The Case Against Cuffed Pants

Which women should wear pants with cuffs? Where can you get them? Reader E wonders…

I had a quick question about cuffed pants. When my boyfriend got a suit, he said that any nice men’s suit pants should be cuffed. I see that it does lay nicely over the foot that way. I don’t see many ladies cuffed pants at all though. Does it tend to go in and out of style? Do women ever have their tailors cuff their pants?

When I first read this, my immediate thought was NO CUFFS FOR ANYONE, EVER! BOO CUFFS!! <drops microphone, walks off stage>

But that may be a bit extreme. So I did a bit of research, and it turns out men still do wear cuffs on some pant legs, but it’s advised that you should only wear cuffs with pleated pants (unless they have very wide legs). As it turns out, I am also against pleated pants (for men and women), so I suppose it isn’t surprising that I’m against cuffs.

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That said, here’s my case against cuffs for women: When a woman wears cuffed pants, the cuffs break the visual line you’re trying to create, and they make your legs look shorter and stumpier.  Furthermore, if they’re already cuffed when you buy them off the rack, it’s going to be that much more work for the tailor if you need to hem them.

There are a few times, though, where women should consider cuffs:

  • You’re very tall.  If you’re shorter than 5’9″, do not wear cuffs (unless you want your legs to look stumpy, in which case go right ahead).
  • You’re very tall and you’re wearing pants that are in such a fluid fabric that they need a cuff at the bottom to help weigh down the pant.
  • It’s Halloween.

Maybe I’m overly opinionated on this topic, though, as a short woman who came across nothing but cuffed pants when I started work in the late ’90s because they were trendy then.  As with all trends, they go through cycles, and maybe they’re on the upswing — I did find a number of cuffed pants from some big designers (pictured below).  What are your thoughts, readers — do you wear cuffed pants?  Have you ever asked a tailor to cuff your pants?


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  1. karenpadi :

    Wait! I thought cuffs were OK when wearing flats or low heels.


    • I do NOT like coufed pants, b/c they get DIRT in them and then you wind UP with LINT and other things. The manageing partner wears them and he looks DUMB, but I can’t tell him b/c he pay’s my saleary. FOOEY!

      • Ellen seems to be getting dumberer. She used to spell better.

        • If you refer to Ellenwatch, you will find that an analysis of her spelling over time shows that, though there are general patterns, her spelling has been deteriorating over time. :-)

  2. 100% agree. No cuffs and no pleats necessary for anyone!! Whoever eradicates the pleated pants virus has my undying gratitude.

  3. SAlit-a-gator :

    No cuffs please! I had a pair of pants with cuffs and I managed to place the high heel from one foot in the cuff of the other while going down a flight of stairs. I barely survived. I’m not usually a clumsy queen, but cuffs bring that out in me.

    • The same thing happens to me every.single.time I wear cuffed pants. Sometimes it even happens while just walking on flat surfaces.

      • Ugh same, I hang on to the banister for dear life and move slowly; I look like the elderly.

        • Me four. I have nearly broken a bone on several occasions while wearing cuffed pants.

          • Me five. I almost met my death once going down the stairs and having my heel get trapped in the cuff of my pants.

      • Happened to me walking on a flat surface. Thank heavens that the hallway was deserted when I busted it onto my face. Beware wide-legged cuffed pants and stilettos!

        • Happened to me walking on a flat surface too, but it was right in front of the open door to the partner’s office. And I yelped. So everyone on the hall who didn’t actually see me fall, saw me spread eagled on the floor when they poked their heads out.

      • Same. I am pretty clumsy by nature, so I try to avoid things that seem especially likely to result in an accident.

    • Same. Except it happened to me in a glass-enclosed stairwell overlooking a street full of people. Luckily, my catlike speed and reflexes allowed me to catch myself with one hand on either stair railing, head down, feet up. [cue applause]

      That said, I still love a straight-legged pant with a cuff and a round-toe pump or pointed toe flat. I’m also willing to pay the price of an occasional faceplant to get it.

    • If high heels and cuffs don’t work together, how did you decide the cuffs had to go, and not the shoes (which also don’t work with uneven surfaces, leaning/crouching down to pick something up, chasing your kiddo, or carrying a breast pump, laptop, diaper bag, stack of papers, lunch bag, and child all at the same time)?

      • Easy, because we like the heels more than the cuffs. And most women don’t do all of the things you list while at work, wearing work attire. So, not an issue.

        • Anonymous :

          Not AT work, but getting there and getting home from there. What do people do, change their clothes before leaving work, picking up kids, commuting home?

    • Same here. Heel got stuck in the cuff, tumbled down, and then had to get my heel, which had tore a hole in the cuff, extracted from the cuff before I could get up again. Lucky for me, just minor bruises and embarrassment. Swore off cuffs after that.

    • Did this at an interview. Fell (literally) flat on my face in front of the hiring coordinator. But I got the job!

    • This happened to me last year! I was walking down the stairs at my apartment building to leave for work, and my heel got stuck in one of my pant cuffs, sending me flying down the entire flight of stairs. I can laugh about it now, but boy did it hurt at the time! My legs had ton of bruises and scrapes, and I was sore for at least a week. Luckily, no one saw me, and I never even told anyone because I was so embarrassed! Haha. I am eternally grateful for these other replies; I feel a little less embarrassed now. Although I guess I didn’t learn my lesson, because I still own that pair of pants and I still wear them with high heels.

    • I am sort of ridiculously comforted by how many people have experienced this! I don’t wear cuffed pants anymore for the exact same reason.

  4. I’m 5’6” and occasionally wear cuffed pants (only on wider legged pants). Am I really wrong to do this?

    • I’m 5’5 and I do, as well. I love wide-leg pants and some of them look unfinished without a cuff. Carry on.

    • Tiffany In Houston :

      If that’s the case then I am wrong right along with you. I have several pairs of wide legged cuffed trousers that I wear to work with my heels and they brush the floor and I think I look fabulous in. My opinion is that if you look nice in it and it makes you FEEL good then keep doing you.

    • Right vs. wrong isn’t really applicable. It’s a matter of taste, style, etc. Maybe yours look awesome on you, or maybe they look just OK and you don’t care because they’re comfortable and functional. But “wrong” is not an option. …unless they’re pleated, because that is wrong in almost every circumstance:)

      • AEK. Cuffs are a MORAL QUESTION. Don’t you know that???? :-)

        And pleats are a morality issue as much as a test for head injuries (just kidding…but if someone could get my husband out of pleat front pants I would be eternally grateful.)

        • Accidentally put bleach in the laundry with his pants. Buy him a bunch of new pants as an apology. Fait accompli.

          • Bluejay, you are an evil genius…. ;o)

          • SF Bay Associate :

            It really was an accident when I did this. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention as I washed the hated pants, because I didn’t care about them. Oopsies. Very different pants replaced the ruined pair – lemonade out of lemons, no?

        • Agreed… and so rarely does a moral question have such a clear answer. (The answer is NO.)

        • Me too. But it would involve getting the 50-somethings-who-still-shave-off-their-sideburns that are his superiors to ditch their pleats first.

    • I am 5’4″ in two-digit size, so I will never even _appear_ long and thin. Today I am wearing cuffed wide-leg pants similar to example #3 (Robert Rodriguez), but mine almost cover my high heels. The styling is similar, i.e. the shirt is tucked in.

      Guess what – I look taller and thinner in this often-worn outfit and as a matter of fact before reading this post, when I was in front of the mirror, I thought that I looked really nice, better than in items generally considered more appropriate for my body type, e.g. A-line skirt. To each her own.

      • Don’t let having read this post make you think you don’t look nice. Your outfit sounds great to me and I’m the same height and size.

        • It won’t! It’s just funny how I read this post while still in the self-congratulatory mood, and thought “BS!”
          …and flounced, because I can do it in a wide-leg, cuffed pants.

    • Personally, I basically never notice cuffs. I don’t really like them, because they don’t really add anything in my mind (plus the heel-related risks described above – been there, done that), but I don’t really think that they detract in most cases.

      If I had two completely identical pairs of pants, but one had cuffs and the other didn’t, I’d choose the non-cuffed, but I’m not going to pass on a pair that I otherwis like because of cuffs.

    • If it’s wrong, I don’t want to be right. I like the look of a wide leg cuffed pant appropriately lengthed with a cuff. Even though I’m not even 5’5″

    • Anonymous Poser :

      5’6″ on good days and I wear pants with cuffs. They’re from The Limited (though I bought them second-hand, so I don’t know whether The Limited currently carries the style).

      I never really thought about whether the pants make me look shorter or taller or my legs look longer. I thought they looked nice as part of the outfit I was wearing, and that they were appropriate for my workplace. Then I left the house for work…

    • I’m 5’10” with a 34+ inch inseam and my favorite pair of pants is wide-legged and cuffed. I think I look like Katherine Hepburn in them. Don’t try to convince me otherwise!

    • Thanks all! Will carry on.

    • I like the look of cuffs only on wide legged pants.

    • I’m also in the cuffs camp. I am wearing a pair of pants today that I just got back from my, uh, mom, who hemmed them, and she removed the cuff. I liked the cuff, but I’ll live.

      (What? Mom’s free and likes doing it.)

    • Go to Hell Pants :

      I think cuffs are fine. I have cuffs on several pairs of wider legged, flat-front, linent dress pants. I think the cuffs on those pants help to weigh down the fabric because I swear I get less wrinkles in the cuffed pants than the non-cuffed pants.

      Also I think if men can wear “Go to Hell Pants” then so can I. May be why the cuffed pants are also bright yellow and coordinate with a nautical striped shirt and blazer. I’m a big fan of go to hell pants fridays!

    • I’m 5’4″ and have had several much-loved pairs of wide-legged grey tweed pants with cuffs. Some styles of pant look unfinished without cuffs IMHO.

      • SoCalAtty :

        Me too! 5′ tall, and I’m wearing my cuffed pants today along with my super-cute naturalizer peep toe wedges in nude (suggested by mamabear, who rocks) and a cute new cowl-necked 3/4 sleeve blouse from BR. I think it looks good! Also, I’m in a polo shirt and slacks type office, so I can push the envelope pretty far, even though I won’t.

        • Mighty Mouse :

          5′ tall, wore my gray cuffed wide-leg pants with black heels today…walking quickly but carefully!

        • SoCalAtty i wore the same shoes today. We BOTH rock.

    • Cuffed pants look more polished or finished. I love the way they look.

  5. It’s one thing if one wants to avoid cuffed pants but..

    Can we just fight, even a little bit, against the idea that the “goal” is to always look as tall and thin and leggy as possible? :-)

    I’m not saying that Kat is upholding this as the only ideal, but it is often upheld as the only ideal by, oh, just about every clothing retailer and it seems absurdly narrow (sorry) to me.

    • Word!

    • Seriously. I have super short legs, and it is JUST HOW I AM. I am not going to dress every day trying to pretend like my legs are five feet long. I have no desire to walk around in short shorts and flip-flips with heels all day so we can pretend like my legs are longer than they are.

      Advantage of having super short legs – I still hold the high school record in my high school for the V-Sit-And-Reach I went something crazy like 14 inches past my feet. That record is 13 years old.

      I like my short legs, and my long torso, and my perfectly average height, and even my *gasp* curly hair.

      • This. Good Lord don’t get me started on curly hair! If there were 3 hours of blocked off, mandatory “getting ready time” in everyone’s day, mine *might* end up straight.

        • Reg Poster, Anon for This :

          Yes. I am at a crossroads… I did the Keratin treatment several months ago, and it hasn’t fully washed out yet… but my hair is growing in with its natural curl on top. I don’t want to straighten my hair out again, because my 18-month old has gorgeous curls and I don’t want her to see mommy straightening her own curls out every morning and feel like she shouldn’t have curly hair. So I have curly hair on top and janky, angled curls where the treatment is kinda sorta washing out. It’s a hot mess. Waiting until my hair is long enough so I can start cutting the treated hair off but not look like little orphan Annie.

          • I Do Not Like the Cone of Shame :

            For Keratin treatments and brazilian blowouts, if you want to extend their lifespan, then use sulfate free shampoos and use them less frequently.

            Ergo, if you want to get it out of your hair quicker, shampoo like a mad woman! Use clarifying shampoos!

          • TGI...Th? :

            I just had mine done this past weekend and stylist said it could last from 2 to 6 months depending on how your hair takes to it. So maybe cutting won’t be necessary? Can you use regular shampoo and see if it helps it go? I have to say I was disappointed with the level of anti-curl. Personally, I didn’t see a ton of difference. There also is a really bad odor when it gets wet (like in the shower or when I have a baseball cap on and am hiking with the dog). Please tell me that smell will lessen over time?

          • THIS is my fear of doing anything more than flat iron my curls… how do you do the in between phases.

            And yes, it just takes WAY too long to straighten on a regular basis. I had it blown out several times in May for various functions (graduation, photos, etc.) and I already can see the damage. Just not worth it.

          • Sorry, I used the wrong handle in my reply. Yes, the curl is coming back, but it’s janky. I have been using shampoos with sulphates, but it’s been well over 6 months. I did go in to cut some of the treated hair off, but I can’t go too short with my face/hair type.

            I didn’t have the bad odor, but I’m not exactly which treatment I received. I think it was the “Brazilian” brand one.

          • Divaliscious11 :

            You may never see this, but this is exactly why I went natural – watching my little one nearly pull her hair out trying to pull her curls straight like mom’s….

        • Even then I’d keep my hair curly. I don’t care if it’s seen as unprofessional. It’s me, I love my curls, and the few times I’ve had straight hair I haven’t recognized myself in the mirror.

      • I’m the opposite. I’m really short but ALL legs and no torso. The last thing I need is to make my legs look longer. I look disproportionate enough already!

    • I agree, some people are just not tall and thin or leggy. Even with all the visual tricks, some people just won’t look like this, this ideal is still something I don’t understand.

      I haven’t seen anyone wear cuffed pants lately but from the pics above, it only seems to look good with a heeled shoe. But going by SALit-a-gator’s experience above, it can be dangerous. Maybe a chunkier heel (low to mid-height maybe?) is better than a stilleto?

    • Susan, you are seriously AWESOME today.

      Also, I sometimes wear cuffed wide-leg pants when I want to look more…substantial, to take up more space. Like, BOOM, I AM HERE. So…all the reasons that we’re advised not to wear cuffed pants are the reason why I wear them.

      • Many thanks, Godzilla. :-)

        I took a drawing class years ago, and my two takeaways were:
        (1) Rembrandt, I’ll never be.

        (2) People are beautiful! In all shapes and sizes.

        Learning the technique for portrait and figure drawing made me really look at people in a way I’d not bothered to do before.

        It fills me with awe that humans are as well put-together as they are, that a person’s legs are shaped just so, or that the sides of a person’s mouth have the shape they do when that person smiles, etc.

    • It’s sad how refreshing that thought is.

      I’m short and curvy — always have been, always will be — and no amount of tricks are going to change that fact. When I shop for clothes, I want to find something that makes MY figure look as good as it can, not like I have an altogether different shape.

    • Seriously. In the fashion world, you’re kind of screwed if you have the long torso/shorter legs thing going on. Sometimes it’s fun to play around with proportions, but must leggy be the default?

    • Thank you!
      Not everyone is aiming to look as tall and thin and hourglass-shaped as possible all day every day. Although I am tall and thin, I am a pear with AAs. And that’s great! Some of the most insensitive comments I get are from women who are also from the IBTC who project their issues onto bra-free me.

    • Anonymous Poser :


    • I disagree. There’s nothing wrong with looking your best. I will never look like a supermodel but can emphasize what leg length I do have by e.g. not wearing shoes with think ankle straps.

      • Anonymous Poser :

        I think we’re just disagreeing here that:

        looking our best = looking the same

    • My 22″ inseam & I completely agree.

  6. 2/3 attorney :

    Random: it’s 20 til noon here and I’m ravenous for my lunch. I feel like I am losing at my day when I start thinking about nomming at 11 am. Just me?

  7. No, no, no! Kat, you are so wrong. I love cuffs. They are the best, even for 5’3″ me. I have my tailor cuff them for me. They don’t make my legs look any shorter than any other pants. It’s not like I have them cuffed to mid-shin; they brush the tops of my feet, just like uncuffed pants do. Frankly, I can’t see how it would even be possible for a cuffed hem to make your body look any different from the way you look with an uncuffed hem.

    The only case against cuffs that I can think of is that if you catch your stiletto heel in one you will fall on your face, most likely in front of your boss and your most important client. Admittedly, this is a hazard pencil-skirt wearers will never face.

    • Merabella :

      I agree with your sentiment. Unless the cuffs are a different color than the rest of your pants I can’t see how they would cause your body to look any different. From the pictures she uses above, I can’t see a notable issue with them cutting off the legs of the models even if they are eleventeen feet tall.

  8. At least half of my (work wardrobe) pants are cuffed. I’m 5’3″ and wear them with flats; the cuffs aren’t making me look short, my lack of height makes me look short. And that’s fine. (wouldn’t change my height if I could)

    Interestingly, however, none of my suit pants are cuffed. And I don’t think I’ve even seen womens suit pants with cuffs.

    When my SO gets his suits tailored, he has to very strongly insist that the tailor not create cuffs. Tailors seem to still default to cuffs for mens suits, even for flat front. (In DC)

    • Research, Not Law :

      “the cuffs aren’t making me look short, my lack of height makes me look short”

      I’m 5’1” and was thinking the same thing. I like a nice cuffed pant now and then.

    • “the cuffs aren’t making me look short, my lack of height makes me look short.”

      Exactly, & I’m tired of suggestions as to how to look taller when I love being short.

  9. Do not under any circumstances wear cuffed pants if you are clumsy. One morning I walked down the stairs in my cuffed pants, managed to get my high heel caught in the cuff, and ripped the pants so badly that the tailor said they could not be salvaged. I will never wear cuffed pants again.

    • I see that this has already been discussed, so to reiterate: cuffed pants are not for the oblivious. :)

    • Well, clumsy people can wear them with wedges or thicker heels. I don’t wear mine with stilettos.

      • To be fair, I have also torn non-cuffed pants in this manner, so maybe it’s the heels, not the pants, that are to blame.

      • Yup, cuffed pants and wedges for me!

  10. I love cuffs, particularly on winter-weight pants. I, am 5′ 11″ with a 36″ inseam, so maybe I prove Kat’s point. But there’s something glamorous about them. I have chicken legs, and pleats and cuffs make me look like my legs are a little bigger than they are, which, in my case, is a good thing, particularly when I’m wearing a blazer up top…they balance things out!

    • Agreed. I’m 5’10, size 6 with a 34″ inseam for pants with flats and 36″ inseam for my pants with high heels. I have three pairs of trouser pants from jcrew that I purchased about 2 years ago (one is a winter weight heavier wool- the University Trouser, the others are a structured stretch cotton- Durham pant I believe) that are cuffed and I LOVE them. Yes, maybe they work for me because I’m tall but I don’t think I’ve ever really paid attention to cuffs versus no cuffs. I think a lot has to do with the length of the pant and the shoe worn. I’ve seen plenty of woman look stumpy- no matter their height- when wearing ill-filling or too short non-cuff pants with the wrong top and shoes.

  11. I disagree with Kat. I think cuffs can add variety to a work wardrobe.

  12. Anonymous :

    Threadjack. Can anyone suggest a good charity where I can volunteer in the DC area? Needs to be metro accessible. Looking for someplace where I can do something (physically), rather than a desk-type volunteer. Perhaps someplace where you can cook/distribute food for homeless people or something like that? Looking for some place where I can volunteer say one day a week, and don’t need to give a long-term committment. I am unemployed right now, and would like to feel like I am doing SOMETHING useful other than looking for jobs. Plus, it would not hurt to be reminded of how fortunate I am despite the job situation, and to focus on the plight of others rather than on myself.

    • I always love Habitat for physical volunteer work:

      • Seconding Habitat. I hear the ReStore’s in NoVA are looking for volunteers to help people with donations. They’d like longterm volunteers, but might have flexibility there.

    • This was discussed recently. IIRC, suggestions included Washington Animal Rescue League, Greater DC Cares, Children’s Law Center if you’re a lawyer, or Bread for the City.

    • Check out DC Central Kitchen! You can volunteer to do food prep, service, gardening, all kinds of things.

    • Food and Friends is also a great organization to help out. They provide meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other illness in the city. And honestly their employees are a blast.

    • My friend works full-time for Food & Friends, a D.C. based charity that delivers meals to people with illnesses such as cancer or HIV. It is a wonderful organization and I’d be happy to hook you up with my friend. I think volunteering is a great way to make use of your time while job-hunting. And professional not for profit organizations are just like real companies, so you don’t necessarily have to do something you are completely unskilled at or something totally unrelated to your job. You can help and at the same time develop useful skills that are pertinent to your career. Leave us a comment on our website and we’ll hook you up with our friend.

    • Anonymous :

      You guys rock! I will look into these options. Thanks!

  13. I’ll stick up for the cuffs. I have a few pairs of pants and a couple suits that are cuffed and minus my issues with being clumsy, I love them. I don’t necessarily like them more or less than my uncuffed pants but I like the variety in my wardrobe.

  14. I put glitter in my cuffs so when I walk, it spills out, leaving a trail of sparkly goodness. Haters gonna hate, but what can I say, I’m fabuuuuuulous!

  15. Pretzel_Logic :

    I’m 5’9″ and i feel stumpified in cuffs. lol?

  16. For AIMS From Barrister in the Bayou :

    If you want to chat about allergy shots feel free to email me at binthebayou at gmail dot com. I’m currently getting them, but don’t have time to write about it at the moment.

  17. Did anyone else notice that the advice Kat linked to about not wearing cuffs if you’re under 5’9″ was advice for men, not women?

  18. I like cuffs – they just have to be the right scale! The short cuffs on 90’s pants weren’t flattering. But on a pair of wide legged (not nec. the dramatically wide legged) pants, hemmed to perfection for your desired shoe height, let’s say maybe a 2″ cuff, they can be very Katharine-esque.

    That said, after catching my heel in one, I always take them to the tailor to stitch them “closed” – the stitching only goes through the “inner” layer of the cuff, and is a short distance from the top of the cuff, so it’s invisible that they are sewn shut, but you can’t catch your heel too badly in 1/4″ of fabric.

  19. I’ve never worn cuffs and it seems to be going out of style for guys too. Went to Nordstrom over the wknd to help my hubs get suits during the pre-sale, and the tailor said that cuffs were out of style and only for the older grandpa set (her words, not mine).

  20. Wait, we hate pleated pants now? I was taught that dress slacks should always have a pleat, and I always hang/fold my pants to maintain a pleat. That’s just what we “always” did. Why do we hate pleats?