Reader Request: A Guide to Pants Length

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?

PANTS TOO SHORT FOR HEELS



Holy hamsters, those pants are SHORT. Sure, this lady has some serious height going on with those chunky platforms, but she should’ve compensated by selecting a longer hem length.

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.

PANTS TOO SHORT FOR FLATS



Now, I’d be willing to bet that several of you are saying, “Huh? What’s wrong with THOSE?” And the fact is, these slim cords are passable … but, in my opinion, not optimum.

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 wearage 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.

PANTS TOO LONG FOR ANY SHOES


Although many people have a tough time determining if their slacks are too short, most of us know when they’re too long. But if you’re ever in doubt, ask yourself these questions:

  • 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 straightlegs 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.

PROPER PANT LENGTH FOR HEELS



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.

PROPER PANT LENGTH FOR FLATS



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.

  • oh lady e

    YES YES YES! I’m with you on the pants length! The girls here in Boston struggle with this daily – I see so many nice pants getting dragged through all the dirt and nastiness on the trains every day, simply because they’re just an inch too long.

  • Michael McGraw Photography

    I think it is funny to see people with really long wide-leg pants that cover their entire shoes. It makes them look like Gumby.

    If you want to pull off this look, please wear Green Pants for authenticity.

    • lulu

      hahaha, your right!

  • Couture Allure Vintage Fashion

    Very well done and informative post. Thanks, Sal!

  • chic

    Hey – Give a long-legged girl a break! :) Just kidding, great advice as always Sal! -A

  • lopi

    I love it when you do that kind of posts! Much funner and informative than any glossy I have ever read, and I have read A LOT.
    Even though I kinda like the “too short” slim cords more than the “right” pic. But then, they probably only flatter the model that’s wearing them. Oh, well.

  • casey

    Fantastic! I’ve always struggled with knowing what length my pants should be (especially when pairing them with heels), which is probably part of the reason I don’t wear them often (skirts are easier. lol!). Thanks for this super-helpful post!

  • Laura.

    “holy hamsters”=i love it. this is perfectly hilarious and informative. thank you!

  • Christina Lee

    LOL-that you found the too short oens on BR!! GREAT job on this post. The only thing I would add is that in warmer months I get away with just cuffing my too short pants up one time and they look good with whatever shoe I am wearing!

  • hillary

    I usually don’t comment but I have to disagree on the first two at least. They are both a “look” that is very acceptable and infact quite cute in summer and sping. I saw a girl doing the first one the other day and I said to myself I need to find pants to do that.

    For fall and winter though in new england at least yes they would not be ideal. But I wouldn’t rule them out. :)

  • hillary

    I found a gorgeous gal doing number 2 and she looks SO CUTE in this look.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/megankills/3428446311/

  • Audi

    You’re right on target, Sal. That’s why I don’t wear pants very often — they only work with one specific heel height, and that limitation frustrates me. I like Mike’s Gumby suggestion, though, and I HAVE a pair of green wide-legged jeans. Hmmm…

  • lisa

    I love how this post was thorough AND illustrated! Always helpful you are. :)

    P.S. Husband Mike’s Gumby suggestion cracked me up!

  • Megan

    I have a size 10 foot and I love skinny jeans on me – and yet I don’t think I’m “doing it wrong” because my entire foot is showing. It’s not possible in nature to hide it. Give big feet girl a break!

  • Vanessa

    Great post! I’m glad you did this entry! I always have to hem my pants anyway because I’m 4’11″ and there is no such thing as pants that are made for someone as short as I am, but it’s nice to see visuals to keep in mind for my next trip to my tiny Italian tailor.

  • Sal

    Hillary and Megan: As with all “rules” posts, there’s wiggle room for personal preference and body specifics. These are simply my guidelines, provided at the request of a reader!

  • Nadine

    Um. I can see where you going, aesthetics-wise, but it doesn’t seem very practical to me. There is no way I am going to wear one pair of pants with its designated pair of shoes every time. If I have to run (ie if I’m reffing syndicate soccer), I’m going for flats – if not, I might go for a heel. BUT (and this might just be a cultural difference) I don’t wear my shoes at home in my house, or inside someone else’s house if I’m visiting. All my pants are hemmed for flat shoe wearage since my slippers don’t have heels. But it’s very interesting to have your perspective, Sal. (AND! Please don’t lock your knees, anyone! Bad for them.)

  • metscan

    I prefer the length as in pic.2 with straight cut, or with jeans that narrow a bit towards the ankle. Flats or heels. I just couldn´t wear longer ones.

  • Jo

    Hey girl this is a very helpful post!!! Thanx a bunch!

  • Rosie Unknown

    Great post! Sneakers, like converse, not actual running shoes, would be like flats, right?

    • Jessica

      In my opinion Rosie, I would say sort of. As far as I can think of, their soles are a bit thicker then ballet flats, which are REALLY flat and thin.

  • miss cavendish

    I prefer cropped skinny trousers–just around the ankle. I’d be rolling and tucking those long wide-legs all day!

  • K.Line

    I completely agree with the proportions you consider optimal. Just a smidge too short wrecks the whole look. And it’s really hard to get it right. Even if you know your inseam…

  • Imogen Lamport

    Fantastic tutorial Sal – I see so many women getting round in pants that are either dragging on the ground or too short (particularly in the older generations).

  • Sal

    Rosie Unknown: Good question. Yeah, since Chucks are pretty durned flat, I’d throw them in with the actual flats.

  • Couture Allure Vintage Fashion

    What does a gal do if she wants a choice of wearing one pair of pants with either flats or heels? I need both options for a new pair of wide leg pants I bought yesterday. I have to hem them anyway, but at what length????????

  • Winnie

    This is a pretty useful post and it’s always nice to see the illustrating photos!

    I always find that women who don’t wear the correct trouser length look a little scruffy.

  • kittyscreations

    Thanks for this tutorial! I think I will be referring back to this page often.

  • Sal

    Couture Allure Vintage Fashion: Honestly, I think the only pant length that works for both flats and heels is cropped! But as you can tell from this tutorial, I err on the long side. I guess I’d take a pair of flats and a pair of heels to the tailor and try both on while getting them fitted … find a happy medium. You’ll end up with pants that are appropriate for the flats, and too short for the heels … unless they’re really low heels.

  • Anne (in Reno)

    Ha, I just bought those “pants too long for any shoes” sailor-looking jeans and I LOVE them. However, my feet look like giant boats so you can still see them in these pants, they actually look better than the picture, I promise.

    Also, that is one of my pet peeves with Banana Republic’s website – all their pants are styled/shot to look SO SHORT. When in reality they are the perfect length for me almost all of the time. WTF, Banana?

  • anjana

    Very Helpful , tx!!

  • Tabithia

    I just read this and I feel very sad. I can only wear flats with jeans and the top of my foot always shoes. Doesn't matter what style the pants are. I'm just too tall, and "tall" pants are just passable. Designer labels carry extra tall lengths but where is a college student gonna get $100 + and it's near impossible to thrift pants long enough. *sigh* I'm nearly 21 and own all of two pairs of pants. Looks like I better become rich quick!

  • Giselle

    Very useful guide, thanks! I’m totally clueless on this sort of thing but need to start looking groomed and professional at a new job. I’m bookmarking this.

  • Sarah

    Very helpful visuals. What do I do, though, when 5 lbs. can make the difference in whether my pants are just right or too short? I find I frequently put on a pair of pants that was perfect last month, but this month’s weight fluctuation makes them too short with the same shoes? Does anyone else have this problem?

  • anne

    3 years ago i moved from Seattle to Moscow. In Seattle people were wearing pants that pretty much covered the shoe—which was a waste of a good shoe INMO. In Moscow the streets are much dirtier and pants were much higher to protect them. That, and always tucked into boots until winter was well and truly gone…

  • Jenn G

    Thanks so much, off to buy new pants!

  • http://notemily.tumblr.com/ notemily

    I feel like as a short-legged person (usually needing to shop for pants in the petite section or something like Gap’s “ankle” size), who also has a very limited budget, I just can’t afford to buy different lengths of pants for every shoe combination, especially if that involves tailoring. Fortunately, I rarely wear heels, so if I can find pants that don’t drag on the ground while I’m wearing my flats or sneakers, I consider myself set. (I also rarely wear skinnies and prefer bootlegs or wide-legs, so that makes things a bit easier.)

    If I worked at a more formal office, though, I might have to worry more about heels-length pants. Then again, if I worked at a more formal office, maybe they’d pay me enough to buy more pants. :P

  • Jessica

    Its actually sort of a good thing that I am short. Because of that my problem is solveable with tailoring. I had a friend in university who is quite tall. She went shopping with friends and tried on a pair of pants. She was showing some other friends and asked them if they were capri’s. They were not, lol. She obviously did not buy them.

  • tall chick

    Just want to point out that at 5’9″ and a 33″ inseam i have little choice in pant length– all are too short. There are almost never longs and the avg length is usually 1-2 inches too short. I honestly don’t like them too short but i don’t want to shell out extra money to order online without trying them on. Sorry if my short pants annoy some people but womens sizes are made for short women. Do not even get me started on shoe widths, i wear a 10.5 C , which is almost non existant.

  • Jim

    Sally, I want to thank you for the great advice. I have some issues with the inseam length while wearing my heels. I am glad you took the time to provide this wonderful information. I need to head out and buy some new pants.Jim.

  • Aging fashionista

    Good comments. I think also height/build plays into this. May be a bit of a tangent but i am short with hips and thights so wouldn’t wear wide leg pants with flats whatever the correct length. Also you didn’t really address crops, how far above the ankle should they hit. I have some that I like but they are right at the ankle which I think looks dowdy.

  • Lakshmi

    Just what I was looking for!!! Very informative..

  • Sunny Penner Cox

    Question. So I have new pants – stretch flannel, bootcut, and ponte knit – different makers, same problem. I am carrying more weight than usual post-baby, and am having an odd problem: hems getting stuck in the heel of my wedge sandal with EACH AND EVERY STEP. What is the real issue, here? Too long, too short, or possibly just lacking in closed-heeledness?

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      Hi Sunny! You probably won’t have the same problem with closed shoes, and for what it’s worth I experience this problem occasionally with certain pant/wedge combos. If your weight shift has affected how your pants are fitting, that hem may fall higher or lower once your weight shifts again. In the meantime, you might want to stick with shorts, skirts/dresses, and pegged or cropped pants with those wedges!

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  • Jodi

    What if flooded pants are a part of your “style?” I’m really serious! I very rarely wear trousers (mostly dresses and skirts) but when I do I often like it when they flood. I’d be wearing them with flats though, so I guess that makes a difference.

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  • http://ww.ayanalowe.com Bashie

    I am a middle age woman and i love clothes, however, I am still befuddled about the correct length my pants needs to be for me. recently a dear friend pulled my coat and told me that my pants were too long. He said that my expensive St. John’s pants looked cheap cause they were almost dragging. Damn, I am so glad I read your blog. I am going to the tailor tomorrow and I now know to use an inch from the floor as my guide line

  • Kat

    My skinny jeans don’t look like the ones posted but instead they fit very snug around my ankle exposing my whole shoe. I can imagine wearing skinny jeans that drop to cover some of my flat. To each is own I guess.

  • Kat

    I meant can’t imagine…

  • Yvonne

    So can I assume that flats = sandals? My poor feet need relief from winter shoes! Ok, I know tall ladies need longer pants but I’m a petite 5*3 and my legs are too long (about an inch) for petite off the rack pants. My hips are too wide for skinny pants and I dress in tailored styles. If I order “regular” sizes the waist comes up under my boobs. I don’t like the hip height waist, I have a small waist and I want to show it! Dang it! I’m 67 but I don’t want to look goofy or dowdy or like I’m trying to recapture my lost youth. Even if I’m wearing chinos and flip flops I want to look right. Please help. PS I can’t wear “heels”

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  • V

    Great, great post and just was i was looking for. Thank you!