Are Flat Front Trousers with Cuffs Wrong?

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Common wisdom today is to hem pleated trousers with cuffs—also known as permanent turn-ups or PTUs—and non-pleated trousers with a plain hem. Is this a rule, a guideline or nonsense?

In most cases you can put cuffs on your trousers if you want to, or you can hem all your trousers plain. Cuffs are less formal than plain hems, which means they don’t belong on dinner suit trousers or other trousers of similar or higher formality, such as the trousers that pair with an evening tailcoat or morning coat. For everything else, whether you want cuffs or not is up to you. James Bond has successfully shown that any configuration can work.

Popular Wisdom

The pleated trousers of the grey flannel three-piece suit in Thunderball have cuffs

The popular wisdom to use cuffs on trousers with pleats and plain hems on trousers without pleats is explained a couple ways. The first is that cuffs provide visual balance to the pleats and plain hems better match the clean lines of trousers with plain—or flat—fronts. Darted fronts, which have darts to give the front a little shape without pleats, fall into the same wisdom as plain fronts.

Other like to have cuffs with their pleated trousers because they say the weight of the cuffs pulls the pleats sharper. But for those who do not like cuffs, weighted tape can be sewn into a plain hem to help with drape, making cuffs unnecessary.

The plain-front suit trousers in A View to a Kill have plain hems

Of the Bonds, Sean Connery, George Lazenby and Pierce Brosnan usually wear their pleated trousers with cuffs. George Lazenby and Roger Moore wear their non-pleated trousers without cuffs. The trousers of Daniel Craig’s linen suit in Casino Royale‘s pre-title squence, the black three-piece suit in Spectre, and the corduroy suit in No Time to Die have plain fronts without pleats.

Other popular wisdom says that short men should not wear cuffs, though a short 1 1/2-inch cuff does little to break up a man’s height. The weight a cuff provides gives keeps a trousers’ crease straight, which is flattering to shorter men. But as stated above, weighted tape can provide the same weight. Taller men can wear cuffs up to 2 inches deep.

Non-Pleated Trousers with Cuffs

Daniel Craig’s flat front suit trousers in Skyfall have cuffs

The weight of cuffed hems can benefit any trousers, with or without pleats. Weight at the hem helps trousers to drape more cleanly and helps them to fall down over the shoe when walking or standing up. Lightweight trousers particularly benefit from the weight.

There are many schools of how to dress, and the traditional American Ivy League look calls for plain-fronted trousers to have cuffs. Many of the most fashionable men around the world over the past decade have favoured cuffs on their non-pleated trousers.

Tall cuffs on Pierce Brosnan’s darted-front suit trousers in The World Is Not Enough

Since The World Is Not Enough in 1999, James Bond’s standard suit trouser has had a front without pleats and a cuffed hem. There have been only a handful of exceptions. Tom Ford himself favours tall cuffs on all trousers, and he mostly designs suits with plain-front trousers. Hence, Bond wears his Tom Ford trousers this way. Before Tom Ford, Bond wore darted-front Brioni suit trousers with cuffs.

Bond is not breaking any rules by wearing his non-pleated trousers this way, and many would consider him more stylish for doing so.

Pleated Trousers with Plain Hems

Pleated trousers with plain hems are a classic British style, though the British use cuffs on their pleated trousers too.

Sean Connery’s suits trousers with double forward pleats in Goldfinger have plain hems

Where pleated trousers are most frequently seen with plain hems is in formalwear, where cuffs are a faux pas. Just because formal trousers can’t have cuffs does not mean that they can’t have pleats, and many of James Bond’s evening trousers in his Bond films have pleats. These trousers do not have any issues draping without cuffs.

Daniel Craig’s pleated dinner suit trousers in Casino Royale have a plain hem, as standard

Bond wears pleated suit trousers without cuffs in a few films. The suit trousers in Goldfinger are all pleated without cuffs, including the trousers of the famous grey glen check suit. Timothy Dalton’s trousers have pleats but no cuffs.

A Few Thoughts on Cuffs

Cuffs look best when pressed, so cuffs aren’t going to look very neat on casual trousers you don’t intend to press, with or without a crease. Cuffs can be bulky and thus look inelegant on heavier cloths, which don’t need cuffs to help weigh down hems, so such trousers are good candidates for plain hems.

The plain-front trousers of the black three-piece suit in Spectre have plain hems

Because cuffs aren’t formal, some people prefer three-piece suits without them. Three-piece suits are not too formal to take cuffs, so it’s a personal preference.

Some think that cuffed trousers are needed with a double-breasted jacket to balance the bulk of a double-breasted jacket. While visual balance is always important, cuffs are not necessary to balance bulk on top.

What Should I Do?

Apart from formalwear, there is no rule as to whether or not your trousers should or should not have cuffs. They are a matter of taste, and neither way is more classic than the other. Some people think cuffs are too old-fashioned while others don’t think trousers are complete without them. Feel free to take inspiration from your favourite Bond on the matter, or figure out for yourself what you like best. If you experiment, remember that cuffs are easy to remove but not to add. Cuffs or no cuffs is all a personal preference.

This topic was previously covered in less detail in an article about breaking rules that don’t exist and in a brief article with a poll about wearing turn-ups.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Well written, Matt! I don’t really care if someone follows this rule except for one unfortunate side-effect briefly touched on in this article; Google rules of menswear and you’ll find page after page, infographic after infographic claiming that a dinner suit must not have pleated trousers. I’m sure it originates from this no-pleats-no turnups “rule”. It’s one I’ve devoted myself to quashing.

    For my own suit trousers, I prefer on all occasions (barring black tie) to have turnups, whether with a pleated front or otherwise. However, I only have flat-fronts and plain hems on odd trousers and slacks. This wasn’t a conscious rule I had in mind when I started getting my clothing made, but simply something that’s happened naturally. I think I like the clean lines a flat front and plain hems can give if I decide to wear my trousers without a sports jacket. Pleats and turnups look a bit fussy on their own, one tends to look bottom heavy.

    • I suspect that people saying that dinner suit trousers can’t have pleats may have just as much to do with pleated trousers being out of fashion for over a decade.

  2. “Just because formal trousers can’t have cuffs does not mean that they can’t have pleats, and many of James Bond’s evening trousers in his Bond films have pleats.”
    Given that most people wearing formal clothes are at some sort of party, and would expect to do things like eat and dance in them, pleats can actually be pretty useful on formal trousers.

    I live in a city with a very strong lake effect, so I get a lot of wind. I always get my (non-formal) trousers cuffed, because in a strong wind even my 14 oz. thornproof tweed suit would whip around without some extra weight.

  3. I love flat fronts with cuffs!

    My fellow salespeople and the owners propagated this unfortunate myth at the menswear store I worked for years ago. I didn’t go along with this “conventional wisdom” in my personal style or advice to customers, which made me weird in their eyes. I also was the only one, on top of that, who would make requests to increase the cuff width beyond 1.25″ for taller or longer-legged people. Again, they thought I was weird and somehow wasting their time, but when a 6’5″ man wants a cuff, anything less than 1.5″ is going to look undersized.

    This didn’t make sense to me since A. pleated front suits or trousers were already a rarity when I started in 2014 and only special ordered by customers and B. getting a cuff cost a little more, a plain hem was included with purchase, and thus made the store more profit.

    To each their own.

      • Indeed it did look awful on the taller guys. When we got a proper MTM program and I helped manage training, I gave the other salespeople a small crash course in proportions for lapel width and trouser cuffs. Basically that a 3″ lapel is going to be a narrow ’60s look on some people, but just right on others. You could do a 1.25″ all the way up to 2.5″ cuff with the options. The latter of which is a little excessive unless you’re 7′ tall or more, but I suspect it was aimed at the Thom Browne fans more than anything. 1.75″ was the standard and I feel looks good on most people.

      • I also think the wider the trousers leg is the taller should the cuff be. Grant’s suit in North by Northwest (always coming back to it ahah) seems to have a 2 inches deep cuff but the leg is pretty wide. I think this way the width of the trousers balances the tallness of the cuff pretty well, and the cuffs don’t draw too much attention on themselves. Of course Grant is a very tall person which means cuffs will work even better on him.
        But I do find today’s fashion of wearing very tall cuffs with a very narrow -and often too short too- trousers leg ridiculous -see any picture taken at the Pitti Uomo, you will understand what I am talking about…
        It’s all a question of balance and adequate proportions, a thing a lot of igents seem to have forgotten !
        Personnaly, although I am tall I content myself with 4cm tall turn-ups on my trousers, with a trousers width of 20/21 cm, and I think the ratio quite proportionate.

  4. I’d say do it however you like. Cuffs are awesome. Apart from black and/or white tie garments, or just keeping it screen accurate, no reason not to have cuffs. But my recommendation is to have at least darted front for extra fullness around the thighs. Also, cuffed trousers works best with pleated trousers, but only when it is tapered below the knee.

  5. Yeah this issue has surely found itself in the ‘preference’ category rather than to be taken as a ‘rule’.
    My own preference is for flat fronts on every single pair of strides I own with the one exception of a seersucker suit I got for $100 and it came with pleats.
    Also I don’t own any strides with turnups, with the exception of rolling up jeans and some informal chinos for that ‘JFK on the yacht at Martha’s Vineyard’ devil-may-care look!
    I believe that whether or not you choose pleats ought to be a function of your body type rather than the whims of fashion.
    I do think the weight of a cuff can assist in the drape, and Matt’s idea of weighted tape (or even just doubling the hems inwards) can achieve a similar result for those like me who just don’t care for turnups.

    • They go back a very, very long time. Bond’s trousers in the ’60s and ’70s that didn’t have pleats had darts. They’re something that is more common with English bespoke tailors, and they’re something that high-end brands used to do more often 10-20 years ago before low-rise trousers made darts in the front unnecessary. They help the front curve over the hips, which isn’t necessary with low-rise trousers.

  6. I always thought that having turnups was where its at. That was until the legendary Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills said he did not like them because they were “Dirt Gatherers.”

    I see what he meant by that and yes many of my trousers have had the turnups removed.

  7. Matt, would you say Connery’s and Brosnan’s trousers cuffs have the same height ? Could it be like 1 3/4 inches ?

  8. Pleats or flat front? I have pleated pants on all my suits and nicer pants such as flannel ,worsted wool etc,all with cuffs. Casual pants, linen, moleskin , chinos, are flat front no cuff. Flat front trousers with a suit just look a bit odd to me.

  9. If you are able to get 2 pairs of pants for your suit – good to lengthen its life – I sometimes like to get one cuffed and one not to give options depending on how I am wearing it.

  10. Personally I think pleats and cuffs are a lot about height and balance and a little about material.
    A tall chap in high waisted trousers would look distinctly odd without both pleats and cuffs.
    The reverse is also true.
    Being relatively vertically challenged (5’ 9”) I tend towards medium rise trousers with 1 or 2 pleats and cuffs for my suits and flannels.
    My jeans, cords, linens and chinos are flat fronted and cuff-less. I did consider both pleats and cuffs on a couple of my A&S cord suits but rejected the idea because it makes for too much bulk.
    My dinner suit is ventless and cuff-less.
    I guess at the end of the day you have to consider your own stature and the cloth you are working with. One thing I don’t subscribe to is that cuffs are less formal.

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