A Guide to Pant Breaks

May 18th, 2015

Break: the menswear term for how much creasing occurs at the bottom of the trousers, due to the length of fabric resting on one’s shoes.

It’s a tailoring decision that can drastically change the appearance of a pair of trousers, and because of this, it has become a polarizing issue in men’s fashion over the past decade or so. Today anything goes – some guys wear their trousers short and cropped like Thom Browne, some wear them long and full like Tom Ford, and others manage to change their silhouettes seasonally. What’s important to note is the inverse relationship between length and width.

Ultimately pant length is a decision that should have less to do with fashion trends, and more to do with personal style and flattering your body type. Here’s a quick guide that describes the hemlines most popular in menswear today.

The Cropped Pant


Led by New York fashion designer Thom Browne’s “shrunken schoolboy” aesthetic, the cropped trouser (above the ankle) has become one of the most prominent trends in recent menswear history.

Vibes: fashion-forward, hip, trendy, care-free, young, casual, rebellious, anti-establishment, rock & roll, creative.

Best on: lightweight summer fabrics that need to breathe. Young gents. Sockless shoes. Skinny guys with skinny ankles and skinny pants.


The “No Break”


As a result of the cropped trouser trend, many men (including myself) opted to participate in this widespread pant shortening, but not all the way up the ankle. We landed at a point where the trousers basically skim the top of the shoes.

Vibes: modern, current, sharp, clean, simple, minimal, European influenced.

Best on: slim guys, short guys, summer weight pants, narrow cut trousers (16″ leg opening or smaller).


The Slight Break


When the trouser is cut just long enough to sit on the top of the shoes, causing a very minimal amount of crease at the front. For this, I recommend going with a slanted hemline that is approximately 3/8″ longer in the back (this cannot be done with cuffs).

Vibes: updated classic, young businessman, tailored but not trendy, trying but not trying too hard, tasteful but not overly flashy.

Best on: most people, sharp businessmen, smooth operators, slim not skinny trousers (around 16″ for guys of average build).


The Medium Break


Basically, the more break you wear in your trousers, the older/more mature/more conservative/more anti-“fashion” you will look. A medium break is ideal for the well-dressed man of no-frills, or the conservative businessman.

Vibes: timeless, mature, gentlemanly, conservative, not trying to be flashy or draw attention, classically well-dressed and appropriate.

Best on: heavier gents, conservative businessmen, young guys trying to be taken more seriously in the office, heavyweight cloths like flannels and tweeds, cuffed trousers that are a little fuller through the leg.


The Full Break


The wide-legged trouser with a full break (or multiple full breaks) is a bold retro look. It’s how men wore their trousers back in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when more cloth meant more strength and more luxury.

Vibes: vintage, old-school, throwback, anti-trend, stand out from the crowd, Jazz age, cigar lounge styes.

Best on: older guys, vintage connoisseurs, heavier gents, soft lush fabrics, Jazz musicians, pleated trousers with full legs, throwback souls.


What’s your go-to hem style? Do you change it up, or stick to one?


Thanks, as always, for reading.

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier

Photography by Alex Crawford

  • Wakeup!

    If you’re a short guy go for the no break or slight break . It makes you look taller. For very tall guys 6’2″ and up go for full break. it’ll make you look more proportional.

  • Shelly

    I soooooooo agree. It’s a fad that I just can’t catch on to. Either tight and longer or loose and shorter…..but no Incredible Hulk look.

  • Steffen Hein

    Gentlemen, be careful here: This article is valid only in the US. Never-ever-under-any-circumstances wear a no-break in european countries. Especially not while doing business in Germany. This break vs. no-break thing doesn’t seem to be of a big thing here, i.e. in the end you can wear it in the way you want. NOT so in Germany. It is a huge thing there and even decides getting a job or not after an interview if self-presentation is a mandatory aspect for that said job. Including aspects of quality of clothes, brands, colors, fit and cut – there is nothing worse than wearing too short pants in Germany. Experience: one of my newly bought business pants started to wrinkle up laterally during the day – making it around 1 to 1.5 inch shorter while the whole pants were already a little on the short side to begin with.., the amount of bullying comments from my colleagues were countless. On the other hand however, my German colleagues or myself never commented on this topic when meeting one of our american colleagues – we simply know about the differences. Besides, we never won’t understand why 1/10th of the pants should be missing.. :) (Historical reason for that no-go in Germany: traditionally, circus clowns wear too short pants. We associate that fact immediately when seeing someone with a no-break pants.)

  • GTT

    When you ordered the MTM suits online, Knot Standard, Indochina etc, what break did they come with? I want to order a slim fitting suit, but don’t want trousers without any break at all either. Thanks

  • GTT

    When you ordered the MTM suits online, Knot Standard, Indochina etc, what break did they come with? I want to order a slim fitting suit, but don’t want trousers without any break at all either. Thanks!

  • Taylor Huston

    How do these rules apply to jeans?

  • AdamE

    For me, no break to slight break. I’ll do the cuff no break on some of my casual pants. I have a pair or two of pants that are of the cropped variety (bought as no break, but then accidentally made their way into the wash pile rather than the dry clean pile and shrunk to cropped in in length), which I’ll only wear in the summer sockless…

    I do have a pair of man-pris, but they are only worn for rock climbing (tech material) so that I don’t scuff the hell out of my knees as I would in shorts…

  • O.

    I am rather tall (6.1”) and slim. In suit trousers I go for a slight break, no cuff and wider opening. For me “wider” means abt. 16” – 17”

    In jeans / chinos I opt for no break or a very slight break. Ofc. no cuff…
    I am still experimenting w/ the ideal leg opening. ATM I think that 13.5” might be too small. 15-16” looks a little too big (lower legs seem to overpower my thighs). 14” seems to be a safe middle ground for no break / slight and my height. What do you think?

  • James Tollison

    “Above the ankle” used to be called “high water pants” and was seen as the province of nerds. Remember that?

  • http://ledebonnaire.tumblr.com/ Juan Zara

    As an Ivy dresser (or aspiring Ivy dresser,) I follow the simple “cuff, no break” rule when it comes to dress trousers. However, cotton twills, and casual linen pants tend to look better without cuffs, in my opinion.
    Five-pockets (be them wool, denim or corduroy) never look good with cuffs.

    What would you recommend for seersucker trousers, Dan? I just got a pair from Brooks Brothers and I’m really torn. Should I go with cuffs or just leave the plain hem (maybe move the stitch line up an inch?) ?

  • Sapprentice

    For me it’s the cropped trousers or the no break. The reasons why are simple. Firstly, it creates an obvious contrast. I love it when you see some skin/sock between the shoe and the end of the trousers. Secondly, it creates a clean drape to your look.

    From a European perspective, I would say that above mentioned looks are much more prevalent in Europe than in the States. In my view, Americans tend to dress more conservatively, which means more slight and medium breaks.

  • Daniel

    The photos used for “medium break” (particularly the second photo) don’t show more break than “slight break”; the difference is the fullness of the leg.

    Also, it should be “*Led* by New York fashion designer …”

  • cam

    hey dan, what would you guess is the leg opening on browne andrews’ trousers?

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      I would guess around 14″. He’s a very slim guy.

  • Esosa

    Im all for a slight break or no break…the streamlined appearance it provides is more coherent looks wise.. but I have seen people with a full break like the gentleman above that pull it off very well..On the other hand I have never seen anyone with cropped pants that look right to me.. but thats just my opinion..

  • Eric

    out of curiosity, why can I slanted hemline not possible with cuffs?

  • Miguel

    For me is “no brake or slight break”, and it depends on the material of the pants since different materials act different when they’re sitting on the ankle or just on the tip of the shoe.

    Above the ankle to me is just pushing it but to each their own.

    • tommyjohn_45

      Agreed.. gets dangerously close to capri territory. I know capris are popular in some European countries, but no one wants to see some dudes hairy ass calves. Hell, even women can’t pull em’ off IMO… Throws off the proportion of your entire body.

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