To cuff or not to cuff? That has been a question men had to answer for over a century or so when they put it in their pants or trousers. If you look around on the street, most men wearing long pants are opting for a straight hem without a cuff, but this wasn’t always the case. For example, during the Golden Era of Menswear in the 1930s, most men would opt for a pair of cuffs or turnups on their everyday pants.
Back then, straight hems were reserved for more formal ensembles, such as evening wear or formal morning wear. The de facto choice of cuffs for everyday normal wear started to disappear by the 1960s. Much like pleats, cuffs now have gone in and out of fashion; however, they never stuck around as the number one choice that most men would wear, but why is that? That’s the question we’re here to answer, and, secretly speaking, we are big fans of cuffs.
History of Cuffs & Turnups
Before we can fully understand why men stopped wearing cuffs, it pays to understand why we started wearing them in the first place. Te idea of adding cuffs to the bottom half of your outfit has been something that men have been doing since Medieval Times.
Interestingly, it started with footwear, not pants. Many popular riding boot styles at the time added cuffs or cuff-like elements to give their boots more weight and for decorative effect. Frankly, some of them were even more cuffed than boots.
However, we didn’t really start seeing this on pants until the 1890s. King Edward VII is often credited for having invented or at least popularized the trend of adding turnups or cuffs to trousers or pants.
The monarch wanted a pair of trousers that he could wear on a typical, bad-weather English day in rural areas. At times, British men would often roll up their pant legs on quintessentially bad weather, English days. The reason they did this was to avoid getting mud on their pants, so they could avoid having to wash prematurely. So, Edward decided to have his trousers tailored in a way where they were pre-rolled and permanently attached.
As Edward was seen wearing his pants in this way, others followed suit and started to wear pants in that fashion.
The added benefit of adding decorative cuffs was that the extra weight resulted in a cleaner drape because the extra weight at the bottom of the pants would pull them down more neatly, so you just had a pair of nicer-looking trousers.
By the time the 20th century rolled around, cuffs had become the standard for men on their pants. In the early 1900s, a man by the name of Louis Freeman had a patent whereby a hole in the cuff was supposed to prevent the cuff from collecting dust and debris. Obviously, this patented invention never really caught on, and today, most people do not have a hole in their cuff.
Who knew men were so passionate about keeping the inside of their cuffs clean? Also, it’s ironic that something that was designed to prevent the pants from getting dirty now is actually collecting dirt. Of course, another way to get around that would be to just close the hem by sewing it shut.
Despite cuff’s widespread popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, they were subject to rationing during World War II. However, unlike other victims like the double-breasted suit or the three-piece suit, which noticeably lost in popularity after World War II, the cuffs made a comeback after the war.
Looking back, you can even see trendy men like Marlon Brando cuffing his jeans. So, you can see cuffing was something that was popular even with a more casual style. Young people didn’t actively rebel against cuffs.
However, by the 1960s, cuffs had lost some steam. The slim fit style of the Mod Era was not conducive to wearing turnups. The extra bulk of the traditionally sized cuff just looked off and unbalanced on an otherwise very slim silhouette.
By the 1980s, cuffs seemed to have officially lost their foothold in society. Now, some might say, “Wait a second, what about the 80s Yuppie style, which had cuffs as part of their outfits?” Well, it was just that; it was a small trend and, frankly, it was only associated with the stuffiness and associated stereotypes of that era.
You might say, “My grandpa, my husband, my boyfriend, they all still wear cuffs, “and you’re right! Cuffs never disappeared completely; however, if you go to a mall today, you go to a store, you look around yourself, chances are less than five percent of men are going to wear cuffs.
Why Men Stopped Wearing Cuffed Trousers
1. Dated Appearance
Reason number one is that, in many men’s minds, it has a somewhat dated appearance. Because they were popular several decades ago, a lot of men are so associate the style with their grandpas of yesteryear.
They also share a somewhat symbiotic relationship with pleats, which also have fallen out of favor as of late. But, I think there is somewhat of a resurgence of pleats, so we might also see a resurgence of cuffs.
So, the everyday man who’s not interested in classic style or even fashion will likely opt to go without cuffs. That being said, if you attend the immensely event Pitti Uomo, you’ll see tons of cuffed pants and everyone who’s interested in tailored clothing as well is also a big fan of cuffs typically. It’s almost like the subset of well-dressed men embraces cuffs because it separates them from the rest.
Wait, you’re wearing no cuffs? Peasant!
When faced with some of the high fashion styling of bold pleats and waistbands on modern trousers, it’s always important to keep one thing in mind: the fit of the pants really determines if something looks good and flattering or not.
A cuff can just be an element of that, and details like cuffs or pleats are not something that just belongs to one era but can be incorporated into your personal style.
2. Perceived Proportionality
The second reason cuffs have fallen out of favor are their perceived proportionality. You’ll often hear it thrown around that only tall, long-limbed men are able to pull off cuffs.
The theory goes that it helps to balance your height by adding cuffs, which make your legs look somewhat shorter. This means that if you are not a tall man, you may be afraid of looking shorter than you are; however, this generalization is not really true. What it comes down to is proportion.
For example, a two-and-a-half-inch cuff or six centimeters may seem disproportionate for a person who is just five-six or 168 centimeters or shorter. However, a cuff of maybe one-and-a-half inches or roughly four centimeters may look much more proportional. It’s all about finding the right proportions that work well with the fullness of your pants and the style you’re going for.
After all, I highly doubt that someone will tell Joe Pesci that he looks funny with his cuffs.
3. Styling Confusion
The third reason cuffs have fallen out of favor is that there’s styling confusion. Because you have to be actively interested in clothing to even understand the concept of cuffs, it may be something outside of the comfort zone for many men.
They may seem too complicated or fussy to them. After all, you don’t just have to choose cuff or no cuff, but if you go with a cuff, you can also decide whether you want two and a half inches, two inches, one and three quarters, one and five-eighths, and so forth.
Also, someone is wearing cuffed pants a little shorter than their straight hemmed pants, so how much sock should you show? Should it cover your feet? If you have very slim pants, having a cuff that is too long can look odd and puddly.
A more advanced alterations tailor can even give you a slightly angled cuff so it hits the bottom of the shoe in the back, but still reveals everything in the front. Now, while regular cuffs are reversible and can be taken out and put back on, you can’t do that anymore once you have angled cuffs because they’re technically, you know, not real cuffs but separately cut pieces that are then attached to one another.
To understand if you should opt for some break or no break or how to find the right balance for your style, check out our dedicated guide to that topic.
4. Confusing Formality
The fourth reason they’re falling out of favor is because they’re perceived as being innately formal even though, back in the day, they were considered to be innately casual. As I mentioned before, historically, cuffs were utilized by people in rural areas – in the countryside by peasants and by farmers. So, naturally, it was something that was not for the man about town.
Because of that, to this day, you won’t see cuffs on formal wear like a tuxedo, a White Tie ensemble, a stroller suit, or a morning wear ensemble. At least, not if the person wearing it has read the Gentleman’s Gazette style guides.
So, if cuffed pants were more casual, and today, we live in a world that is increasingly more casual, why is it then that not more men wear cuffs? Honestly, most men on the street today associate a cuff or a turnup with something that’s worn with dress pants or a suit, so to them, it’s something that’s much more formal. After all, sweatpants don’t have cuffs, do they?
Also, if you’re into the minimalist approach, I can see how no cuffs jive more with your style.
Back in the day, maybe someone would have noticed if you had worn a suit in the evening with cuffs as that being slightly out of place. Today, if you wear a suit of any kind, you will be so much more formally dressed than most people around you that no one would even know this kind of old-school rule.
Because many men don’t wear cuffs and I don’t know how to wear them, it can almost be a subtle style hallmark, whereas all of your everyday pants have them.
Personally, I like cuffs because the extra weight just gives me that better-looking drape, and also, when I walk, they move differently than without the cuffs. I also think my pants get stuck less to my pants like into my socks, and they float more evenly when I walk.
5. Bulkier Silhouette
The fifth reason cuffs have fallen out of favor is because they have a bulkier silhouette. Now, in recent years, slim fit has dominated the menswear landscape, and if you wear skinny tight jeans, having a bulky cuff just doesn’t seem very balanced.
That’s not to say that cuffs can never work on slimmer pants. I think they can. It just has to be the right proportion because it’s also about the leg opening, it’s the type of fabric you use, and it’s the cut of the pants themselves.
Last but not least, one of the most simple but also logical reasons is that costs had something to do with the disappearance of cuffs. If you think about it at a very basic level, cuffs require more fabric and more workmanship, therefore costing more money, which is then passed onto the consumer.
More clothing brands today are exclusively bottom-line focused, so it’s an easy way to get rid of the cuffs, especially if customers are not asking for them. But, no, manufacturers are not all bad.
If you look at it from an operational point of view, the choice becomes very clear. If you have a pair of straight-hemmed or unhemmed pants, there’s just one singular option, and that’s the way it is.
Yes, on a bespoke front, you can also have an angle straight hem, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Let’s say, the original manufacturer decided to offer a cuffed pair of pants. Well, now they also have to define what size the cuff would be. So, maybe some people would not like the two inches – they’d prefer a one-inch – and some people say, “Oh, I hate the one-inch. I want a two and a half inches.” So, your market shrinks immediately.
They also know that if a person truly wants cuffs, they can just buy a longer straight hem and have the cuff added at the alterations tailor.
The truth is that you can also take a pair of cuffed pants. If it’s properly cuffed, you can undo it and create a straight hem. But, it just seems more work, and most people don’t realize that. So, for companies, it is a safer, much less costly bet that can still accommodate people who like cuffs to offer cuffless pants.
In a nutshell, just because cuffs are currently not popular doesn’t mean they can’t work for you and your style. In fact, many here at Gentleman’s Gazette prefer a cuffed pair of pants for everyday wear.
Personally, I like a two-inch cuff. In the past, I had two-and-a-half, sometimes two-and-three-quarter inches of a cuff, and it always elicited lots of comments on YouTube. I like the way they feel when I walk, I like the way they look, and I also enjoy that it’s an item that not every man on the street wears, too. Of course, not for my formal ensembles, and there was a time when I had all the cuffs removed on certain pants that I had because I felt it was more formal and more proper.
At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong; there’s just what works for you. I just hope you’re not intimidated by cuffs or feel like you can’t wear it without looking like a grandpa.
What’s your take on cuffs, how high do you wear them, or how small? Do you not wear them at all? Please share with us in the comments.
So, in today’s outfit, I’m, of course, wearing a cuffed pair of pants. It’s a single-pleated prototype from Fort Belvedere. It has a full cut and a true high-rise that is above my belly button. It’s inspired by the 1930s, and even more so than cuffs, I like the high-rise because it makes for a much more comfortable trouser, and it also has an elongating effect on the silhouette.
Even people in the street who don’t know what I wear will often compliment me and say, “Wow! These are sharp-looking pants,” without knowing why they like them. Maybe it’s the cuffs, maybe it’s the high-rise, maybe it’s the way they drape – I can’t pinpoint it but there’s definitely something about it.
My jacket is a prototype blazer from Fort Belvedere with some gold buttons. My shirt is finely striped in white and blue from Eaton. My green, blue, and dark yellow tie; my white and blue, hand-rolled pocket square; as well as my shadow-striped socks, are from Fort Belvedere, and you can find them in our shop here.
My shoes are kilty penny loafers from Stuart’s Choice that were made in England. My pinky ring is a new acquisition from Berlin, Germany. I bought it at the flea market, and it’s made of yellow gold with a nice cream tourmaline.
Today’s fragrance is the Roberto Ugolini Loafer, which comes in this green bottle, and I’m wearing loafers, so I thought this was a really good scent.