Breaking it Down: A Guide to Trouser Length This tailoring move isn't optional

Break: In the world of menswear, a break refers to how much of a crease (“break”) occurs at the bottom of your trousers when they skim your shoes. The way that your pants break can be the difference between whether you outfit looks polished and tailored or frumpy and borrowed. 

That being said, there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to the length you wear your pants. The amount of break you choose to rock is ultimately a personal style choice. The only mistake you can make is when it is not an intentional decision. There is always that one guy at every networking event who is tragically cuffing and re-cuffing his pants because he didn’t make the trek to his local tailor shop, right? To avoid that mishap, here’s how to figure out the best pant break for you based on aesthetic and style preference, and how to tell your tailor so you get perfect-fitting pants every time.

Too Much Break

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What it is: 

Remember that guy at the networking event tragically re-cuffing his pants every few minutes? His pants had too much break. This is generally something you want to avoid, because no matter how tall you are or what your build is, this will make you look sloppy. You can identify trousers as having too much break if there is more than one fold when your pants meet your shoes. Or, if the opening of your trousers is so wide that you find yourself practically stepping on the hem of your pants. 

Aesthetic: 

Sloppy, lazy, unsure how to dress oneself

Ask your tailor for: 

Nothing. You get this look when you ask your tailor for nothing.

Full Break

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What it is: 

A full break is best achieved with wide-legged trousers, thus resulting in a rather retro, conservative look. This style was popular in the 20’s when more fabric was associated with wealth and opulence. A full break occurs when there is a decent amount (around 1 full fold or “break”) of fabric skimming your shoes. Generally, your socks are never visible with this kind of a break.

Aesthetic: 

Older, wise, traditional, stylishly conservative, old-school, jazzy, cigar-smoking-saxophone-playing businessman 

Ask your tailor for: 

This look works best with softer, lush fabrics, as well as trousers with pleats and full legs. Ask your tailor for the hem of your pants to cover about ⅔ to ¾ of the laces on your shoes, so that when you wear them there is enough fabric left to neatly cuff while still breaking once. Yes, you will most likely want to cuff these trousers. Also, you will want to tell your tailor not to taper (or at least taper very minimally) your pants at all.

Medium Break

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What it is: 

A half/medium break is industry standard in the world of business fashion. This look results in foldover just shy of one full break. This style is still on the conservative, no-frills side of the spectrum.

Aesthetic: 

Timeless, mature, conservative, appropriate, serious with a no-frills mindset 

Ask your tailor for: 

Ask your tailor to end the hem of your pants about ½ to ⅔ of the way down the shoe, allowing for a slight fold. This break is suited for all kinds of trousers, from flat front and pleated to cuffed. When your tailor is finished, your socks may show when you walk but not when you are standing still. 

Slight Break

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What it is: 

Contemporary without straying too far from business formal, the slight break is perfect for young professionals. This style is categorized by a very, very slight fold in the pants when they skim the shoe, and looks the best when the back of one’s pants are a little longer than the front (to match the shape of the shoe).  

Aesthetic: 

Contemporary, up-to-date, tailored but not too bold, young business professional, tasteful 

Ask your tailor for: 

Ask your tailor to end the hem of your pants no more than ½ of the way down the shoe. Your socks will show slightly when you are standing and walking. You will also want to ask your tailor to hem your pants so that the backs hang slightly lower than the front, to skim the opening of the shoe. Finally, you will want your trousers to fit slim, but not skinny. A slight taper should suffice. 

No Break

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What it is: 

This break allows pants to just barely skim the tops of one’s shoes. There is no break or folding in the pants whatsoever, resulting in a very modern, updated appearance. 

Aesthetic: 

Modern, sharp, minimal, influenced by European tailoring and fashion

Ask your tailor for: 

Pants with no breaks are called “floods.” This look works best on slim, flat-front trousers. When you sit and even when you walk, your socks will be clearly visible. Ask your tailor to end the hem of your pants just above the shoe, and to taper your pants so the openings of your pants aren’t super wide. 

Cropped

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What it is: 

What begun as a defiant aesthetic of choice by New York fashion designer Thom Browne, the cropped trouser has become one of the biggest menswear trends of the last few years. This “break” is characterized by a lack thereof, and also by an inch or two of ankle/sock baring above the shoe (in this case, the pants don’t skim the shoe at all). 

Aesthetic: 

Fashion-forward, daring, trendy, rebellious, casual, creative, anti-establishment, dapper 

Ask your tailor for: 

This look works best on trousers that are slim and significantly tapered. You want to tell your tailor to give you a tapered leg opening (maybe 7” wide when laid flat, depending on your build), and to hem your pants high, so that they hit about an inch or two above the shoe. Unless you are going for a crazy high fashion look, don’t go any higher than 2, maybe at most 3, inches above the shoe. 

Which Break is Right for You?

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This is 100% a matter of preference and function. Ask yourself what is important to you. Are you concerned with being taken seriously, and not being overly flashy in a relatively conservative business environment? You may want to consider a full or medium break. If you want to be professional but also keep your wardrobe up-to-date, a slight break will be the perfect touch. Alternatively, if you want to showcase your fashion sense and don’t mind letting your ankles and socks occasionally steal the show, go for no break or a cropped hem. No matter what your preference may be, as long as you steer clear of untailored trousers with too much break, you’ll be looking polished and pulled together with ease.