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One detail that a lot of people tend not to focus on when it comes to pants is the width of the pant leg opening (also known as the ‘hem width’).
But this measurement has a massive consequence on how the bottom half of the outfit looks, with sometimes only a a 0.5″ change producing a radically different look.
Your pant leg opening should be in the 6-10″ range, and fall at around 8″ in width if you are of average height and weight. Some choose to have the hem of casual pants be slimmer, in the 6.5-8″ range, and the leg opening of formal pants be wider, in the 8-9.5″ range.
But the above ‘quick answer’ isn’t really helpful – a range of 6.5-9.5″? That’s massive! Well, be sure to read on for a more complete, and personalised answer on how wide your pant leg opening should be, so you can get closer to the look that you desire.
How Wide Should Your Pant Leg Opening and Hem Width Be?
All things considered, your hem width will depend on factors such as:
- Your height and weight. (For the best aesthetic look)
- Your trouser break. (For the best aesthetic look)
- Personal preferences.
Consequently, the question of the ‘correct’ pant leg width for is an elusive one.
Therefore, this post will be split up into two parts. Firstly, I will cover the two factors to consider to getting the best aesthetic pant width (height and weight, and break), and then will dive into personal preferences.
Finding Your ‘Most Aesthetic’ Pant Hem Width
Factor 1: Height and Weight (Bodily Measurements)
To find a relationship between your bodily measurements and the most aesthetic pant hem width, I decided to investigate with scientific vigour.
SO, I did what any serious scientist would do, and headed to the most omniscient of all websites, Styleforum, where I surveyed what men had reported as their height, weight, and hem width preferences, in an attempt to identify the relationship between bodily characteristics, and optimum aesthetic pant break.
I found that, of 15 men between 5″7 and 6″4:
- Reported favourite hem widths ranged from 6-10″.
- The mode (most frequent) AND the mean (average) hem opening of all the data was 8″, which incidentally falls directly in the middle of the reported range. However, the overall data had a slight bias of answers reporting their favourite hem width for formal trousers.
- Taking into account just reports of casual pants, there was a mode trouser leg opening of 7.75″, and a mean hem opening of 7.4″.
Below is the chart of all the data collected in this research, ordered by reported height, alongside any further information about what pant type they were specifically referring to (formal/casual pants).
|Person/Attribute||Height||Weight||Smallest Leg Opening||Favourite Leg Opening|
|SF User 1||5″7||6-7″|
|SF User 2||5″8||7.5″|
|SF User 3||5″9||8″|
|SF User 4||5″10||162lbs||7.75″ (casual settings)||8-8.25″ (work setting)|
|SF User 5||5″11||150lbs||7.5 (casual)||8-8.25″ (suits)|
|Me||5″11||167lbs||6.5 – 7″ (tapered jeans)||7.75-8″ (dress pants)|
|SF User 6||6″0||205lbs||9-9.5″ (work setting)|
|SF User 7||6″1||164||8.25″|
|SF User 8||6″1||175lbs||7.75″ (casual settings)||8″ (suits)|
|SF User 9||6″2||185||10″|
|SF User 10||6″2||195lbs||7″ (jeans)||8″ (dress pants), 9.25″ (pleated dress pants)|
|SF User 11||6″2||200lbs||8-8.5″|
|SF User 12||6″2||220lbs||9″|
|SF User 13||6″3||180lbs||8.25″|
|SF User 14||6″4||7.5-7.75″ (too narrow)||8-8.5″|
If you like, you can use the above chart to draw your own conclusions, based on your height and weight (if the data is available).
However, from my own observations:
- For guys 5″8 and below.
- You’ll probably be best with a hem width of 6-7.5″ for formal trousers.
- For guys 5″9 up to 6″4, and less than 190lbs.
- A hem width of 7.4″ is the ‘average’, and safest casual pant leg opening for aesthetics.
- You’ll probably be best with a pant leg opening of 7-7.75″ for casual pants.
- A hem width of 8″ is the ‘average’, and safest formal pant leg opening for aesthetics.
- You’ll probably be best with a trouser leg opening of 7.5-8.5″ for formal trousers.
- For guys heavier than 190lbs.
- A hem width of 8.8″ is the average, and safest formal pant leg opening for aesthetics.
- You’ll probably be best with a trouser leg opening of 8-9″ for formal trousers.
Though my data set isn’t vast enough to back this up, common wisdom would suggest that if you’re on the larger, or broader side, you should look at choosing a width at the top end of the range, and if you’re on the slimmer side, you should look at choosing a width at the bottom end of the range.
Also, a potential limitation of this research is that it may not be accurate because it’s based on hard data; even if there’s a general trend, it may be possible that everyone is doing it wrong. Though, I don’t believe this to be the case.
However, during my research, I came across four other methods of using bodily measurements to estimate optimum aesthetic pant hem width, that may be of some interest to you, which I’ve outlined below.
Alternate Suggestion 1: Waist Size
Articles of Style suggests that, for an average body type, the following hem widths provide an appropriate look for the corresponding waist sizes:
- 30″ Waist: 7.4″ opening.
- 32″ Waist: 7.6″ opening.
- 34″ Waist: 8″ opening.
- 36″ Waist: 8.4″ opening.
- 38″ Waist: 8.75″ opening.
This chart is banking on the fact that your waist size is a total reflection of your frame, which I think, in most cases, is a valid assumption to make.
I think user ‘EBugatti’ on Styleforum, who also mentioned this system, says it best:
“Trouser leg opening is proportional to waist size. If you have a larger waist, a larger opening is going to look more proportionate all other things equal (assuming you yourself are proportionate, so if you are short and stocky, have huge feet, have a pot belly, etc. then the rule might not hold as well).”
Though I feel this chart is of merit, it doesn’t take into account casual and formal pants, and just proposes widths for formal trousers (which is still useful, if that’s what you’re after).
To add to this, as someone with a waist between 30-32″, I prefer my formal pant leg widths to be a wider 8″, which this chart would recommend against. Looking at the other reported measurements, it also seems that those a bit lighter than me similarly prefer wider leg openings than this suggests. However, it may be that we’re all just wearing the wrong pant leg widths, are asymmetrical, or have more personal bias (discussed later) than we think!
But for many of those who reported that they are heavier than my 168lbs frame, who presumably have a larger waist size, this looks like it could hold up better.
All of this aside, I think this chart could be useful, for those who are truly proportionate, or who are new to style.
But for this chart to be useful across the population, user ‘Papa Kot’ suggests that ‘overall geometry of the upper body, not just the waist, is a good reference point’. I agree that this would be better, however this is probably best represented with body weight.
Therefore, I feel the numbers proposed in my above study are more realistic as an average, taking into account multi dimensional heights and weights, rather than just waist size (as those who are in shape, may have a small waste, but a large upper body).
Before we move on, as an alternate suggestion to this alternate suggestion, some people feel the waist pairings should go 30: 7.25″, 32:7.5, 34:7.75, though I feel this is too small.
Alternate Suggestions 2: Shoe Size
In the same Styleforum post as aforementioned, ‘TonyThe Tailor’ suggested that your trouser leg opening can be determined by the following equations:
Optimal Hem Width for Flat Front Pants = (US Shoe Size + 6.5 - 7) / 2
Optimal Hem Width for Pleated Pants = (US Shoe Size + 7.5 - 8) /2
So, take me for example – I am shoe size 10.5 UK (on average), which is a US 11. For flat front pants, this model suggests that I should wear a hem width of 10.5 inches (11 + 6.5 – 7) /2
This is way too big for me, at least, what I currently wear – my pants currently fall in the 6.5-8 inch range.
Taking this into account, here are some potential limitations with this model:
- Perhaps I have abnormally large feet for my frame, which is why I’m getting a much larger number.
- You might vary in shoe size from brand to brand, in which case I’d take the midpoint of the range. So, I’m a 10-11 UK, so I’ll use 10.5 UK. However, this does introduce a degree of uncertainty.
- Conversion between US, UK and EU shoe sizing can be difficult and inaccurate.
That said, I think there could be some truth in the notion of feet size, as they may scale depending on your height and weight (need to look into the literature on this), which has an impact on your optimum pant width. However, I don’t believe the above formulas, as described, are of help.
Alternate Suggestion 3: Shoe Length
User ‘Parker’ also suggested that a traditional rule is that your pant hem width should be 2/3 the length of your shoe.
This could be very interesting, as dress shoes are typically longer than casual shoes, so would also help take into account the formality level of your outfit. It also removes the issues of converting between different shoe sizing systems, though retains the problem of abnormally large feet (though, this might be preferable for aesthetic balance?)
To try this out, I measured 3 pairs of casual shoes, which came out at 12″, 12.5″ and 12.5″, and 2 pairs of dress shoes, which both came out at 13″.
So, according to this model, it would recommend:
12.3" (the average of the 3) * 2/3 = 8.2" hem width for casual shoes
13" * 2/3 = 8.7" hem width for formal shoes
These results are better than the shoe size calculation, however I feel are still slightly off. For my preferences, you would need to minus 0.7 from both outcomes, to get 7.5″ for casual pants, and 8″ for formal pants.
So, though this hasn’t been tested on anyone else, the following formula may provide a good, more robust estimation:
Acceptable Pant Hem Width = (Average of shoe lengths for shoe type * 2/3) - 0.7
Alternate Suggestion 4: Ankle Size
Some other forum members suggested that the hem width should depend on your ankle size, however they didn’t accompany these suggestions with any formulas, or evidence.
Though, like feet size, ankle size is somewhat likely to scale with your proportions, I don’t think it can be reliably used, as I don’t believe there is as much of a substantial, robust and measurable difference in ankle sizes compared to height, or shoe size. Moreover, different people may have bonier ankles compared to others, which isn’t necessarily related to their general physique, and is just inherited.
Alternate Suggestion 5: Average of Pairs
Todd Shelton has a rather sensible suggestion: find your best looking formal and casual pants, and measure the hem widths.
This method is great, though it won’t tell you which is the optimum leg opening, unless you have a entire range, in both formal and casual pant styles. But it can give you valuable direction, if you have two pairs, and one looks too big, and one looks too small; in this case, you’ll want to look at a measurement that’s been the two.
Of course, none of the above alternate suggestions provides a range of hem widths, which is the more likely and useful measurement, as it would be hard to find a specific hem width off the rack consistently, and, though it may be close, it’s unlikely that the number that’s produced is going to be 100% accurate to the ‘optimum’ pant hem width.
Factor 2: Pant Break
So, now you have a hem width measurement.
But, if you’ve decided on a certain pant break, the measurement you’ve identified from the information above may not look correct with that pant break.
(If you haven’t decided on a pant break, or don’t know what they are, I’d highly recommend checking out my awesome complete guide to pant breaks, and which you should wear)
For example, if I calculated an optimum aesthetic hem width of 7″, but decided I wanted a full break, you’d have a narrow hem width (even for slim guys who can pull this off, it will still likely be narrow, with not masses of room – if it was proportionally the same as a bigger person, and there was lots of room, it would look fine) with lots of bunching of the fabric, which would look odd.
So, you should assume that the optimum hem width you’ve identified would look best with a quarter or half break, and that moving to a no break, or a full break will require a slight adjustment in hem measurement for it to still look correct.
Though I don’t have experience with, or have tested, this, I would suggest that:
- If you’re looking to wear a no break, reduce your optimum hem width by 0.5″, or pick a number at the lower end of your acceptable range.
- If you’re looking to wear a full break, increase your optimum hem width by 0.5″, or pick a number at the higher end of your acceptable range.
By doing this, you’re ensuring that the hem width stays in proportion to the break you’ve selected.
If you find that your pant looks strange after doing this, I would recommend reconsidering the pant break you’ve chosen, as it’s more important that your hem width stays within a certain range, than your break (especially as a quarter/half break is pretty universal).
Factor 3: Adjusting Pant Leg Opening and Hem Width On Personal Preference
When asked, it seems that some people have a different answer to their preferred hem widths, even those of similar heights and weights.
This is because, on top of some hem widths proportionally looking better for certain heights and statures, there is an element of personal preference and appropriateness, which may make someone choose a width different to the aesthetic recommendations, as covered above.
For this, there isn’t really anything I can recommend, other than, if you manage to identify a optimum aesthetic range, or specific pant hem width, from the above sections of the post, you may want to adjust it based on factors such as:
- Occasion: Narrower hem widths are more appropriate for casual, social settings, and wider hem widths are more appropriate for more formal events.
- Style Personality: Narrow hem widths are better for those with a more modern style personality, compared to wider hem widths that are more appropriate if you’re more ‘classically’ minded.
- Age: Though I don’t believe you should really worry about this, some feel that younger gentlemen should have a smaller leg opening, compared to older gentlemen, who should have a wider pant width.
The Low Down…
So, now we finally have a somewhat more solid answer to how wide your pant hem width should be.
Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be concretely prescribed, but hopefully the above information will help you make an informed decision about which measurement is best for you, and how you may want to adjust it.
However, you too can add to the research – feel free to comment on this post with your:
- Smallest leg opening and pant type
- Favourite leg opening and pant type
… so we can expand the data set, and get an even more generalised average on what most men (or women) are rocking!
Before we finish, just to throw this in, some people, like Simon from Permanent Style, feel like there isn’t a ‘optimum’ constant pant hem width, and it changes on a pant by pant basis. I do agree, but I think the content of this post is important for education, and to get a vague idea of where you’ll be best placed.