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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.