The other day, I had an interesting question posed to me by one of my readers. He had recently purchased a pair of pleated trousers at Brooks Brothers and it was recommended that he have them hemmed with cuffs.
His wife, who is German, objected to this approach and cited her and her European friends’ opinion that stylish men do not cuff their pants. In a quandary, he called up the store and talked to another associate who said that pleated trousers demand cuffs and that their added weight help the pant leg hang properly.
Unsure if this were the best advice, my reader asked the same question of me. I understand the confusion because this tricky issue that is one that’s both sartorial and personal. By that I mean the question of cuffing one’s trousers is partially based on a cultural perspective and partially on personal taste.
For starters, his wife is correct that in Europe cuffed trousers are less common. The fact that his wife is German certainly explains her dislike of cuffs. The German aesthetic, when it comes to function over form and elegant austerity over lively embellishment, is fairly well known.
Across Europe though, as with anywhere else, fashion preferences change. I purchased a pair of wonderful Incotex pants in Venice and had them tailored there as well. The salesman and tailor both recommended cuffs, the execution of which had some of the most beautiful finishing work I’d ever seen.
That these immensely stylish and opinionated Italians recommended cuffs caught me off guard because the pants were in fact, flat fronted. Flat front trousers are pretty much the rule in Europe and I began to think that to my reader’s wife, therein lay the real issue.
I suspect that she wants her husband to embrace a more Eurocentric wardrobe, sans the pleated trousers. Generally speaking, pleated trousers are far more common in the United States than in Europe. The only caveat to this generalization is England, where you’ll still see pleats a little more often than elsewhere on the Continent. It’s also still fairly normal to see pleats on both American and English suit pants.
Anyway, to get back to the original question; when it comes to tailoring, pleated trousers should always have cuffs, period. The weight of the cuff will help the trouser leg hang and both physically and visually balance the peats up top. On flat front pants it’s more of an option dictated by personal preference.
For example, my Incotex trousers are a very fine gray worsted and the cuff help keep the lighter fabric from riding up my calf. Also, since Italians like their pants legs cut so darn high (barely touching the top of the shoe) you need that weight to keep them in place. Had wished to do so, it would have been perfectly acceptable to have gone with no cuff and have the hem cut longer.
So, here is where it all comes together: if you like pleated trousers, they really need to be cuffed. If you’re working with flat front trousers than it’s a preference thing and either option is just fine.
Another way to look at it is from a cultural perspective. Pleated and cuffed trousers just look American, especially with the fuller cuts favored by American brands like Brook Brothers. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a truth. How do you want to look; American or European?
Personally, I tend to like classic American casual clothing and European tailored clothing. When I go to Europe, I try to dress less American; not for any political or self-conscious reasons, I just enjoy the change.
My ultimate recommendation is always to go with what you like and what feels right, because in the end you’re the one wearing the clothes. Still, as someone with a wife who has a killer eye for menswear, I never discount what she has to say.