Menswear – Why are your trousers getting shorter?

I often stare at menswear in shop windows. And look at mens’ fashion shows. And there is something that I have noticed that makes traditionalists (like my husband) get rather angry. Do you know what it is?

Here is a random selection of TopMan, Moss Bros and Paul Smith suits.


Short trousers!

Nick’s traditional advice on trousers is that they should break at the shoe.  None of these suit trousers come anywhere near. In fact the most expensive suit here (the Paul Smith) would reveal the ankles if the wearer was not wearing socks.

At one point I would have agreed with my husband but slowly a new aesthetic has crept into menswear and it has affected women too. My recent jacket purchase (from Jigsaw) has a feeling of being a bit shrunken – the sleeves are short and at a glance appears to have come from John Lewis school uniform department.  Ladies trousers too are much shorter than they used to be. Remember how your jeans got all bedraggled at the bottom? Not any more. All trousers seem to be a sort of 7/8 length, or “half mast” as we used to say. In fact my friend Marijana wears her son’s school pants to work. Here are a few examples.

I have been wondering how we progressed from the idea that short trousers on tall boys were a sign of poverty, to the idea that long pants are passe.

Back in 2001 Thom Browne challenged the accepted notion of good style by offering flat front trousers, exposed ankles and sleeves that hit mid wrist.

Thom Browne in his “uniform”

And with marketing nouse, or even with a sense of irony, they produced their own style guides.

I am not writing this post about Thom Browne New York designer specifically. I just wanted to work out where this look – of altered proportions – was coming from. If your jacket and trousers are getting shorter, if you wear shoes without socks, if you wear tight, tailored shorts to work, or even sports shoes with a suit then you are being influenced by Thom Browne. He doesn’t design hoodies or oversized T shirts with graffiti on – his inspiration is less “street” than the 1960s Mod Suit has been taken to a logical conclusion – these suits remind me of Ray Eames, mid century furniture, Kraftwerk, Japanese precision, architecture and clean, minimal modernism. Some of the designs make me think of the Russian revolutionary wear. It’s like the traditional suit no longer had anything to say to the fashionable youth – it was tired and traditional and overplayed. So Browne introduced fresh elements to ensure the suit would talk to youth; the popularity of Mad Men helped do the rest.

Of course the designs he produces are, like most designer fashion, far too extreme for the average person.

But they are appealing and challenging at the same time. His most recent collection put men into “non-bifurbicated garments” ie dresses. In a time when gender specific labels are being challenged I think this is a good design initiative and I hope it may catch on in the next decade or two.

At the same time there is a version for the masses. Even Mrs Obama wore a nice Browne coat at her husband’s second inauguration. Browne has been doing womenswear since last year. “Women’s is fun but it’s more of a challenge because there’s so much that has already been done,” he says. “Men’s is easier because if you push it a bit, it’s a lot.”


11 Responses

  1. Sam

    This post did make me smile… we were at a wedding at the weekend and one of the male guests was wearing a suit that looked as if it had been made for someone 6 inches shorter and 2 sizes smaller than him. Complete with braces, a bow tie and loafers with no socks. I’m sure it’s fashionable but it looked awful!

    I do like the ankle baring trouser length on women and find the pair I have quite flattering, but I think it’s a horrible look for men.

  2. Yoric

    I’m totally with your husband on this! Trousers should break at the shoe and not dangle above them! In my view one of the best things a man (or woman) can do is visit a tailor and get their measurements, write them down and keep them. I realise sizes vary across shops and brands but a baseline is always good to have.

    Useful hint – TM Lewin and Charles Tyrwhitt’s both sell shirts by cut (super-slim, slim, regular), collar size (obvs) and sleeve length. Go into one of their stores and they will happily measure you for free! Oh and they also sell suits so they’ll measure your waist and inside leg too. And as my grandad used to tell me, its better to be overdressed than underdressed – in fact one can never be overdressed!!

  3. eimear

    I used have a ‘thing’ for shruken cardis in college (and still do) – I like/d the ‘pauvre’ look – and in some ways I can see the irony of creating a tailored suit – but uttimately no – its like an irony too far (and probably to my practical head – rather wasteful unless you have the option to let down the trousers). I like wearing 7/8s in summer especially with the damp summer we have had, they are far more practical and still look summery, but I dont like the look on me in the winter…..I dont have the androgynous figure that I think suits that look best (in my opinion anyway – I always thought the idea was too look an teenager gone too tall)

  4. Linde

    It may have something to do with ankles have throughout history been an erogenous zone and all fashion is cyclical. They say that a glimpse of a ladies ankle in Victorian times was enough to make men incontrolable so goodness knows what will happen when we liberated women catch sight of these gentlemen’s ankles !!!

  5. Jane

    I’m with Nick in not being keen on shorter trousers on men. They do rather look like they’ve been shrunk in the wash! I have such short legs that I’ve always been grateful for shorter lengths on women’s trousers because they end up being the ‘right’ length on me. Having said that, I think the ankle skimming length looks very elegant, especially with heels.

  6. jay

    Fashion’s link with social trends is fascinating isn’t it? I’m thinking of the way that the slaughter of WW2 was followed by hour glass fashions for women, and the subsequent baby boomers coming of age gave us Twiggyness. What do we read from the poor-boy, slightly spiv look of too tight jackets and too short trousers for men? Is there a rejection of the solid and responsible? A bit of rebellion? Mods revisited? Dresses for men seems to be going completely in another direction, I suspect a dead end.

  7. Brenda Marks

    Interesting post, as always! I agree that pushing menswear is pretty easy considering how stable the look has been for years. However, the designs you’ve included here go too far for me. I wonder if they make something toned down for the average man.

    This issue brings to mind this article – – which includes a concept called “maya” or “most advanced yet acceptable”. The idea is to change the design (of nearly any product) to a fresh look without making it look too outlandish.

  8. Ruth

    I love my ‘cropped’ trousers – ankle, 7/8ths and calf lengths.
    We move our skirt lengths up and down, so why not trousers too?
    Not sure about men’s though…..but maybe I’m being too limited in my opinion.

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