The Return of Cuffed Pants

February 12, 2014

The Return of Cuffed Pants – Embraced by brands such as Tom Ford, Canali and Hermès, a once fuddy-duddy trouser hem is stylish again, as reported in the news of the WS Journal.

FOLD-FRIENDLY | Paul Newman sporting cuffed trousers in 1960. REX USA

FOR THE PAST several years, wearing pants that bare a sliver of ankle has been a popular men’s style, mostly achieved by a do-it-yourself rolling of the hem. However, a proper cuff—or what the English call a “turnup”—that’s neatly creased and sewn into place, had what seemed like its final run in the early 1980s with preppy cuffed khakis and Wall Street power suits. And ever since, with the exception of designer Thom Browne’s exaggerated flood-high hems—launched in 2001, and still going strong—cuffed trousers have been frowned upon as unflattering old-fashioned dad slacks.

But a few months ago, when cuffs strutted down the men’s spring runways—at Hermès, Canali, Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren, to name a few—they looked crisply sophisticated, befitting a cocksure Sean Connery circa 1962. Yes, the original 007 cuffed with aplomb. And the newest Bond does too: Daniel Craig looked sharp as a dagger brandishing cuffs on his slim-fit suit pants by Tom Ford in last year’s “Skyfall.” That’s proof enough for some that cuffs are cool again.

Alex Young, the director of suiting for Freemans Sporting Club’s Bench-Made Bespoke Studio in New York and self-described “ambassador of cuffs,” said that in the past year, younger men have been opting to cuff up. He attributes the shift to a revival of American tailoring. While off-the-rack designer suits rarely feature cuffs, shoppers who go the tailor-made route are typically given the option. The end of the suit-making process, for most tailors, is deciding on the fall of the trousers. Do you go for a plain hem or do you cuff?

“We don’t force things on people,” said Mr. Young. However, if a gentleman has an air of classicism about him, or a pronounced sense of individuality, Mr. Young will suggest a cuff. It’s not just a pointless flourish, he added. A cuff adds weight, anchoring the hem and creating a cleaner drape. Mr. Young particularly favors cuffs on straight- or wide-legged trousers in thicker fabrics, worn with a double-breasted jacket. “A guy with a cuff on a narrow thin pant leg is going for a very certain look, which I don’t recommend,” said Mr. Young. “The narrower hem can look a little forced.”

It’s a fine line. Some might argue that men sporting traditional cuffs like those Mr. Young described run the risk of veering into “dad” territory. The look on the spring runways avoided that pitfall with trim, tapered silhouettes and hems that stopped jauntily near the ankle—instead of hitting the top of the shoe as most sartorial conservatives would advise.

At Canali, there were high-waisted, pleated pants with slim tapered legs and cuffed hems that landed mid-ankle. “We have been proposing cuffs for several seasons,” said communications director Elisabetta Canali, whose grandfather founded the brand. “They’re a distinctive sign of elegance that adds neatness to the look.” Though Canali’s lean and lanky models did look quite dashing, the silhouette doesn’t work for everyone, as Ms. Canali herself agreed: “A cuffed pant looks more refined on tall and long-limbed men. It’s a matter of proportion.” That’s not just a high-end designer’s opinion; it’s a long-standing rule of menswear.

For a cuffed style from the new collections that’s more accessible, a flat-front design with a lower rise is the way to go. Young French designer Alexandre Mattiussi did a few crisp but casual versions for his line AMI; and Hermès creative director Véronique Nichanian showed flat-front and nearly flat single-pleat styles (with slim but not-too-tapered legs) that had a breezy refinement, cut in cotton serge and poplin, sometimes blended with linen gabardine.

Unlike the hefty cuffed tweeds and flannels of yore, such lighter fabrics make for a subtler look. Sid Mashburn, the eponymous owner of an Atlanta-based custom tailoring-haberdasher, said that he prefers to see cuffs on trousers in summer-weight fabrics like cotton, seersucker, linens and tropical wools. “We love cuffs here,” said Mr. Mashburn. “We have hipsters and bank presidents asking for them. Anybody can pull them off.”

As for footwear, while traditional cuffed trousers look better with heavier shoes like oxfords, there’s more leeway when it comes to a lighter-weight fabric that’s cut a bit shorter and sans multiple pleats. The latter pairs nicely with casual footwear like sandals or loafers. Even tennis shoes, said Mr. Mashburn, worn with cuffed cotton pants and a blazer, are acceptable.

In the interest of representing all sides, one view that deserves mention is the no-cuff camp. “Cuffs on trousers are like teats on a bull—unnecessary, unbecoming,” said Duncan Quinn, a British ex-pat who owns bespoke shops in New York and Los Angeles. “A good trouser is cut to sit properly on a shoe. Precise, clean, sharp. Just like the Queen’s guards.” Those sound like fighting words. Here’s hoping he won’t come to, ahem, fisticuffs with spring’s new turnup converts.

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