Corporette 101: Pant Hemlines

men's pants lengthsThis post is actually inspired by a reader’s question:

How long should pant hemlines be, when wearing a suit or dress pants with loafers (with a 1″ stacked heel) or heels?
We recall, many years ago, seeing an illustrated feature in the front of Esquire magazine, advising men how long their hemlines should be with different types of pants and shoes. (Yes, we were dorky enough to scan it and keep it.) Our advice won’t be quite as nuanced as that, alas, because in our minds the answer is always the same: the front of the hemline should brush the front of your foot (“the vamp”), and only a half-inch of heel (inch at most) ought to be showing in the back. Far too often we see women wearing heels with pants that are hemmed for flats — it makes their legs look shorter. It’s even worse with suits, because then the whole suit looks like it doesn’t fit. Readers, any thoughts?

Further viewing: Proper Fit of Pants [eHow]


  1. Delta Sierra :

    Good topic. This whole pants-length thing is a big nuisance, but can’t be ignored, since too-short pants look awful. I try to decide, when I buy them, that “these are for flats” or “these are for heels” and stick to it.

  2. I sometimes agonize over whether to have a pair of pants hemmed for flats or heels– mostly I’ve given up and hem them for heels, and just wear flats with skirts. My mother’s advice was to pick a heel height for work(she suggested 2 inches), and have all your work pants tailored for that one heel height.

    I agree though, heels with pants that are hemmed too short looks awful and dowdy.

  3. tinylawyer :

    Yes, agree with your suggested length. It’s a pain when you regularly wear different size heels though. I have a 3 inch pair, a 3.5 inch pair, and a 2.5 inch pair, and if I hem for the 2.5 inch pair the pants look awful with a 3 inch pair.

    It’s also a pain when your drycleaner shrinks your pants! They’ve done this to my Theory pants, my Banana Republic pants, and my Gap pants. I now dry clean my pants prior to any hemming. This helps but doesn’t reduce shrinkage entirely.

  4. Sometimes I’ll wear too-long pants with flats, but never the other way around. Too short looks terrible. It just looks like you’re wearing a whole lot of shoe, and that’s just not a good look.

  5. This advice is sound. The most important thing is to make sure the break between the shoe and the attached heel is covered. If you wear flats and kitten heels (no more than 1 and 1/2 inch), you can wear either flats or heels. With higher heels (2 inch or more), I agree with Delta Sierra you need to choose your shoes for a particular pair of pants.

    There’s nothing more useful in terms of a professional wardrobe than a good tailor.

  6. I definitely have pants that are for flats and those that are for heels. There is no mixing the two becuase then all you get is a puddle of fabric = sloppy or too short of a pant = dorky!

  7. As a related follow-up, are there any books you’d recommend as the women’s equivalent to Esquire’s Handbook of Style?

  8. Good advice, C. In addition to buying different pants for heels and flats (or two pairs of the same pants hemmed to different lengths if you love the pants) I recommend keeping all of your heels roughly the same height. All of my work heels are between 2.75″ and 3.25″ inches and I hem my pants so that .25″ of the heel is showing if I am wearing 3″ heels–this way every pair of pants works with every pair of heels. Or you can just avoid the dilemma by only wearing skirts and dresses. :)

  9. Christina :

    you can also have all of your pants long enough for all of your heels, and then fold up or use fashion tape to “hem” them up from the inside for a more polished look. This can be a huge problem when commuting, because you want flat shoes for the subway, but heels at work.

  10. I just gave up on commuting in flats. There are shoes with heels but comfortable to walk in.

    All my pants are hemmed for heels with 2-3 inches. If I am in the mood for wearing my high high heels (3.5 and above), I would simply wear skirts. The less headache in the morning the beter. I would never wear pants that are too short for the heels.

    I have not had shrinkage problem with dry cleaning because most of my dress pants are in light wool rather than cotton. In my experience, cotton is worse when it comes to shrinking.

  11. I have used the fashion tape hem trick that Christina mentions. I am also tempted to buy these:
    Curious if anyone else has used them?

  12. This is why I need 98 pair of black pants – 1 for the fat days, 1 for the skinny days; 1 each with wide, narrow, straight legs; random pairs I bought and ones that go with specific jackets; ones in wool, silk, blends, cotton, and linen. All times three for flats, mid-heels, and high heels. All times times two for winter and summer.

  13. I have used the zakkerz. They work well for actually holding up the pants, and don’t crease them, but I do feel a little dorky wearing them.

  14. With jeans in particular, I have them hemmed for heels. They usually shrink over time, so then I make them my flats jeans.

  15. This may be based on my personal preference, observation, or upbringing rather than etiquette authorities, but I believe the rules are different for men and women. Men’s trousers (depending on the style, fabric, etc. as you state) almost always have a break. Not so for ladies. Pants hemmed for heels (when worn with heels), especially if they’re wide or flared, need not have a break at all. With a loafer or flat shoe, there should be a break–typically lower than men’s tailoring–and I, too, prefer the hem at the heel to be slightly longer than in the front (a “West Point cuff” or hem in men’s tailoring parlance), and definitely above the floor.

  16. Delta Sierra :

    Does anyone have a set of idiot-proof instructions on hemming your own pants? I’ve done this now and then and always made a mess. I know a professional tailor is better but sometimes I feel cheap, er, make that, I feel frugal ;

  17. I just looked up these Zakkerz another poster asked about. I was horrified to see that they actually sit there exposed on the end of the pants. I was sure there had to be some way to conceal them and kept browsing the website. There is not. This is how they are meant to work–as little beacons of shortness shining at the end of your pants. Ridiculous. I’d rather kill my feet (and I am) in heels than wear this ridiculous product.

  18. I think the Zakkerz are meant mostly for short-term solutions, such as wearing flats for your commute to work, then removing the Zakkerz when you put on your heels as you arrive at the office.

    Still, I think they look really silly and I wouldn’t wear them, either – I’d rather have ouchy feet.

    I love the idea of always keeping your heel height within a certain range so that hems work with all shoes! A skirt or dress would be the perfect solution for those few pairs that don’t fit the hem-height requirement…

  19. Anonymous :

    I’ve used staples in a pinch and they seem to be passably more attractive than the zakkerz. I live in an area that floods, so sometimes you have to find some sort of solution to keep from totally destroying your pants.

  20. all this advice about owning 10-30 pairs of pants to go with different shoes is great advice… if you have the cash to own that many pairs of pants/suits. i agree that you have to pay attention to hem length but having a ridiculously strong opinion about an extra half inch of heel showing seems unnecessary.

  21. roseviolet :

    I think it really looks ridiculous when women wear their pants way too long. I have seen women in pants that touch or drag on the floor. The other pet peeve are pants with slingbacks and how the shoes grab the pants when walking. Pants that flood aren’t as bad!

  22. Over the last year or so I brainstormed trying to come up with an invention that would solve the problem that Zakkerz claims to solve. I actually came up with a prototype that would both keep your hems from dragging AND not be visible from the outside. Maybe it’s time to patent and sell it! :)

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