(View the 2014 update on this post here.)
Lovely lady Carrie wrote in with this request:
I know this has been tangentially addressed a couple of times, but I’d be uber grateful for a post on the complete rules for pants length! Does it differ for non-jeans? Touching the floor or “grazing” the floor? How short is “take it to the thrift shop STAT” short?
Well now, HERE’S a subject that I’m tickled to tackle! While some aspects of trouser length are a matter of taste, I believe there are some basic guidelines we should all bear in mind when purchasing pants.
First and foremost, different pant lengths suit different shoes. Those slacks that look killer with your ballet flats are gonna look downright goofy with your platform slingbacks. Those jeans you love to wear with your stack-heeled boots are going to appear utterly preposterous when you throw them on with flip-flops. When you’re on the hunt for new pants, be sure to bring the shoes you intend to wear with them into the fitting room. Otherwise, it’s a total crap shoot.
Additionally, you will encounter different length challenges depending on the style of leg. Skinnies bunch, widelegs engulf, straightlegs flop, and on and on. Yet another reason to bring or wear the appropriate shoes when trying on potential new pants.
And finally, while extra length can be dealt with, lack of length is far trickier. If you unearth a pair that fits you gloriously and suits your budget but is miles too long, a tailor can rescue you quite easily. Gorgeous pants that expose your ankles will be tough to lengthen to acceptable proportions.
Now, let’s see what all this means in real life, eh?
The clue here? You can see almost her entire shoe. A little should peek out, sure, but if your slacks are revealing everything from lower-ankle downward, they’ll look like they’ve had a nasty encounter with Hot Dryer.
The example here is a pair of boot-cut trousers, but even if this nice gal had on some skinnies with her stack-heel peep-toes, I’d cite her for Unsightly Shortness. If your entire foot is showing, your pants are too short.
Take a look at the back view (you can click to zoom). See how high these are riding? Those little black flats are almost completely revealed, and when this lady starts walking it’s only gonna get worse. Hot Dryer wasn’t quite as merciless on these guys, but it still took its toll.
Pants that are too short for flats reveal almost the entire top of the foot, and also show almost the entire back of the shoe. This applies regardless of pantleg style. Just as we said above for heels, if your entire foot is showing, your pants are too short.
- Does it look like your pants have eaten your feet entirely?
- Does your pant hem drag on the ground, collecting dirt and getting raggedy?
- Do you inadvertently step on and trip over your own pants?
- If you’re wearing straight legs or skinnies, do they make a giant mess of bunched up fabric that reaches up to your calves?
If you answered “yes” to any of these, it’s time to tailor. We’re looking at the opposite of what we discussed above: If your entire foot is disguised, your pants are too long.
OK, now we’re in business. In my opinion, pants should not graze the floor … they should hang about one inch above the floor when you’re standing straight with your knees locked. The pair shown above are a hair shorter than one-inch-above-sea-level, but still look correct paired with those gray platforms.
See how just the tip of the toe peeks out? And in the back view, see how about an inch of the heel is showing? Conditions are perfect.
Straightlegs should still follow these guidelines, but things get trickier if you want to pair proper skinnies with towering heels. Pants that taper will not fall gracefully around a pair of heels, hanging an inch above the floor … if they are longer than ankle-length to begin with they will, instead, bunch.
And this is where I leave it to you: I’m not a fan of ample accordioned fabric around the ankles. As I noted above, bunching that reaches from ankle to knee is an indicator of overly long pants, in my opinion. If I’m doing heels, I prefer a pair of straightlegs that can accommodate both foot and shoe.
But although bunching bugs me, I don’t condone wearing supershort-hem-length skinnies with heels as an alternative. I’ll concede that a bit of bunching constitutes “a look,” and is difficult to avoid when you’re pairing heels with skinnies. Something that emulates the image above works OK in my book, and I’d rather see that than an ankle-bone-exposing hem length with towering heels.
You can see that the widelegs allow about one-third of the foot to peek out in front, and conceal about half of the shoe from the back. More foot will show when you’re in motion, but standing still with knees locked, this is the ideal length for trousers worn with flats.
The beige cords are a good length for a slimmer cut of pant. There’s a bit of a bulge in front, but nothing outlandishly bunchy. And more importantly, the back half of the shoe is covered by the hem. Contrast this to the purple cords a few examples back, that float above the shoe entirely.
And those are my basic guidelines for pant length. While it’s true that some aspects are down to personal preference, I maintain that most pant/shoe combos should roughly follow this set of rules. Hope this was helpful!
All images courtesy Banana Republic.