[Note from Mantic59: OK, this post has nothing to with shaving. But it is about one of those "pet peeves" of mine that drive me absolutely insane sometimes. One of the responsibilities of my "real" job (I don't shave for a living...yet. ) is interviewing prospective employees, many of whom are in college or have just graduated. Time and time again I see young men coming through my door, smartly dressed for a job interview (a nice suit, or at least a dress shirt with tie and dress slacks) but with trousers that are so long that they drag on the floor. Maybe that's the acceptable style for very casual pants/jeans but it looks incredibly sloppy in dress clothes where first impressions are critical.
The “break” of your trousers refers to the way it folds horizontally at the ankle as a result of the cuff resting on the top of your shoe. It’s caused by the length of the trousers but shouldn’t be confused with the length — the “break” means the folding caused by contact with your feet specifically.
Most dress trousers are sold unhemmed. The expectation is that a man will take the trousers to a tailor for personal adjustment! Unless you’re very lucky and manage to buy a pair of trousers already perfectly fitted to your legs, skipping this step will almost certainly give you a bad-looking break. Tailor-adjusted hems aren’t a dandy’s luxury; they’re a basic staple of menswear.
If your off-the-rack trousers do already come hemmed, you have two options: wear them as is or take them to a tailor for adjustment. Again, you’ll probably want to have an adjustment made unless you got lucky and found a pair with the perfect break as-is. This is a basic step for all your trousers, not a minor detail for custom-tailored clothing only!
There’s a certain amount of fashion that goes into the trouser break — bigger, more defined breaks might be trendily mussed one season, and crisp-fronted ankles with no break at all the next — but try to avoid following the fad of the moment. Find the look that works for your style and your professional needs and be clear with your tailor about what you want.
Types of Trouser Break
There are three basic ways for a man’s trousers to “break,” or rest at the bottom: no-break, half-break, and full-break. The appearance is determined by the length of the trouser legs and the shape of the ankle openings.
This is the cleanest look. It’s good for short men (who lose some visual height if a break cuts them off at the ankles) and for men who deliberately seek a ramrod-straight, crisply-starched kind of self-presentation. Trousers without a break just barely rest on the tops of the shoe. They are often cut with a slightly angled opening that’s lower in the back than the front — this is because the tops of most shoes are closer to your ankle than the support in the rear, and the trouser should be brushing the shoe all the way around.
The biggest danger with this style is that it’s easy to hike them too high and start showing your socks off. Be careful of where you’re wearing your trousers if you’re trying for the no-break look! Too high and your dress pants have just become floods.
You’ll also hear this style called a “medium break.” It’s the traditional standard for dress trousers: a single horizontal fold that dips across the front of your ankle. The hem of the trousers rests lightly on the top of the shoe in front and covers the highest point of the shoe leather in the back.
A half-break is comfortable, conservative, and inoffensive in all settings. If you don’t want to have to think about this subject, have all your hems tailored to a half-break!
The only real disadvantage of the style is how universal it’s become. If you’ve got a pair of flashy pants that you want to strut a little bit a half-break doesn’t really add anything or draw the eyes. That said, that’s usually a good thing, so this is a solid option for most men’s trouser needs.
A “full break” means a fold that runs all the way around the leg. There may be smaller folds above or below it as well, and the cloth is resting firmly on the top of the shoe. Socks and the opening of the shoe are typically hidden.
This is a tough one to pull off well! It’s a very short step from “full break” to just looking like you forgot to have your trousers hemmed. It’s usually best left for very tall men (whose legs make the extra folds seem smaller and more appropriately-sized) or for looser trousers in a casual material like corduroy or denim.
Blue jeans are often worn with a full break these days. It looks a little sloppy, so if that’s the point go for it, but be aware of what you’re doing. A full break generally shouldn’t be worn unless the rest of your outfit is also a little aggressively casual.
Exceptions to the Rule
Jeans, as we just mentioned, tend to have more of a break than other trousers. That’s because a good pair of jeans is made with thick enough denim that a longer leg won’t bunch up into lots of little wrinkles the way that light cotton or wool would.
Trousers with a cuff on them also break slightly differently than trousers without. A big break and a cuff looks silly — it’s piling too many horizontal elements up right at the ankle. Cuffed trousers should just brush the shoe without creating any large creases. Iron a good firm crease into them and they’ll rest in a nice pointed shape that looks just as good as an uncuffed pair’s break.