will follow these guidelines. The reason for them is simple: cuffs and pleats are from different wardrobe schools. Flat-fronted pants are continental European while cuffs are generally an item favored by the Anglo, English-speaking world; namely the United States and the United Kingdom. Combining the two styles often causes incompatibility and a mismatched appearance.
Wearing a Cuff with a Flat-Front Pant
Though the rule says that cuffs shouldn’t be worn with flat-front pants, and traditional tailors will advise to remove the cuffs when choosing pants without pleats, that rule doesn’t apply to full suits. Since a suit changes the overall look of a man’s frame, and you want to add as much dressiness as possible when putting on semi-formal attire, cuffs can easily be combined with flat-front trousers so long as they are part of a suit ensemble.
The one key to helping make the European pant front fit with the Anglo cuff is to ensure the rest of the suit parts are completely traditional and fit extremely well. Since you’re mixing styles on the bottom, don’t try to add flourish up top lest you look a mess.
Advice On Suits and Cuffs
Standard logic of haute couture dictates that a suit should always bear cuffed pants, because they increase the decorous nature of the outfit. The basic rule to use is that the more you wish to appear polite, precise, and proper, the more a cuff should be part of your wardrobe. A double-breasted suit should almost never be without cuffed pants, unless you are attempting to emphasize your height.
There are many suits that look marvelous without a cuff, and fit in perfectly well at any gathering, so long as it isn’t exclusively black tie. If you choose to wear a suit without a cuff, you will want your slacks to be slightly slanted so the back side rests just above the heel. The front should have a slight break over the top of the shoe, also known as a shiver. This is to prevent your socks from showing as you move and to hide the laces of your shoes.
If putting on a pair of twill pants, chinos, or jeans, a cuff tends to be more of an optional accessory than a necessity, since you’re dressing down. If reaching for a more business casual appearance, then adding a cuff to any kind of pants can help display a sense of enhanced style that creates an undercurrent of fashionability beneath the laid back look.
Consider cuffing your pants with a blazer or sport coat and see the different effects it has on your appearance. Always make sure that when cuffing your pants, you have enough fabric to do it properly, and the cuff looks straight, without sloppy seams or frayed thread showing, as those ruin the look.
Shoes To Complement Your Cuffs
Whatever pants you happen to have on, when you pull them into cuffs, you’re going to draw eyes downward, which means you need to have something there to see. Derby shoes, Oxfords, monk straps, cap toes, and wingtips all look smashing beneath a tasteful fold. On the other hand, penny loafers, boat shoes, and many slip-ons can appear too unrefined to make the look land properly.
There’s exceptions to every rule, particularly when it comes to shoes. There’s nothing wrong with a pair of Chuck Taylor’s under some cuffed khakis, but that depends on where you’re going, what you’re doing, and the effect you’re trying to get across.