In recent years, cuffs, also known as turn-ups, have somewhat fallen out of favor with mainstream men. At the same time, it’s a very classic look that has been around for a long time and will likely also be a part of classic men’s wardrobe for the foreseeable future.
Basically, it is a folded edge at the hem at the bottom and it looks like a turned-up edge that it’s added to the pant leg. Traditionally, a cuff is not cut but simply folded from excess fabric at the bottom hem. Because of that, if you will let out the cuffs, you could always create a longer pair of pants or trousers. When you do that, you usually don’t have enough fabric left to put a cuff back on. In that case, you simply add a faux cuff meaning it is cut separately and then sewn on to give you a little more extra room when you’re short on fabric.
For bespoke trousers or suits, you sometimes also see angled cuffs which is more difficult to do and they are always faux cuffs because you cannot have a continuous piece of fabric with a faux cuff. The benefit of the angled cuff is that you don’t have a break in the front, at the same time, the back part of the trouser leg reaches almost the heel which is very pleasing. You also reveal more of the shoe. On the formality scale, cuffed trousers are always less formal than pants without cuffs.
History Of Turn-Ups
Historically, the origins of cuffs stemmed from a time where you would turn up the bottom hem of your trouser in muddy weather. In 1890, the then Prince of Wales who later became King Edward the seventh introduced the permanent turn-up which was there just for fashion reasons and was not a necessity due to outside weather conditions.
Cuffed pants became the norm for businesswear between the 1890s and the 1940s. During World War II, there was a fabric shortage and so it was decided to forego the cuff or the turn-up so you could save on a fabric and create more garments instead.
Ever since the 1950s, cuffed trousers have gone in and out of fashion but over the years, they’ve always remained, they’ve always come back and likely they will always come back even though they might not be super fashionable at this point in time.
By the way, the British refer to cuffs as things you have on your sleeve versus on the pants or trousers, they’re called turn-ups. Sometimes Savile Row tailors also call them PTUs or permanent turn-ups. At the end of the day, they’re all the same.
When Do You Typically See Cuffs On Trouser Hems?
You definitely see them in suits and in Italy, I’d say the majority of suits will have the cuff. They’re also popular in white-collar professions with lawyers, bankers, and the like. Cuffs can help to make a suit silhouette look more grounded especially when you have vertical stripes such as a pinstripe or a rope stripe.
In terms of the seasons, you can find cuffs anywhere from flannel suits or tweed suits all the way up to summery seersucker suits. In the collegiate realm, cuffs are favored by people who are interested in trad style. On the other hand, if you’re more a follower of the preppy style, you’re more likely to just manually turn-up your uncuffed pants.
Cuffs are also often a feature on odd trousers or slacks that are worn to the office. Just think of the typical gray flannel pants with a navy blazer, for example, or other office outfits that are a bit more serious. When it comes to casual pants, you still may encounter turn-ups on chinos or khakis even though you can also find them without cuffs.
When it comes to traditional workwear such as denim or jeans, you will not find a cuff because that would simply be impractical. In this day and age, a cuff on a pair of jeans would simply look weird. That aside, you can also find cuffs on shorts, typically, they make it a little less formal so for most shorts, I don’t think they’re appropriate but it is an option that exists.
To Cuff Or Not To Cuff?
That is the question!
The bottom line is cuffs or turn-ups are optional and it’s a personal style choice. For example in my suit collection, I have a bunch of suits with cuffs that are a little more casual, at the same time, I have three-piece suits that don’t feature cuffs whereas others do feature cuffs.
The big advantage of cuffs is that it adds a bit more weight to the bottom part of your pants thus creating a nicer drape or hang of the trouser especially if you have pleated pants. Of course, they also can help to create a visual balance, for example, for double-breasted suits or vertically striped suits.
Cuffs definitely give you a slightly more traditional look and if you want a contemporary look with a slim fit, oftentimes, it’s better to forego the cuff for a cleaner silhouette. That being said, there’s one area where cuffs and turn-ups are always unacceptable from a historical point of view and that is formal wear. So you’ll never see cuffs on a proper tuxedo, a black tie ensemble, a white tie ensemble, or a morning coat. Likewise, you also won’t encounter it with a stroller suit.
So if you’re buying trousers that are not for a formal occasion, should you add cuffs or not? At the end of the day, if you’re undecided, I always argue in favor of cuffs because you can always have them very easily removed at the alterations tailor. Think of it as an additional fabric that allows you to be creative with the size of your cuff but if you don’t like it, you can always get rid of it.
On the flip side, if you decide against cuffs from the get-go and you later realize that the fabric is too flimsy and you would like to have a cuff in there, it’s very difficult to add one back on because most of the time, there’s not enough fabric left even for a faux cuff.
How To Wear Cuffs Well
First of all, for a true cuff, you always need a plain hem and you want the front just to slightly touch the top of your shoe. In general, cuffs look best if they just slightly touch your shoe without creating a deep break or any puddling around your ankle. So when in doubt, a cuffed pair of pants is always slightly shorter than an uncuffed pair of pants. Having too much excess fabric at the ankle paired with a cuff can just look sloppy. Also, if your pants have cuffs as well as pleats, the break can interrupt the nice crease and the nice line of the pair of trousers.
When you wear dress boots, make sure that the pants have enough space so they go over the boot and don’t just get caught on it, otherwise, you always have some puddling going on that’s very unsightly.
In terms of cuff size, there is again no right or wrong. Historically, there has been anything from under one inch to all the way up to two and a half even three inches. As with most things in menswear, it pays to stay in the middle which is typically between one and a half inches or two inches. In the metric system, that’s about 3.5 or 3.75 centimeters and 5 centimeters. According to Alan Flusser, a traditional cuff size is 1 and 5/8 of an inch for men who are 5’10” or shorter. If you are taller than that, you should go with an inch and 3/4.
Personally, I like it slightly larger so sometimes I have a two-inch cuff or slightly smaller something that’s also slightly bigger but it definitely is a bit more noticeable and if you want to go for a classic look, this guideline hits the nail on the head.
Of course, you can also pay attention to other aspects in your suit. Let’s say you have very wide lapels, you should not have a very slim cuff because it simply looks not proportional. Also, you can look at the height of your collar in the back of your neck of your jacket and try to match that to the size of your trouser cuff.
Get Started With Cuffs
So what are some good ways to get started with cuffs?
I suggest you maybe start with a pair of chinos because you can wear them a little more casually and otherwise, you can also wear them with a suit including a solid navy suit which is quite formal for a suit but nevertheless, it can be worn with cuffs. If you don’t wear suits a lot, you could experiment with cuffs on slightly more casual pants such as flannel pants, tweed slacks, or linen pants.
So in conclusion, it pays to have cuffed trousers in your wardrobe, whether they are really casual slacks, chinos, or slacks that are a part of a suit. At the same time, you never want to add cuffs to very formal ensembles because they are simply not meant for that.
When you opt for cuffs, go with a slightly shorter trouser length so you have a nice hanging pair of pants and at the end of the day, the sky is the limit and your choice or preference decides on whether you have a lot of cuffs in your wardrobe or very few but it always pays to have at least a few pairs of pants with cuffs because it just gives you a complete wardrobe.