We’ve gotta talk about the length of your pants.

When you’re wearing denim, this might not matter as much since you can always cuff or roll them up.

When you’re wearing trousers, however, that’s a different story. If you just bought a suit or a pair of unhemmed trousers, there’s no way around it… you have to get them tailored.

I went to a wedding last year, and some dude a couple rows ahead of me was too cool (or didn’t have time) to go to a tailor, so he wore his trousers unhemmed.

He spent the whole evening folding them up into his pant leg, and naturally, they unrolled after a few minutes, leaving 7″ of fabric bunching atop his shoes. Not only that, but the suit was too big in general. Tragic scene.

Don’t ever be that guy. Here’s how to figure out the best break for you, and how to tell your tailor.

Too much break

too much break - effortlessgent

This is generally the style you want to stay away from. Too much break looks sloppy. It’s as if you bought the wrong length for your pants, or that you didn’t know to visit a tailor before wearing them.

How can you tell?

You can characterize too much break by the number of folds in the pant leg where it meets the shoe. More than one? Too much break.

Also, if your heels are stepping on the back of the pants as you walk, and if your trousers have frayed cuffs, your pants are probably too long.

Enough break

medium break - effortless gent

This is the traditional length for dress pants, also considered a medium break. If ever you’re unsure about the length, this is the safest route to take. You’ll look clean and polished, and the break is neither sloppy nor trendy. It’s just classic.

How can you tell?

This length is characterized by one fold in the fabric when the cuff is resting on the shoe. Typically the back of the pants cuff hits the middle of the counter, between the opening and the top of the heel.

No break

no break - effortless gent

This style is my personal favorite, as it’s the middle ground between the medium break and flooding. This style looks best with a slim-fitting suit or trousers. No break refers to the cuff barely resting on the shoe, and no fold in the pants fabric.

How can you tell?

A draft down below? Probably. Also, the back of the pants cuffs hit near the top of the shoe, where the opening is.

This style really elongates the legs and makes you appear taller and leaner. It may be an optical illusion, but there ain’t nothin wrong with that.

Keep in mind that not everyone can pull this off. If you finding yourself saying “Oh hell no”, or “No way I’d ever get them that short”, well, then don’t. Stick with medium break.

Also, if you’re a pretty average height, you can probably get away with this hem. If you’re super tall or super short, proceed with caution.

Too little break

too little break - effortlessgent

Floods, highwaters, etc., are when the pants barely touch the shoe, if at all. This (along with number 3, No Break) has gotten popular again over the past couple years. This style also looks better on slimmer dudes—it all has to do with proportion. I also recommend it if you have some sexy ankles.

How can you tell?

You’re flashing ankle.

A word of caution. Your pants need to be slim if you’re gonna do Too Little Break. If you get a fuller cut trouser or some wide leg pants, it’s just not the same. Don’t do it.

What’s right for me?

Well, what do you like? Are you staying on top of the trends? Are you buying a Thom Browne suit? Then maybe you’d be into the No Break / Too Little Break styles.

If you have to ask yourself this question, I’d stick with #2 (Enough Break). Like I mentioned, it’s the standard length for any trouser. You can experiment with other types of break later.

There ya go! A quick primer on the break of pants. Hope this helps when trying to figure out how to talk to your tailor.

What’s your favorite style? Do you prefer one over the other? Absolutely HATE No Break? Think Enough Break is too conservative? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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37 Responses

  1. Grif on

    The Marine Corps actually has a unique break that is used for their uniforms. The back of the pant leg rests on the top of the shoe heel, while the front is similar to your No Break photo. I appreciate your site, I think we live in the age of slovenly, lazy fashion, and it is nice to see someone trying to change it.

    • Barron on

      I was thinking of mentioning this style of hemming but was trying to keep it simple, so I’m glad you pointed it out.

      For the folks reading, basically there’s a slight angle in the hem and it’s tailored shorter in the front, to give you a nice break while still maintaining the length at the back. I really like that as well, though I haven’t tried it on any of my pants yet.

      And thanks for the kind words! Glad the site is useful and helpful.

  2. Ryan N. on

    Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I wear anything less than Medium break, the front of my trousers end up nestled behind the knots in my shoes, and I feel like I’m always kicking them off or adjusting them. I like the straight look, but it never seems to stay put.

  3. Ryan N. on

    Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I wear anything less than Medium break, the front of my trousers end up nestled behind the knots in my shoes, and I feel like I’m always kicking them off or adjusting them. I like the straight look, but it never seems to stay put.

    • Barron on

      Yeah, that’s happened to me before, but mostly with more full-cut pants, or with a taller shoe. If your pants leg stays slim throughout, that usually alleviates that issue. That happens when I cuff my jeans sometimes… pretty annoying.

  4. Wmalonei on

    No break is best for me. Shows your shoes a little sock (when walking) and a whole lot of style. Get your favorite pair of trousers that fit lengthwise,measure from the waist band to the end of the trouser leg. That is your ‘OUTSEAM’. Remember the number. Have your tailor make all your length alterations to that length. No need to try them on. Just give him the measurement and be sure to say ‘OUTSEAM’. If they don’t know what you are talking about…….time to find a new tailor.

    • Barron on

      Interesting point. Any reason you’re choosing outseam? Wouldn’t that number change depending on the rise of the pants you choose? Like a pair of lower rise jeans and some standard trousers may not have the same outseam.

  5. Anonymous on

    The most effective way to make sure you buy the right jean size is to grab your favorite pair at home & a tape measure.  http://pudulifestyle.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/how-to-choose-the-right-length-of-pants/

  6. Reve Weber on

    Wonderful! I am in the process of creating an alterations class for a local community sewing space and too-short pants make me CRAZY (anything shorter than your “no break,” though in non-jeans I handle “too little break” better).  I will link to your post for the comparative pictures.

    I’m intrigued by this Marine Corps hem idea.  I agree with your conversation with Ryan, more fullness necessitates longer break – and allows it too, since the pants drop further to the front of the shoe and the ankle doesn’t fold up as much.  I was always trained to have the back of the leg meet the top of the sole, but modern slim fits don’t really allow that, I suppose.

    Incidentally, I found you from your Primer article http://www.primermagazine.com/2010/learn/how-to-find-a-tailor-and-what-to-pay-him-for , which was a nice introduction.

    • Barron on

      Hey Reve, thanks for writing, and sure, I hope the pictures / post prove useful when you link it.

      Appreciate the comment (and also for clicking through from Primer).

  7. Rachelekehler on

    Great article! I just linked to it on my latest post : http://blackisblack.ca/2012/05/29/style-inspiration-how-to-wear-a-suit/ 

    Thanks for the clear images! 

  8. Aaron Trent on

    I have a 31″ inseam and have been wearing 32″ long pants. I’m breaking a bit too much so maybe I’ll give the 30s a shot.

    • Barron on

      Yeah, you’ll notice that it’s not too far off from your actual inseam, but it will feel much more sleek and polished. In my experience anyway.

  9. SRK on

    I just found your site today. Great article about “The Break”. I’m having my tailor shorten some of my slacks. I’m having them done somewhere between “no break” and “too little break”. I’m loving this look with my Alden Longwings. My question is: what do you think of a cuff with this look and if so, how wide a cuff do you think?

    • Barron on

      I personally love cuffs. If I get them, typically 1.5″ or so. Have your tailor show you 1.5″ and adjust from there based on your preference.

  10. Gabriel on

    One question, I personally prefer no-break pants, but does a properly no-break pants will show some part of your socks (or ankle if sockless) when you are wearing shoes, or socks shouldn’t be visible?

  11. Glenn on

    Well written. Guess I’m coming to the party a little late – but my preference is for the polished “boardroom” look – no break.

    • Barron on

      Also consider the width of the leg opening of his trousers. They’re certainly not slim, which, when sitting, gives the appearance of flags blowing in the wind.

      I think no break looks good with a slim trouser and minimal fabric. It’s all preference, really.

  12. Johntjad on

    Then there are the active men, broad at the shoulders, narrow at the hips, you get it. Try to find 35/36X 36/37 trousers, to prevent sock flash. Or the need for gaiters!

  13. asumakitschy on

    Found the article both interesting and helpful 🙂 Came across this because I was doing random searches while having a good White Collar marathon.

  14. pjthiel on

    I’m in the “enough” to “enough plus” camp, personally. I don’t like “no break” and can’t abide “too little” break — the whole ankle-swinger (slim or straight pants) and no socks look horrifies me.

  15. Claire on

    This was super helpful! I am a seamstress who mostly does womenswear. Recently my father asked me to hem some slim fit pants for him and I was totally at a loss for where to place the hem. I think I’m going to go with a couple cm shorter than “enough break” for his pants- his style is more classic. Thanks!

  16. Mahanaim Singadji on

    Very helpful. I prefer the enough break (or one break, meaning no break on the back). I stay away from too much AND too little break, because that looks as if you’re wearing someone else’s trousers. I found out it can make a huge difference if you’re wearing a belt or not.
    A belt can make your trouser go from enough break to little break. So that’s something to consider, will you be wearing the suit with or without a belt. Personally I think you should always wear a suit with a belt (matching the shoes). But that’s my opinion.

    • Sick of your 'style' on

      youre also the guy with a stupid ass purple shirt and; of course, you couldnt leave home without your ever so slightly dofferent purple tie! haahahahaha get some style man. drop what your doin cause I’m about to ruin the image and the style that youre used to. you look funny. doesnt matter if youre making money… you look like shit. loose the billy ray cyrus hair and purple peacock clothes. wanna play it safe? just go become.a j. crew drone and copy what they do. you would look 10000000000X better. not safe? go spend a few months in Italy and learn from the pros.