How Pants Should Fit – The Principles of Fit

Pants act as an anchor for your style, swapping one pair for another can completely change the image you convey. Make sure they fit their best.

Pants are particularly important because they serve as a base, or an anchor, for the rest of your outfit. Pants will mostly be in the background of an outfit, serving as a foundation for the foreground of your shirt or outerwear. Pants are also important because they in large part determine whether your body appears tall or short. A high rise with a long, straight leg will make you appear taller while a leg broken up by boot tucks, lower rises, cuffs or other pant breaks will make you appear shorter.

Before we delve into how pants should fit, let’s discuss the meaning of a pant break. The break is the fold or bend above the cuff of the leg, which is created when the fabric of the leg is longer than your physical leg. Thus the pant line “breaks,” or kinks, near your shin when the cuff meets your shoe. If a pant has no break, then the front line of the pant will be unbent, and the cuff will just graze your shoe.

A full break is when the pant develops a deep crease–the leg breaks so much that any more length may cause a second break to develop. A half, or medium break, is between these extremes–the line of the pant bends noticeably, but not significantly. A quarter, or a slight break, is when the trouser meets the shoe and breaks, but only slightly.

Image Credits: Full Break / Half Break / Quarter Break / No Break


Suit Pants and Dress Trousers

These should sit at the top of your hip bones, directly below your navel. Dress trousers will fit more conservatively than other pants, which is to say that you should not be able to see the contours of your butt.

The key here it achieve some drape while avoiding unnecessarily large or loose pants. The trousers should be slim enough at the waist that they do not require a belt to stay put, but they should not cut into your waist either. Degree of break is up to preference, some people prefer none, others prefer a full break, but most people go in between – opting for a medium break.

Avoid pleats, they make the seat of the pant appear unnecessarily loose.

Chinos or Corduroys

These should fit a bit slimmer than suit pants or dress trousers, and most people also wear them an inch or two lower on their waist. However, if you are wearing chinos in a business-environment, err towards a conservative fit similar to dress trousers. If the chinos are to be worn casually, they can be quite slim. You can tell when chinos are too slim in the seat, because they will be too form-fitting, and will occasionally display “pocket flare,” which is when the pocket does not lay flat against the pant.

Polo Ralph Lauren

Most people opt for either a slight break or a medium break for dress chinos. A full break often looks sloppy on dress chinos, but a full break or multiple breaks may be appropriate for slim-fitting, casual chinos. Again, avoid pleats. When sizing for chinos, note that they will likely stretch slightly in the waist and the seat with wear.

Epaulet

Jeans

As the most casual pant of these three, there are many different styling options. These tend to be worn an inch or so lower than even chinos, sitting at the top of your butt, about 3-4” below your navel. It is best for jeans to be somewhat form-fitting, erring towards the slimmer side of the spectrum. A straight leg is preferred. Slim-styled jeans look flattering on most body-types.

Self Edge

However, you want to make sure that the jeans fit consistently throughout the leg, meaning you want to avoid jeans that are tight in the thigh and loose below the knee. If you have large thighs you may benefit from tapered jeans. Jeans stretch a lot in the waist, so it is reasonable to size down one or more sizes in order to achieve a preferred fit in the legs and the seat.

With jeans, it is preferred to go for a full break, which allows a person to turn up the cuffs of the pants if they please. Some people find it desirable to get even longer pants that develop multiple breaks, or folds, known as “stacks.”

Check out Dress Better Instantly! Dark, Straight Leg Jeans on Primer

3sixteen

Shorts

Shorts should fit like casual chinos in the seat and leg, which is to say that they should be slim but not tight. Again, avoid pocket flair and pleats. The rise is a matter of preference, and they can fit low like jeans or higher like chinos. A modern pair of shorts is a bit shorter than many of its predecessors. The bottom of today’s shorts should not go past mid knee, although shorts that are 2-3 inches shorter than this are even acceptable.

Check out Primer’s Complete Visual Guide to Shorts

Dockers

Ending Notes

When shopping keep in mind that pants can always be tailored to be shorter, but many producers don’t always leave enough fabric to let the pant legs out. Because of this, it is fine for the pant to be too long, just make sure they fit in the waist, the seat, and throughout the leg. It is best for all styles of pant to fit consistently through the body, which is to say that they shouldn’t be looser in the thigh than they are in the calf. Keep in mind that every body is different–feel free to try on different styles and sizes until you find what fits you perfectly.

Nicholas Taverna is a style enthusiast, a writer, and a Financial Planner with Royal Alliance Associates. He works out of his office in Port Jefferson, New York and Brooklyn, New York. In his spare time, he also dabbles in tennis and gourmet cooking.

  • Greg_S

    One thing to note, is that traditional higher waisted suit pants should have a pleat. As the pants sit higher on your body, the pleat makes it so they don’t pull too high when seated. They can still be slim and will look appropriate, I’m not taking about your grandpas old pleated khakis.

    • Nicholas Taverna

      If you need a bit of room, then of course pleats are an option. 

      However, today’s suit and dress trousers are most frequently unpleated. I point to the most recently collections by P. Johnson, Isaia, and Ermenegildo Zegna–all respected brands. In the world, I would point to the venerated Guido Wong (aka Most Exerent or Phat Guido) who wears his dress trousers and suit pants traditionally high, yet unpleated.

      You can certainly choose pleated trousers, but I would not say you absolutely should.

  • Vinit

    what is the ideal hem circumference ? most of my trousers are either to wide bottomed or either too narrow. please advise.

    • NTaverna

      18-19″ is traditional/conservative, ~17″ is regular, and 15-16″ is slim or modern. 

      Anything above 19″ is generous, and anything below 15″ is skinny. You’ll find that summer suits, worn with loafers or other sockless shoes, will likely have a narrower leg opening (maybe even <15"). 

  • http://www.jessydiamond.com Jessy Diamond

    Ha, I was looking for a good half to quarter break picture to show to my tailor, this is perfect !

  • Pingback: A Gentleman's Introduction to Fit | 303 Magazine

  • Pingback: Anonymous

  • MickyB

    Great article. Very insightful.

    Quick Q. I’m 30 and recently a full suit and wanted the trousers altered.

    My partners Father used to work in a suit store (about 20years ago), she was adamant during purchase that when I sit down with the trousers on, the socks should not be visible. Is this true? I prefer more of a Quart/Medium break but now when I stand I have a Full break if not more.

    Opinions?

    Thanks in advance?

    • jam

      It’s okay to show some sock as it will, inevitably if you sport the quarter-mid break. What’s important is that you don’t show some skin behind your suit pant. To ensure this, make sure your sock reaches the bottom of your calf but not to mid-calf preferably as it is blood-constricting

  • udoka

    Can i wear a boot cut dress pant these days, meaning is it in vogue?

    • jen

      it depends on your body shape i think. if you are a slim and slender guy, a slimmer leg would flatter you. Whereas if you are a slimmer guy on the bottom and bigger on top a bootleg can balance out your look. Think of it in terms of shape. If your body is like an inverted triangle, definitely go with bootleg. If you are more of a rectangle then stick with a slimmer leg.

  • Pingback: Glorious Friday!

  • Pingback: PinLaVie... Make your pins come true – How Pants Should Fit!

  • Peggy

    My husband is on the full side, full thighs and calves, a bit of a tummy, but a very little bottom. His jeans tend to hang off his bottom and look baggie in the butt. He is a real cowboy and has always worn Wranglers. Any suggestions?

  • superseiyan

    Nice article.  Curious, how do you handle the problem of larger thighs/big butt? Think running back build.  So basically a slim profile, and buying the correct waist usually means a little tight at the seat.  Can the seat be LET OUT (widened) with minimal adjusting of the waist?  

    • Mike

      I have the same problem! Something that fits in the legs does not in the seat and I constantly have “pocket flare.” As a result, I stooped down to buying D3 classic fits from Dockers. Talk about looking like having a pair of parachute pants around my legs…

  • Pingback: The Loafer: The (Dressy) Alternative to the Boat Shoe - Primer

  • Abraham

    Can you advice me what to wear with 184 hight and 65 weight .. I like no break and nt slim cut so what kind of rise and cut good for me?

  • Chris

    To me, the jeans worn on the pictures don’t fit the guys.
    They are supposed to go straight down, those jeans would look so much better if the leg lengths were right.

  • Pingback: Give me a break - the length of men's trousers

  • Hocky

    Normally the bottom ends of the trousers legs are hemmed in a way that they are folded inwards. How do we call the way when it is folded outwards? I know it is to add weight to the trousers legs. Cheers.

  • Pingback: The Perfect SuitMale Extravaganza

  • Pingback: Building a wardrobe from the ground up – The Pants | after-imaged

  • Pingback: Seeking advice on the Dainese D-System EVO riding pants - Kawasaki Ninja 300 Forum

  • Pingback: Hemming and Hawing Over Pants Length – or how to buy a suit without the suit wearer | Clothes Horse Australia

  • Pingback: Hemming and Hawing over Pants – or how to buy a suit without the suit wearer

  • Pingback: Know The Rules Before Breaking Them: The Classic Suit, The Rules To Follow, & The Rules To Break | Effortless Gent

  • Pingback: Three Questions When Buying Clothes | menswear manila

  • Mr T

    I am a 40 year-old straight guy who is VERY scrawny and thin(due to a sedentary lifestyle with no exercise, coupled with very high metabolism – food I eat gets digested VERY quickly, and I am hungry again very quickly). Although I am already 40 years old, but I weigh only 50kg with a waist size of 28 or 29 inches(depending on whether I am hungry or full) and I am short, at only 164cm tall. Obviously, given my weight, you can imagine my legs are very bony and thin as well, like those of a scrawny teenage kid. Many people often mistake me for a young lad due to my scrawny and thin body and size. As a result, I am never taken seriously and also get bullied or talked to with little respect. What kind of trouser style should I wear for office work and also for casual use, in terms of cut/fabrics/style/length/, etc, that will make me look better in the interim while I try to do something to beef myself up?

    Thank you very much in advance for your advice!

  • http://www.shopwillslifestyle.com/ Wills Lifestyle

    I mostly prefer to ‘no break’ style with my bottom cut.
    It looks fine when your trouser is little harder.

  • Pingback: Getting Pants That Fit Right - Two Classy Chics

  • Pingback: Introduction to Style for Effective Altruists | Hymn to Reason

  • Pingback: Dockers Men's Alpha Khaki Slim-Tapered Flat-Front Pant | Male Emporium

  • Pingback: Hemming and Hawing over Pants – or how to buy a suit without the suit wearer | MoxNixChick