This article comes from a discussion over on our community (click here to see the full discussion), where a reader wanted to know the appropriate length of trousers compared to your height:
I tried on some dress pants but for some reason, they don’t seem to cover the loafer that I was wearing. Imagine you are wearing a loafer and the pants (hem), while you are standing up, doesn’t cover it all (and) you can see your socks. Are those dress pants too short?-drew1
We’ve had a lively discussion on it over the years, and wanted to address it in one place. This article, then, covers how to measure trouser length, the approximate correlation between inseam and height, the kinds of ‘breaks’ on trousers, and the
How to measure trouser length
First, let’s address trouser measurement.
There are two primary measurements in men’s trousers: the outseam and the inseam. The outseam is the measurement from the top of the waistband to the pant hem; the inseam is the measurement of the center of the crotch to the hem. The latter-shown below- is the more accurate method of measurement.
To get it, simply take your tape measure and run it from the center of the crotch down the seam and to the hem. Voila!
While some tailors consider the outseam, we’d advise against it because that also takes the rise of the trouser into account. As a pair of denim will have a much lower rise than, say, a pair of suit trousers, this method can result in many inconsistencies.
Andy’s book, The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes, addresses this topic at length (pun most certainly intended). You can pick it up here!
Height and Length of Trousers
We believe the proper length is not dictated by overall height.
Some men may be tall, but have a comparatively short torso and longer length from the hip down. The same is true for a shorter man with a comparatively long torso and shorter legs.
However, we do have chart that might be a good start.
|Height range||Typical inseam|
|5’4”-5’6”||29”-30” (or shorter)|
|6’5” or taller||34”-36” (or longer)|
This certainly is an inexact science, though, and we believe the best method is to measure your inseam using the technique above.
Break and and Length of Trousers
A second way to answer the question is to address the ‘break’, or the ripple of cloth where the trouser hem meets the top of the shoe.
There are in, general, three kinds of break in menswear: full, half, and no break at all.
The Full Break
The full break results in a full crease breaking over the shoe. This is a more traditional look popular in your dad or grandpa’s era, but plenty of young guys are still rocking this look.
It works best with heavier fabrics like flannel and tweed as the excess fabric allows for better drape. Additionally, a little more ankle and calf coverage when sitting in cold weather doesn’t hurt!
Trousers with fuller breaks look best with limited taper and a larger leg opening- 16″ around (8″ flat) and above. They also work well for heavier-set gentlemen as opposed to the slimmer guy. There is, however, a fine line between a full break and trousers that are simply too long- tread carefully, lest you walk on your trouser hem!
The Half and Quarter break
The half break is a traditional break for a business suit. It tends to be favored among executives and those who are into ‘classic’ menswear. That said, we’ve noticed a resurgence among younger guys who want to show their knowledge.
The half break works well for most fabric and most body types. Look to have 1/2″ to 3/4″ of an inch of ripple when getting hemmed. Gentlemen would also do well to consider a slight taper when going for this look, aiming for a leg opening of 14″-15″ around (7″-7.5″ flat).
Additionally, while we don’t have a picture to show, we’d be remiss not to discuss the quarter break. This is an interesting hybrid between the traditional half and the more fashion-forward no-break look; however, the difference between this and the former is, well, slight. But, if this a look you’d like, go for a 1/4″ or so of break.
The ‘No Break’
Trousers without a break are the most aggressive in modern suiting. These have hems resting on the tongue on the shoe- or, in some cases, higher on the ankle.
This look can work with some modern, Italian-style shoes and a pair of interesting socks. It also meshes with a significant taper with a leg opening less than 14″ around (7″ flat). Younger, slimmer, and taller gents tend to pull this look off with ease.
However, we at Ask Andy would caution against overly aggressive breaks or ‘high-water’ trousers. These are not elements of classic menswear. Instead, they’re much more suited to peacocking and the lads at Pitti Uomo looking to get their picture taken.
At the same time, a break that is too full will disrupt the clean lines of a pressed trouser and result in a generally disheveled appearance.
The trouser leg should moderately break at the front of the shoe. They should then gently slope to approach the top of the heel of the shoe.
The hem can be asymmetrical- slightly shorter in the front than in the back.
Which Pants Work with Which Breaks?
Glad you asked. There are certainly more kinds of trousers than there are breaks- and each man has a style of his own. But, in our view, these are some guidelines to consider.
For most guys, some degree of break looks best with suit trousers or dress pants. A medium break is a safe bet for most styles. However, many modern suits come in slim fits, which work best with tapered legs and little to no break. And, if you’re interested in whether or not to cuff your suit trousers, our community has a discussion on that too.
Chinos can be worn a little shorter and slimmer if you are going casual. No break or a quarter break works best in this situation. However, for a more formal or business look, you may want to opt for a more traditional fit with a quarter or medium break. We’d avoid the full break, though, as it stirs uncomfortable memories of the Dockers “khakis” of the late 1990’s.
Denim varies wildly in style and cut, so you’ve got a lot of options here. They are also the most casual of the bunch, and many men prioritize comfort over anything else.
A medium to full break is a good choice for jeans. Not only does denim fabric work well with some folding, many guys like the option of cuffing their jeans. Rolling up the cuff once or twice is a great way to quickly change up the look. But, like any full break look, they can easily be simply too long. If the hems are fraying when you walk- they’re too long.
Other guys prefer slimmer fits and tapered legs, in which case a no break or quarter break is best.
Alterations and Shrinking Seams
Even with the rise of online clothiers, some men may find it difficult to find exactly what they require to match the look they want. So, make friends with your alterations tailor. Bring a picture of the look you want, and they’ll help you get there.
However, trousers- especially cotton chinos and denim jeans, have a tendency to shrink in the wash. So, consider having your tailor hem them to 1/4″ or so longer than you wish them to be. Within a few washings and careful drying, they’ll be right where you want them to be.
To review, the length of the inseam is more relevant to proper trouser length than the height of the man wearing them.
The trouser hem should kiss the top of the shoe, and adopt a slight to medium break when standing still.
Remember to leave 1/4″ or so of extra room in hem to account for any shortening after a wash.
Thank you for reading, and we do hope this is helpful.