cuffed khaki

Embrace the Cuff

I’ll admit it—up until I moved to New England for University, I had never really worn cuffs on my trousers. Even the lone pair of forward pleated trousers in my closet had plain bottoms (to facilitate easy alterations and accommodate my changing height during my teenage years).  I had always liked the idea of cuffs but was never brave enough to sport them on my flat front trousers. Yet, seeing photographs of Ivy League college students in the 1950s and ‘60s sporting cuffs on their slim, flat-front khakis and grey flannels was a reassuring sight.  I recall GQ “endorsing” cuffs on trousers back when I was in middle school, and from then on, every editorial featured a model in tight-fitting, low-rise pants finished with a deep cuff that ended above the ankle. Additionally, during my visit, I noticed that the guys at Sid Mashburn are large proponents of cuffing their plain front trousers, with nearly every employee who wasn’t wearing jeans sporting the look. Although traditionally a sartorial “no-no”, anchoring down non-pleated trousers with a substantial cuff gives the pant a clean line in addition to attracting attention to the wearer’s footwear.

I can recall one instance that further solidified my appreciation of a good trouser cuff. When I walked into J. Press on Madison Avenue (when it still existed, RIP) around the age of seventeen and saw the tortoise-bespectacled salesman clad in a tweed jacket and cuffed, high-rise khakis, I knew that was the look I wanted. It was traditional, yet stylish. Moreover, I always stress timelessness in one’s manner of dress, so the key is to wear your cuffed trousers like you would any other plain bottom pair. As far as cuff size goes, I’m a firm believer in the “go big or go home” school of thought. Cuffs should be at the very least 1 3/8” inches deep. Why even bother with any less? In my opinion, the sweet spot is right at 1.5” or 1 ¾”. Some guys go for more at 2”, but it’s simply a matter of personal preference. Disregard what people say about shorter guys needing smaller cuffs and vice versa with tall gents.

 For a bit of historical background: the trouser cuff, or turn-up as the Brits say, has its origins at the tail end of the 19th century, with Edward VII of England boldly having his tailor create a sartorial invention to prevent the bottoms of his trousers from getting muddied in foul weather. English gentlemen concerned with soiling the floors of their grandiose country estates after trudging through mire along with city-dwellers alike rapidly adopted the style. By the early 20th century, almost no trouser bottom went by un-cuffed. At traditional institutions like Brooks Brothers, J. Press, The Andover Shop, and Paul Stuart, the cuffed, no-break flat front trouser has been a standard since the 1950s—the latter two, however, being more progressive and English-inspired, tended to embrace the British trait of the forward pleat with their cuffed trousers. For most of the 20th century, Brooks Brothers’ best-seller, the rather shapeless No. 1 sack suit, was standardly equipped with flat front trousers and a generous cuff.

 Whereas in previous decades, flat front, cuffed trousers transcended geographic location, these days there seems to be a regional divide. In my time spent between New England and the region south of the Mason-Dixon line, I’ve noticed that the South restricts cuffs on trousers solely to those with pleats. Upon my arrival back down South from my first semester of college, I chatted with my sartorially adroit former guidance counselor. A UVA man and a Brooks Brothers devotee from birth, he had finally retired the habit of wearing reverse-pleated trousers (rather thankfully). When I suggested that he try putting cuffs on his flat front trousers, he replied, “I’ve already stopped wearing pleats, and I draw the line at restricting cuffs to pleated trousers.” Much to my chagrin, I observed that this was the opinion of most men in the South. However, in the Northeast (specifically New England) cuffs are embraced on trousers of all varieties. Furthermore, it should be noted that pants with a higher rise (i.e. sitting at the natural waist) look best with cuffs. They provide that leg-lengthening look that flatters the more vertically challenged or average height folks like yours truly.

 When contemplating fabric choices, a cuff weighs thicker cloths like tweed, corduroy, or flannel down beautifully, but they’re just as at home on seersucker, khaki, tropical wool, linen, madras, and a wide variety of others.

 Do yourself a favor and get your tailor to put some cuffs on your pants with no trouser break. Whatever you do, don’t roll them up.

(images via leffot, Sid Mashburn, Social Primer, and oxfordclothbuttondown)