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One of the most critical factors on how pants aesthetically perform is their leg length (called ‘inseam’), and the resulting pant ‘break’ (the way the fabric falls into your shoe).
Pants with a shorter leg length will fall less into the shoe and will create less of a break, compared to trousers with a longer length, which will fall more into the shoe, and produce more creases at the bottom of the pant.
But there’s several options when it comes to pant length and break, and it’s not always obvious which will work for you, and your circumstances.
Luckily, this post will delve into the question of just how long your pants, trousers and jeans should be, and which length will likely work best for you.
- 1 How Long Should Your Pants Be
- 2 Types of Trouser Breaks and Pant Lengths
- 3 Which Pant Length and Trouser Break Fits Best For Me?
- 4 Pant Length: Other Considerations
- 5 The Low Down…
How Long Should Your Pants Be
Your pant length should rest between a conservative ‘full break’, 1″ of fabric at the front of the shoe, and a modern ‘no break’, the fabric just skimming the top of the shoe. Some may have pants with a ‘negative cropped break’, which is where up to 0.5″ of ankle or sock shows below the hem.
But this is just the overall ‘acceptable range’ that can be found for the whole population. A fully ‘correct’ and aesthetically maximised pant length for you will depend on factors such as your height, body type, personal style preferences, and pant type.
This is important to consider, because as your break can have such an aesthetic impact, it can make or break your look.
If you’re looking for a quick fix, I feel the safest trouser length, and resulting break, that can work for any person, is the ‘half’ break, which involves about a 0.5″ overlap of fabric at the shoe at the front.
But if you want to ensure you know which break will be the ‘best’, most ‘aesthetic’ one for you, the rest of this article will first outline the different types of pant lengths, and resulting breaks, and will then delve into which are likely to be best for you, so you can dress with intention.
Types of Trouser Breaks and Pant Lengths
To expand on the definition from earlier, your pant ‘break’ is the way your pants falls into your shoe (if at all) when you’re standing up straight, and the resulting folds (if at all) that form at the bottom of your pant leg, directly above where it hits your shoe.
This is determined by the trouser’s inseam (pant length, from the hem to the crotch).
First up, I present to you the 5 main breaks that can be achieved on pants:
Important Note: Most pants without a cuff, especially ones custom hemmed by a tailor, usually feature a ‘sloped’ hem. This is when the back of the trouser is left 0.25-/0.5″ longer than the front, to produce a slope.
Negative/Cropped Pant Break
Length on Shoe: 0.5″ + above the shoe, unlikely to have a slope.
Wrinkles: No wrinkles produced in the front of the leg fabric.
Vibe and Style Personality: Trendy and fashionable.
Best On: Slim or wide pants, usually chinos.
Suitable Occasions: Casual outfits in casual situations.
Most Suitable Age: Younger gentlemen.
Best Height: Shorter to average height.
Best Body Type: Slimmer to average men.
A negative or ‘cropped’ break is where the trouser legs finish noticeably higher than the shoe, exposing some sock, or ankle. A lack of contact means that there are no wrinkles created at bottom of the pant leg.
This is suitable for casual situations, all year round.
However, many people feel this break is not suitable for formal looks. In fact, I was at an event a couple of days ago where people were collecting awards on stage, and a female friend leaned over to me to specifically point out that a gentleman’s pants were ‘too short’. They weren’t ‘too short’ though; they were cropped (tomAto, tomARto).
Just be warned, this trouser break is likely to cause this reaction if you wear it formally.
If your pants are any shorter than this, then they are, in my opinion, ‘too short’.
Length on Shoe: Fabric lightly hovers above, or skims the top of the shoe. May have a slope, with the back coming down slightly over the shoe.
Wrinkles: No wrinkles produced in the front of the leg fabric.
Vibe and Style Personality: Clean, sharp and modern.
Best On: Slim pants, of all types.
Suitable Occasions: Casual to suited outfits, with a bias towards non traditional situations, such as relaxed events, modern office environments, weekend wear, and going out with friends.
Most Suitable Age: Suitable for all ages, with bias towards younger gentlemen.
Best Height: Shorter to average men, with a bias towards shorter men.
Best Body Type: Slimmer men.
Note: The astute of you will realise that this is the same photo as presented with the ‘cropped’ break. Now, this is an interesting situation, because the front of these shoes are abnormally high compared to the sides. SO, if you watch the 360 degree clip, it’s got a ‘no break’ at the front, but you can clearly see a good 0.5″+ of fabric at the sides, which is the sort of length for cropped pants. For most other shoes, this length would undoubtedly be cropped, but the front view looks no break.
A ‘no break’ is when the trousers just skim, but don’t make prolonged contact with, or rest on, the top of the shoe. This means that, like pants with a cropped finish, a ‘no break’ produces no wrinkles in the pant leg front, leading to a clean aesthetic.
However, as it is slightly longer than the ‘cropped’ length, it becomes suitable in more situations due to increased formality, while retaining the slick and modern look.
Though I feel the ‘no break’ can work from casual pants, such as chinos, all the way up to formal trousers and dress pants, I feel its added formality does not easily extend to conservative environments, such as formal events.
That said, as this length is still likely to expose some sock or ankle at the side, it may be tricky to pull off for, and considered ‘too short’ by, some gentlemen who prefer a more conservative approach (which includes me, a relatively young guy).
In fact, as I was travelling to the same event I mentioned in the ‘cropped’ section, my father pointed out some guy on the train who was wearing no break pants, and – not sure why I was hearing so much pant feedback on that day – mentioned that he felt they were ‘way too short’, in a rather disgusted manner, so it’s definitely not for everyone.
A no break works well with slim pant fits, potentially with an aggressive taper.
As a wildcard, I find ‘no break’ pants look particularly good with a tapered leg and a cuff, if you can pull off that look.
Length on Shoe: Minimal fabric covering the shoe at the front, by about 0.25″. Will likely have a slope of about 0.5″ falling over the back.
Wrinkles: You will start to see minimal, shallow, wrinkling at the fabric above the hem.
Best On: Slim to average pants, of all types.
Vibe and Style Personality: Clean and modern, but less ‘sharp’ then the no break.
Occasions: Casual to tuxedo, in any situation.
Most Suitable Age: Everyone.
Best Height: Everyone.
Best Body Type: Average to slim gentlemen.
A ‘quarter’ break is when there’s a minimal, but still noticeable, amount of fabric hitting the shoe at the front, of about a quarter of an inch. This will produce minimal creasing at the bottom of the leg line.
At this point, the hem could potentially be sloped slightly further at the back, producing around 0.5″ of overlap, and, depending on how the pants are cut, some of the sock may still be visible.
The quarter break is much more wearable by most people compared to cropped and no break hems. It’s contemporary enough for young guys to enjoy, and conservative enough for the older crowd. However, if you have an inherently conservative style, you may prefer a more extreme break.
That said, it is, in my opinion, the first pant break that can be acceptably worn in a conservative setting.
Unlike ‘no break’ pants which look best with a slimmer, more tapered trouser, with a narrower leg opening, quarter break trousers are able to accommodate slightly wider pants and leg openings.
Half/Medium Pant Break
Length on Shoe: Medium amount of fabric covering the shoe at the front, by about 0.5″. Will slope to about 0.75″ at the back, covering about mid-way up the back of the shoe.
Wrinkles: Medium, defined, wrinkling at the fabric above the hem.
Vibe and Style Personality: Classic and timeless.
Best On: Average fit pants, of all types.
Occasions: Casual to tuxedo, in any situation.
Most Suitable Age: Everyone, with a bias towards middle age and older.
Best Height: Short to tall, with a bias towards average to tall gentlemen.
Best Body Type: Slim to large, with a bias towards average to large gentlemen.
A half break will be the ‘safe’ pant break for most men, as it introduces more length at the front and back – about 0.5″ at the front, and 0.75″ at the back in total.
The hem rests on and around the entire shoe, covering the sock, but is not overwhelmingly firmly set. In most cases, the first two shoelaces, and halfway down the back of the shoe, will be covered by the fabric. This produces medium, defined, crease just above the trouser hem.
This increase in fabric leads to an unquestionably more conservative and timeless finish, that isn’t overly traditional, and is flexible to all occasions.
The medium break is starting to work better for pants with a slightly straighter and more relaxed fit with a wider leg opening, but can still support a more contemporary and tapered leg.
At this point, no sock will be exposed.
Length on Shoe: Heavy amount of fabric covering the shoe at the front, by about 0.75″-1, which generally slopes down to around 1-1.25″ , covering about 3/4 of the back of the shoe.
Wrinkles: Heavy, defined, wrinkling at the fabric above the hem, potentially with multiple folds.
Vibe and Style Personality: Classic and conservative.
Best On: Wider formal trousers.
Occasions: Suits and tuxedos, in more formal situations.
Most Suitable Age: A bias towards middle age and older gentlemen.
Best Height: Average to tall gentlemen, with a bias towards taller men.
Best Body Type: Average to large gentlemen.
A ‘full break’ involves a noticeable ‘pool’ of fabric at the shoe, which covers most of the shoe laces at the front, and most of the back of the shoe, to the top of the heel. Due to the increased fabric present, which now sits firmly into the shoe, this creates more creasing above the hem.
However, some feel that ‘full break’ pants are close to being too long. In all cases, there is a danger that this could produce an ‘unkept’ look if other elements of the outfit’s fit are off point, as it will look like less of a deliberate choice, and more of a faux pas. Trousers that are any longer than a full break that create a ‘puddle’ of fabric, and multiple creases above the hem, regardless of the mastery in other areas, will certainly produce a ‘too long’ aesthetic, and should be avoided.
The added length makes the ‘full break’ the most conservative and traditional pant break, which make it potentially too long for younger men, or those with more modern style personalities. Therefore, the full break is best suited to – and associated with – those with more traditional style personalities, who tend to be older; could also be advantageous for those who enjoy the vintage look.
A full break will support, and looks best with, a wider leg opening, and a straight, non tapered leg. Small leg openings look awkward with a full break, and categorically look too long.
I feel the most incredible example of this is Simon Baker’s light grey suit when he had his name unveiled on the Hollywood walk of fame – just superb tailoring in this garment, the trouser breaks absolutely perfectly against his shoes – and this is from a guy who usually shies away from a full break. The best thing is, Simon Baker, who could be considered average in the height department at 5″8 (Jane even comments he’s too short for double breasted jackets), shows that a full break can still look good on a guy who’s not over six feet.
Which Pant Length and Trouser Break Fits Best For Me?
To try and simplify which pant break you should wear as much as possible, I’ve put together a fancy infographic.
To use it, decide where you fall on the X axis, the ‘slim/relaxed’ line, then, with this locked in place, decide where you fall on the height scale. Then, once you have that position locked in, you can move diagonally in accordance to if you want your look to be ‘casual and fashionable’ or ‘formal and conservative’ to determine which trouser break will work for you.
It was really difficult to simplify this topic into one infographic, and even though I feel I’ve managed to successfully plot 3 of the main factors into one graph, it may be of some use to you that we go into a little more detail on the nuances of each factor, and discuss some of the outliers, and factors that didn’t make it into the graph.
Therefore, the rest of this section will individually go through all the different factors that affect the appropriateness of pant breaks, and which work best for you.
Rule: The wider your pants are, especially at the hem, the more the break there should ideally be.
Example: If you have a relaxed, wide trouser leg, it should ideally have a half or full break. Similarly, if you have a slim pant leg, it should ideally have a no, or quarter break.
Why?: Because wider hem circumferences sit more elegantly in the shoe with more fabric, compared to slimmer pant and leg openings, which hit the shoe earlier, and can produce a less elegant ripple if a fuller break is attempted. Similarly, a shorter break with a wider hem will leave the fabric ‘hanging’, and potentially flapping in the wind, whereas a slimmer leg opening has less room to sway, and looks more flattering with less wrinkles..
Exceptions: Cropped pants can look great with a more relaxed, wider trouser leg. However, this is a definitely a ‘non-traditional’ fashion forward look, that goes with the cropped length.
Guideline: The older you are, the more conservative your break should be.
Example: Younger men are better suited to cropped, no, and quarter breaks, compared to older gentlemen who may look more appropriate with a half or full break.
Why?: I’ve put this down as a ‘guideline’, because I don’t believe you need to stick to it if you know what you’re doing. In fact, deliberately going in the other direction may work to your advantage, such as a younger man trying to present themselves as more mature.
However, if you’re new to style, or are unsure what break to choose, it’s a good rule of thumb that will likely work out.
Rule: More excessive breaks should be worn to more formal situations, and shorter breaks should be worn to more casual situations.
Example: It’s more suitable to wear a half break to a business meeting, and a no break to a casual lunch with friends.
Why?: Because pant breaks mirror the formality and conservatism of the event, it’s only right to wear more casual breaks to more casual events, and more formal breaks, to more formal events.
Body Type and Height
Rule: The taller or heavier you are, the greater your break should be.
Example: Shorter, or slimmer men are best suited to cropped trousers, no breaks and quarter breaks, and taller, or larger men are best suited to medium and full breaks. Average men are safe with anything from no break to medium break.
Why?: For shorter, slimmer men, less of a break will produce a clean line, and not add any visual weight to your outfit, allowing the eye to seamlessly travel up and down, producing the illusion of added height. For taller, larger men, more of a break will introduce visual weight to the bottom of your outfit, which can balance out anyone who’s top heavy, or deemphasise height. Taller men who try and pull off a no break, and shorter men who try and pull off a full break, are likely to look like they’ve either outgrown, or have received hand-me-downs, respectively.
Exceptions: The half break is suitable for everyone: all body types, heights, weights and occasions. That said, I feel it looks best balanced on average to larger men.
Guideline: Those with preferences towards more classic, timeless, or ‘traditional’ style would be best placed with a more excessive break.
Example: Someone who loves modern looks would be better placed with a cropped, no, or quarter break, compared to someone who enjoys classic style, who would be better placed with a half or full break.
Why?: Purely because the aesthetics of more minimal breaks, such as the no break, produce a more ‘modern’ look than longer breaks, such as the full break, which are more common throughout history, and produce a classic and traditional aesthetic.
Type of Pants
Guideline: Certain types of pant should only be worn with certain types of breaks.
Example: For example – though the no break can work if it’s spot on for you in many other areas – dress pants and trousers generally look most appropriate with quarter to full breaks. Moreover, jeans and chinos tend to look most appropriate between a quarter and half break.
Why?: Again, this is a guideline; I’ve seen many people pull off looks outside of the above ranges – but they’ve experimented, and know what they’re doing. For most people, the above break and pant type matchings will work well, as they’re matched to the most common breaks you’ll see most people wear them with, and the formality of the pant type. For example, suit trousers look more appropriate than jeans with a full break, as they’re more formal.
Rule: Pants finished with cuffs tend to look best between a no break, for a sharp look, to a half break, for a more conservative look.
Why?: Because the cuff adds both visual, and actual weight to the trouser leg, the weight pulls a no break pant leg down to help enhance a clean line. Conversely, there could be too much fabric going on if a cuff is worn with a full break.
Pant Length: Other Considerations
There are a couple of other things to be aware of when it comes to your pant break, that could dramatically affect the result if not considered.
Some types of shoes, such as loafers, sit lower on the foot, and expose more sock than lace ups.
This means that the break will fall differently on loafers compared to lace ups – for example, as they’re higher, a pair of pants may have a quarter break on lace up shoes, but a no break on loafers.
When you’re buying shoes, or having them pinned for hemming, make sure to wear the shoe type you most frequently wear, or want them to fit for.
This is more of a general tip, but most people have one leg longer than the other.
If you’re going to get your pants hemmed, I’d recommend to mention this to the person doing the pinning.
In some cases, if they only pin up one trouser, it may turn out that one leg breaks different to the other, such as a quarter break on one pant leg, and a half break on the other, which – obviously – will look awkward.
The Low Down…
So, now you know how long your pants should be, in general, and based on many individual characteristics. If it turns out many of yours are currently too long – no worries, shortening pants is a standard job for any alterations tailor!
But, in many cases, it is a good idea to experiment with different breaks and different types of pants over time, because you never know which you’ll like best, despite what the guidelines suggest.
But, though important, the break of your trouser isn’t the only important factor in getting a pair of pants that look good, and feel comfortable. For a complete overview on how pants should fit properly, check out my awesome post, which I believe is the best on the internet.