Pants Rise Explained (and Why Low Rise Isn’t Always Your Best Choice)

One of the most important dimensions for fitting pants isn’t on the label.

When it comes to clothing, men have a fairly simple sizing system. Take pants, for example: We get to choose inseam length and waist size. Many women, whose logic-defying sizing system goes all the way down to size 0, would consider us lucky.

The problem is, like women, men’s bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and our trusty length/waist measurements aren’t always the best way to determine if something fits properly.

For pants, one of the most important aspects of fit is rise. This article explains what rise is, how it’s measured and why it shouldn’t be overlooked. I’ll also discuss why low rise pants, though popular, are often inappropriate.

What is rise?

Rise is the distance from the middle of the crotch seam (right between your legs) to the top of the waistband. It usually ranges from 7 inches to 12 inches.

Pant rise is important because it determines where your pants sit on your body, which in turn creates your perceived waistline.

Rise can work for you or against you. On one hand, you can use rise to your advantage by changing your perceived dimensions. On the other hand, choosing the wrong type of rise will make you look disproportional.

For example, look at Michael Phelps. Built like a dolphin at 6’4”, he has a surprisingly short 30” inseam. Because of his peculiar torso-to-leg ratio, low rise pants (worn at the hips) make him look unnaturally top heavy:

On the other hand, he can wear normal rise pants higher up on his waist, near his navel, to visually lengthen his legs for a much more balanced look:

Women use this little trick all the time, and it works like a charm. Look how Zooey Deschanel and Olivia Wilde – two women with very short legs – visually shorten their torso, creating the waist-to-hip ratio that we men have evolved to love:

(Olivia and Zooey: If you’re reading this, please know that I think you’re both beautiful just the way you are.)

Types of Rise

Regular Rise

Also called mid rise or normal rise, regular rise is anywhere from 9 to 11 inches and is meant to be worn at your natural waist. Most pants, especially khakis and trousers, have a regular rise.

Low Rise

Worn at your hips, low rise pants are meant to sit well below your natural waist. They became popular during the 60s and 70s (think bell bottoms) and have made a huge comeback over the past few years. Unlike short and mid rise pants, low rise pants are not meant to conform to your natural waist.

Short Rise

These range from 7 to 9 inches and are meant to be worn on your natural waist. Short rise pants are not easy to find, but they are a blessing for men with short legs (which happens to be most guys who are below average height).

Unlike low rise pants, which are meant to be worn at the hip, short rise pants are meant to be worn at the natural waist. They have a shorter rise, which means they won’t have a bunch of extra material in the crotch area, and they will be comfortable on shorter bodies.

Important: Low rise and short rise pants may have the same measurements (e.g., 8” rise) but they will fit differently.

men's pant rise explained

The best place to find short rise jeans and chinos is Peter Manning NYC. Many men under 5’9” have said that their favorite pair of jeans are from Peter Manning.

Other retailers who carry short rise pants include:

  • Jimmy Au (famous Hollywood suit maker for short men)
  • Jos a Bank (short rise available in select sizes)

High Rise

Typically defined as longer than 10 inches, high rise pants are a good option for men who stand over 6’ tall and who want to wear their pants at their waist, rather than at their hips (which is a good decision, especially for formal wear).

High rise pants can be found at any “big and tall” store or department. Be sure that you have enough rise for a comfortable fit because it’s impossible to lengthen.

Takeaways

1. Low rise isn’t always your best bet

If you are below average height, don’t buy low rise pants and wear them as short rise pants by pulling them up to your natural waist. The proportions will be off, and this won’t be comfortable (not to mention, bad for fertility, if you know what I mean). Instead, look for short rise pants, or buy regular rise and have them tailored.

In general, low rise pants are best for casual looks (think jeans), and they’re not for everyone. If you have short legs and a long torso, stay away from low rise pants. Unless your legs are much longer than your torso, you should stick with regular rise pants for business casual and formal wear.

Plus, compared to low rise pants, regular or even high rise pants contribute to a more sophisticated, mature look. In my opinion, us guys in our 20s and early 30s should be aiming to achieve this look. I don’t know about you, but I’m going for “Gatsby” not “Beiber”.

2. When shopping…

Often times men pay attention to the wrong things when trying on clothes. Truth is, the length of most pants can be altered by a novice tailor for $10-20, and the waist can usually be adjusted by 1-3 inches*. But rise can’t be increased, even by a master tailor, and shortening rise is a difficult and expensive alteration.

*Tip: To be sure the waist can be taken in, look for an extra strip of material at the seam of the seat and waist band. 

So, when you’re in the store trying on pants, try not to be blinded too much on the length and waist. Focus instead on how they feel in the crotch and thighs, which is largely determined by rise.

Brock runs The Modest Man, a site dedicated to helping shorter gents dress better by finding clothes that fit. For more tips, sign up to his list and check out the Short Man Style ebook.

  • Jack

    this post could not have come at a better time. I was having trouble explaining to one of my customers who was used to wearing his jeans and chinos in a low rise, that suits are generally meant to be worn higher on the body. He felt that the taper of the pants was off, and it didn’t ‘flow’, and after i showed him the proper placement of the pants, he was ecstatic with the fit.

    Takeaway ( ha) : even if you ARE a low-rise type, suit trousers are generally worn higher up for a proper drape.

    • themodestman

      Well said, sir.

  • John

    I am 5’9″ have a 40.5″ chest, 35″ (actual measurement) waist, 42″ hip, 30.25″ inseam. So that’s 39″ of torso and head. With a fairly toned athletic build. I have a terrible time finding pants these days that fit and are inexpensive or don’t need additional tailoring, especially jeans. Regular rise is like low rise on more proportional guys. Lately, I’ve been buying Wranglers at Target for the low cost and high rise, in a dark finish and getting the legs slimmed down and hemmed. It brings the cost of a $20 pair of pants to $40, but then my pants fit me. The point of all this is to say that disproportionate bodies are more than just Tall, Short, Average, Fat, Skinny, Normal, Medium, Tall, Venti.

    • themodestman

      Agreed. And it sounds like you’ve figured out a way to get a pair of pants that fits for $40, which is great. Have you tried Bonobos? I only ask because they’re “slim” fit is baggy on me, but I have skinny legs. Maybe they would work for your build.

  • G. Maximus

    Higher rise pants will also help fit big butts.

    • Martine

      No. Thats one thing they do not do. If you are bigger, then lower rise may be best. Higher rise is great in a tighter first to show off a nice figure.

  • http://www.iamchris.ca/ Chris Jones

    I have no choice but to wear low rise pants. With my belly, the pants have to sit down on the hips. If I wear anything but low rise pants, I end up with a crapton of extra fabric in the crotch and ass areas.

  • Mike

    What do you recommend for guys with an athletic leg build (eg. larger butt). Will a higher rise fit better?

    • themodestman

      Hey Mike – If you’re legs aren’t super short, go for a regular/normal rise. Just try to find brands that have more room in the seat area (Bonobos, J. Crew) or buy pants from department stores that are cheaper, but baggier, and have them taken in by your tailor.

  • James

    Michael Phelps would look even better in that suit if it weren’t so tight.

    • Evan85

      The jacket looks okay, and the pants are tight because of his hand in the pocket (I think), but the vest is about to fire off a button and kill someone.

    • themodestman

      Yea, I didn’t choose Phelps for his style savvy… more to illustrate my point about proportion. But hey, at least he’s trying!

      -B

  • Josh

    Rise can’t be tailored? I’ve had pants where the crotch was too tight and my tailor loosened them up by an inch or so (I think by taking fabric from the legs). Is that not altering the rise?

    • themodestman

      Hey Josh,

      Good question. You can have the crotch/seat taken in or let out, which is different than altering rise. You can’t lengthen rise (in the same way that you can’t lengthen the inseam).

      -Brock

  • http://www.lucidlingo.com.au/ Gazman

    Hey Brock
    Great article! And thanks especially for clearing up the confusion I had regarding short rise pants. I always thought short rise and low rise were one and the same and as such never figured why the likes of Jimmy Au were advocating ‘low rise’ pants for short men. Now I realise he means short rise. It makes perfect sense because as you say you can wear short rise pants at your natural waist without the crotch hanging low and thereby making your legs look shorter.

  • David

    What is going on with pants these days? The pockets on pants are now so small. Why is this?

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

  • Pingback: Panties for a Long Rise (that you can buy locally, today). | WideCurves

  • Dan B

    What should I do if I am tall (6ft 4) with long legs, but want to look more mature? I am 26. Low rise or mid rise?

    • http://www.themodestman.com/ Brock

      Mid rise.

  • Janice

    My husband is 6 feet tall with no butt and and too much belly. His jeans are always falling down. Not a good thing in public! Any suggestions?

    • BarryK

      @Dan – I’d say go with mid-rise.

      @ Janice – In my experience long-rise or mid-rise look good on most men, esp. so if the guy is heavy around the middle. I have often seen that a lot of men with a large waist or beer belly wear their pants below the belly, with the belly protruding over the jeans or pant waist. I am not sure why some men do this but their pants are always dropping down and in fact it makes them look fatter even than they actually are.

      But what generally works for a lot of men who have “too much belly” is long rise FLAT FRONT pants (jeans are always flat front) worn MIDWAY on the belly with the use of a wide belt i.e. two inches wide belts work best but 1.5″ will do too, just not as well. This way the pant waist pulls the belly in esp. if the fabric is not too light. And the belt holds the pants there. Heavier pant fabrics work better. But nowadays a lot of flat front pants have a stretch waist band that works very well. They sell them at Macy’s, Sears and a lot of other stores. Docker’s pants are in my opinion the best, but you may not find long rise flat fronts too easily. A lot of pants, esp. chinos come with stretch waist bands. Some of the cheaper stretch waist banded pants have an invisible elastic on both sides, and if they are pulled too much there is a hole which makes shows the underwear. Do NOT go with these pants.

      The issue with “no butt” is a common problem with both men and women. If you Google it you will find suggestions on how to get such pants altered or even do it yourself if you are handy with a sewing machine. Usually long rise pants/jeans work very well for this kind of problem.

      Hope you find this helpful.

  • Pingback: Peter Manning Review: Clothing for Short Men

  • tham

    Glad this page come up on my google search. You’ve cleared up all my questions and misunderstandings regarding rise. Nicely done and thanks.

  • knivesout00

    Good points by the author. It occurred to me recently that low-rise pants had been “in style” for such a long time now, that perhaps my next pair of jeans should be regular-rise. It seems Banana Republic was thinking the same, as they eliminated low-rise at their flagship store in my area (though still are sold at their outlet store).

    I certainly agree that khakis and all formal or semi-formal wear needs regular-cut. As for jeans, for some reason, at 6’1″ with a 32″ leg and regular-to-thin build, I agree that low-rise on jeans somehow generally looks best.

  • amy

    Would love some help with pants for my husband. His problem is that they are all too tight across the crotch. Any suggestions of a company that makes pants with a roomier crotch? PLEASE no crude replies, this is a very frustrating situation.