Trad Mannerisms: To Cuff or Not to Cuff?

We owe an awesome deal of our heritage to those fogey old farts across the puddle. Afterall, the United Kingdom damn near wrote the entire textbook that we have been studiously absorbing our tradly and preppy lessons from, right here in the confines of Haberdashery Hall Rm 103, as a Michael Caine lookalike adorning horn-rimmed glasses and academic robe professes to our class the theory of “Advanced Techniques in Windsor Tie Knotting”. England’s lasting effects are really too much for me to individually list, but the following is a rough sampling to help illuminate their vast far reaches into American East Coast Traditional Style.

“Men are from Moors, women are from Paris.”

12th October 1946: The Duke of Windsor (1894 – 1972) in the grounds of Ednam Lodge, Sunningdale. (Photo by Reg Birkett/Keystone/Getty Images)

Well, for starters we pay ode to their military. Their soldiers gave us chino pants, the chukka boot (ie desert boots), the trench coat, and the NATO strap. English high society and university passed on the spirit that will eventually embody TNSIL / The Ivy League Look, through adaption of deep rooted traditions imbedded in the corridors of Oxford and Cambridge that were then relayed unto Harvard and Yale, by way of proud personal affiliation shown through emblem, badge, repp tie, and other official colors of regalia and motif. Anglo Country Gentlemen gave us their tartans, tattersalls, and waxed outdoor coats. Londoners gave us their wingtips, brogues, and chelseas. There is the spread collar. Argyles. Fair Isle. Spread collars. Dainite soles. British Racing Green Range Rovers. G9 Harringtons. Paisley, seersucker, and madras from the days of the Colonial Empire. A glass of scotch beside a cozy fire and accompanying aroma of cigar smoke seeped well into cracked leather chairs. Bond. James Bond. Pennyworth. Alfred Pennyworth.

But as the history of menswear proves, one good ol’ chap in particular has been incredibly influential in our way of life. He is the patriarch – the original Kennedy, McQueen, and Dean. That is, the Prince of Wales, who later ascended to King Edward the VIII only to abdicate, and eventually be known as Duke of Windsor. He isn’t the greatest ruler of the British Empire, and in fact was one of the shortest with a reign of only less than a year (you may recognize the name, as he was portrayed by Guy Pierce, opposite Colin Firth in the movie The King’s Speech.)

But without The Great Architect of Trad, we would not have much of what we take for granted today. If Prep traces back to Trad, and Trad traces back to our Anglo-Saxxon brethren; then all of this common lineage can be traced to a single source that confides in the Duke of Windsor. Much like his defiance of the thrown, he went against proper stuffy decorum with the kind of vitality that Uncle Sam could be proud of. He pioneered brown cordovan dress shoes with navy suits, going against the day’s all black standard. He lend his blessed touch on morning coats and innovated now-modern practices like the formality of white waistcoat with black dinner jacket, which gave birth to the tuxedo. And there is obviously the Prince of Wales Check (also known as Glen Plaid) that we see pervasively year after year in elite fashion housing F/W collections of suits and outerwear. Even his popularization of the double-breasted reefer jacket that the Duke used for nautical adventures holds a dear origin story of interest to us, as the reefer jacket (precursor to the Pea Coat) eventually became what we now know as a double-breasted suit jacket; and even more importantly, lead to the classic Blue Blazer we all set prominently for easy access in front of our other suit and sportcoat hangings. The Duke broke through the costume mold of the era with a nouveau approach of blending sporty youthfulness with a gentleman’s casual grace for use in the day to day. The way the Duke of Windsor went about a sensible rendition of honorable, but relaxed demeanor is his single greatest contribution to menswear. It should be no wonder why he passed on the responsibilities of the thrown to his stuttering younger brother in favor of running off with an American socialite into the sunset. He had that intrepid Manifest Destiny attitude that his fellow gentlemates lacked, and his American kinship encouraged. Causing much sensationalism in the tabloids (as if Master Prince Harry today was caught fancying that ghastly Paris Hilton woman, don’t you know), this example of the Duke’s maverick endeavors, in clothing choices and lifestyle alike, seems befitting of his overall demeanor for timeless, practical elegance synonymous with the present and a century ago. He was a style icon emulated by many in his time and in ours, and we remain forever indebted to the Great Architect.

If “8th Edward” was emulated by all, then he would have found his own style icon in just a few steps up the House of Windsor family tree. His grandfather, King Edward the VII, shares similiar notoriety in our trad timeline. Uncle Ed may not have had as much impact on the Anglo American wardrobe as his grandson, but he did leave us with plenty of distinguished impressions. He never fastened the bottom button of a waistcoat (since his belly fat needed to be released), which began our tradition of keeping the bottom suit jacket or blazer button aloft as well. He also gave us the windsor knot, and the spread collar that was created specifically for the fullness of the windsor. However, there is one golden mannerism that is often overlooked as only a subliminal point of reference, and yet strongly signifies your and my tradly membership.

The Pant Cuff

Minor in decree if we look at the overarching fashion order, and yet a resolute practice for us who are tradlier than thou. Cuffs serve many duties. The first and most obvious is its functionality; as you can imagine, the dreary and wet climate in the UK was of continual annoyance to the gentleblokes born in the Victorian Age. Which is why sometime in the 1890s, the “7th Edward” came up with the brilliant idea of turning up the hem of his trousers before stomping through the mud. And so, like all historic memoirs of Trad & Prep, this simple act of rolling the bottom hem to avoid the perils of gross cobblestoned streets was born not out of some artificial significance with its only value as an artistic feature, but solely for pure utilitarian function. The King did not want to get his pants dirty. But even so, the Cuff soon became an aesthetic detail copied by the upper crest, who were then copied by the commoners. As it was attributed to the King who first modeled it, the Cuff spread as a sign of high brow sentiment through England and on to our American shores. Tailors and clothing outfitters took notice and started to offer stitching to permanently place the hem’s turn-up (as why the technical term for a pant cuff in tailorspeak is PTU, for “Permanent Turn-Up.”)

The legacy that 7th Edward’s trousers initiated still lives on through current standard of practice. Christian talks of the Cuff’s prominence in preppy circles. The OPH talked about it too, and if you search the AAAC you’ll find many potentially boring discussions about the intricacies of pant cuffs. Who would’ve guessed, huh? For some of you, your eyes have been newly opened to a previously overlooked concept. The Cuff in all of its mundane glory. You aren’t alone. Back in high school I used to think that cuffs were dorky like most everyone else. But this is when I also wore cargo pants too (my enlightenment came shortly after thankfully). Flash forward a few years and I’ve gained a mountain of novel information, including treasures that have eluded mass appeal until the very recent, as even the Cuff somehow becoming cool in these past two or three years as consequence of the blossomed preppy revival.

When To Cuff?

Not all pants are meant to be cuffed for our contemporary aspirations, to the chagrin of extremists who are older than 8th Edward’s skeleton. Don’t mind those guys, they cuff all of their extra relaxed pleated sh*t indiscriminately. No, you must interpret for yourself a sleeker protocol of when to cuff or when to leave the hem alone. My own personal customs are similar to how I arrived at my rules for other related trad mannerisms I’ve talked about before. For example, the type of pants of a given pair will hold the biggest clue on my judgement. I will then consider additionally the color or design, and the body and general purpose of the pants in-question. So like how I prefer the shortest shorts in my closet to be your preppy staple khaki chino shorts, I follow this avenue of reasoning for cuffs too. My strongest preference for cuffed hems are for my chino pants in khaki and other neutral earth tones of browns, greys, and olives. These are the archetype range of pants that fit the “always cuffed” category. Especially true for the khaki chinos or brown toned variations I spoke of, as a pair of khakis are as classic as you can get. They are the quintessential preppy pants. Bestowed to us by allied squadrons all those years ago, and now live on in squadrons of fraternal orders and superstore middle-managers across the nation. Khakis are referred to as part of “The Uniform” that is makes up the most basic trad platform to build upon. Hence, you can identify a fellow God Mode Prep companion if you see him wearing khaki colored chinos with no-break and with cuffs. This is easy to spot, although still very rare because the majority of guys tend to think cuffs are old fashioned (which makes sense), and these members of the brainless masses are allegedly the same types who think predistressed chinos from Gap are perfectly acceptable as truly preppy. Disgusting. Go back to the hole you crawled out of, and take with you your North Face Denali and Tommy Hilfiger polo, ya lowly peasant! Even some of your closest frat brahs will not be aware of the Cuff either. This particular mannerism is the most subtle of the bunch, in a backdrop of an already-minute scope of behavioral traits that became prized trad lexicon over years of trial that include no-breaks and short inseams. So again, if you see a GMP in your midst, who has mastered the aggregate of our related trad mannerisms going for him, then give him the ultra secret GMP handshake. Always the left hand. And if he has the matching Alden LHS loafers and JPress Pocket OCBD, then don’t forget the whispered code that one shall never speak indelicately of unto others who are not in the know, signifying your preppy approval for thou.

You guys know what I am talking about right?

Cuff your khaki chinos. Check. Next? I like cuffing corduroys, dress trousers, and suit pants as long as they are in your versatile solid patterns and colors. This is because the Cuff has another duty: an unintended but joyous benefit of adding extra weight to the bottom opening. Very useful for your no-breaks, where the cuff’s padded fabric works in partnership to a shorter hem, helping to weigh down your bottom openings as you run across Madison Ave to catch a fleeting unoccupied taxi. Lighter wools and cottons will profit the most from the cuff’s assisted anchoring. Cords are a heavier cotton, so they may not need it as much, and so I’ll break my own rule of wanting to cuff corduroys quite regularly. Only these Brooks Brothers Clark Fit Corduroys in dark olive are cuffed, while most of my chinos are cuffed like the Bills Khakis M3s below.

Always Cuffed: chinos, especially khaki or other neutral solid tones. I buy inseams a couple of inches longer just to accommodate my tailor so there is enough ample fabric for her to cut from. Cuffing is an easy job that should cost under $10 per job.

Always Cuffed: all of my dress and suit slacks, including this light grey flannel pair from JPress. The Brooks pants in midnavy sharkskin makes up one half of my most fashion forward suit to date, featuring a cosmopolitan custom tapered fit. Even if cuffs are inherently injunction to a traditional pant fit pairing, I still prefer the turned-up hems for slimmer dress trousers. Not limited to just worsted and flannel wools either, as I’d want to cuff my houndstooths, checks, and tweeds. The key is that these patterns are all relatively monotone where a Cuff won’t disappear.

What comes next is where it gets more complicated. Novelty pants in GoToHell colors, motifs, and patterns are to be left uncuffed for the most part. This is so that the eye is not overwhelmed by visual complexity; the cuff breaks up the solid empty space of your plain chinos and wool trousers, but you don’t want to add unnecessary distraction to pants that are already loud enough in pattern and/or hue. Less is more. This notion is most apparent for the dark navy Brooks Brothers Milano Fit Cords on the bottom left of the following picture. A cuff diverts the eye away from the snowflake critter motif. Same is true with the Ralph Lauren Blackwatch. The Brooks Clark Fit Seersuckers communicates to a passersby the humidity of summer, so you don’t want cuffs to simulate added weight to freed seersuckers, which can additionally shorten the visual penance from the vertical lines that fully compliments build and height if just left alone.

The nanny red Lands End are your typical GTH chinos where likewise you’d want to counter the vibrant red with minimal contour. However, I can see the proposal for cuffs if you are so inclined, as in this case of solid colored chinos having the least rigidity for the cuffed rule. Complicating I know, but you were warned earlier! But what is not in a grey area is all pants labeled for eveningwear. They are strictly uncuffed. No exceptions. Namely for tuxedo pants, as seen by the top left Brooks pair to a one-button peak lapel set (These belong to my older brother who has the discretionary income to pay for such frivolous-but-damnit-all-too-necessary things. I do not currently own a tuxedo of my own…yet, always yet…) Any formal separate, and especially those with a satin stripe on the side, relies heavily on the aforementioned ideal of minimal contour. Tuxedos exude sophistication. You want absent cuffs so people may fair upon you with interrupted visual streamlined complexion. The Style Guy agrees wholeheartedly. I’ve touched on this before too, where I explained in this featured posting that I purported my Ralph Lauren duo of blackwatch variant pants for use of mainly as a festive alternative to tuxedo pants, in instances of holiday dinner parties and galas, and thus adding further reasoning to fastened hems in such formal cases.

Always Uncuffed: novelty and motif pants, eveningwear

Denim often follows its own set of rules. Jeans also tend to be one of those clothing items that are extremely predisposed to whatever is “of popular fad” at that moment. In the 1970s we had bell-bottoms, acid jeans in the 1980s, in the ’90s those grungy baggy carpenter jeans, and in the early ’00s an overfill of Ashton Kutcher’s sandblasted rags. Thankfully, from what I have seen in recent years, where a combo of Americana and what I like to call “Personalized Style” (which in summary is the championing of finding oneself own sartorial identity for the modern 21st century, where there is a mixing of old, new, and made-on-the-go rules…exactly how I try to keep this blog in proportion to) has made its present mark, we have seen an escalation of denim going from the casual to the dressy. “Raw” denim was once a cipher spoken by the purest of Hypebeast enthusiasts six years ago, while these nowadays it is not unusual to see a horde of men salivate over fresh cuts of raw, unadulterated jeans at your nearest Nordstrom department store. Amazing how a niche obsession that lived in Streetwear culture (normally the embodiment of all that is anti-trad) has carved a robust case as an important variable for a youthful man’s preppy wardrobe as well. And we should take note from our fashionably forward urbananite friends by investing in a pair of our own dark untreated slim raw denim, the kind that becomes a second skin and protects you through thick and thin over the next two decades. Your young buck grandpa rolled up his 501s when his mama bought him a new pair in 1947 (the year model that is highest prized these days and is copied by leading denim house Sugar Cane, among others) when he played baseball with his sixth grade buddies in a nearby empty lot that had since turned into a Starbucks. To break in the jean’s cardboard newness, he slid dirt and weathered summer showers, when by high school it was a trophy of grass stains and blistered knee holes. Gramps’ pair of jeans came unhemmed in those days, so the original style was to turn up the cuff, creating an exaggerated Cuff that was out of necessity to not accidentally trip over himself. Why have dear mother hem these jeans if you’ll just grow up taller anyhow…your dad worked hard for those five dollars he earned at the coal mill. Don’t you know the value of a penny? He can’t buy a new pair each season, Boy!

Badass Nick Wooster doing whatever the f*ck he wants. Showcasing how jeans used to be worn.

streetfsn by Nam

Acceptable current practice stemming from Hypebeast groupthink is less accentuated than above, where you may roll the hem twice or three times over in a concise packing. It must be said that this is not in the same reasoning as the chino’s trad mannerism, but more to provide an eying cue of contrast. You get to show off to your fellow hipster friends every detail of your meticulously disheveled outfit, such as your raw denim’s inner stitching, while your cuffs sit unceremoniously on top of your 6″ Red Wing Beckmans as you patiently wait for the next evening concert and sip on a can of PBR at Wonderland Austin. Give your tradly light blue OCBDs a well deserved rest and opt for a Woolrich buffalo flannel in place. Say you are copying a photoshoot you saw in JCrew’s autumn catalog. Or Dean dat motha’ up with a plain white tee, box of Marlboros against your bicep, and some poindexter wayfarer frames.

Cuffing denim would have labeled you a huge nerd back when we had class periods for homeroom and recess, but is perfectly warranted for your one or two pairs of expensive jeans as you’ve grown into a young adult paying tribute to your forefathers. I like to roll “twiceover” with dark raw jean pair, like my Raleigh Denim in Nash Fit seen on the left in the picture a little further down of the page. “Onceover” for my lighter Raleigh Alexander Fit in the middle, positioned beside the rightmost Levis 501STFs (which were my starter pair of nice jeans, and my official CollegeTrad Recommendation for those on a budget.) Oh and one more plug for Raleigh Denim: their jeans profit from cuffing since it adds an additional visual stimulus to Raleigh’s signature white stripe that pays homage to White Oak Cone Mill, where the North Carolina-made denim sources it’s North Carolina-grown cotton. Observed in the wild by those in the know, flagship models carry trademark white internal stitching seen on rolled cuffs, and external white stitching on the 5th key pocket and backloop that hint at the cotton’s namesake source.

The twiceover cuff can be cleanly pressed and have some width to it, like it would for a regular onceover chino cuff, or rolled haphazardly in a finer pencil width. I do both.

Oh, and it goes without saying, but DO NOT get your jeans with PTUs. Roll up manually. Never have the cuffs stitched permanently like with chinos and dress slacks. You’ll be a huge nerd fo’ realz if you do. Jeans are my longest inseamed of all of my pants in my wardrobe. Length hemmed or purchased at 32″, and for reference, I have my tradly chino and dress pants cuffed at 29 to 30″ depending on rise. This is so I can have the option of a slight break with twiceover cuffs with my denim as previously explained, or with a full break sans cuffs if felt like it. Afterall, the trend in a few years may go back to bunched up cotton around the ankles (what I deem affectionately as Lil Wayne Status)

Notsrs. Never doing that ever ever never.

Sometimes Cuffed: twiceover with dark raw denim, onceover in pencil width for my lighter denim. *** I’ll leave the choice to cuff your denim up to personal preference. It is the cool vintage flashback thing to do right now, but it does not have to be followed.***

I break my own rules, remember? Like wearing my Adidas Sambas sneakers instead of hard-soled loafers to a house party. Or *gasp* flip flops to pick up my monthly fill of schizophrenia meds at the pharmacy (makes my precious grimace as I type out these failures of single tracked conscious….wait what did he say?) I keep a pair or two of khaki chinos uncuffed just to have it, as these Lands End tailored fit noniron chinos seen below are. I will leave it to your individual matter of taste once again, but try to obey the no-break trad mannerism, which these LE uncuffed chinos still do. I also keep uncuffed jeans that are primarily reserved for the everyday, like outdoor labor or beer runs, pictured by my 505s, and suggest the same to you. You’re not really going for trad mannered fashion here. Jeans that are straighter in body and are not as slim, yet have cuffs, just seem anachronistic to me. Your Sugar Cane 1947s foot the cuff’s bill. Your Kmart grandpa jeans, in extra comfort fitting with elastic waist, rightfully do not. The mission is to emulate your gramps when he was a strapping wee lil’ lad; not when he was catching the early morning buffet line at Golden Corral at sunrise this morning.

Always Uncuffed: odd pairs, relaxed casual denim

Other Cuffing Considerations

Ms. Birnbach, editor of the OPH, recommended a pant cuff measuring 1.25 inches in width. Personally, I go up to 1.5 inches on some of my cuffed slacks, while others of tradly groupthink prefer to go up to, or dangerously flirt with 2 inches. Don’t bother to go there. Typically these are AAAC guys who saw the moon landing live 😉

From a strictly aesthetic account, slim denim work in harmony with the no-break, because as mentioned it has the added functional cause of providing an anchor that weighs the shorter hem down to decrease the chance of pants riding up in an undesirable and geeky “high water” look. If you are to cuff though, then make sure your hem is not any lower than a slight-break, or you’ll risk yourself a terrible appearance where a cuff just adds to an eyeful of nastiness that comes with a baggier full-break and subsequent baggy ankles. Your daddy called, he wants his work slacks your borrowed for pay time back, and it’s time for your nap time he says. But on the flip side, do not go shorter than a no-break either, or cuff them super high like your hipster friends or diehard Bruno Mars fans enjoy doing…is it called a negative-break? If you are esteemed to the likeness of Steve Urkel by your peers, and not in an IQ bragging kind of way, then you have gone full retard, pal. Our preppy saddle bucks still have not yet completely shed its ingrained geekiness, much less the audacity that comes out of high waters (I still don’t understand how it got so popular on the pages of GQ and Details. But Mr. Browne undoubtedly shares the blame.)

Chinos and trousers are often pleated for you Southern Preps, and the cuff again is preferable here for reflecting a balanced unison. Flat front pants have more leeway and can go either way naturally. So this is where I’ll abide to my [much substantiated] justifications in the essay above for when to cuff or not. Review: Chinos in khaki and other neutral tones? Always. Wool trousers in subdued pattern? Always. Embroidered chinos with turkey critters? Never. Patchwork madras? Never. Houndstooth dress slacks? Always. Your $385 Simon Millers? Sometimes. The rare light tan chinos you keep in the back of your closet for rainy days? Sometimes. Tuxedo pants? Dare you to answer Sometimes and see what happens.

One last consideration. You may have picked up the protip before of always regarding your physical stats in the decision to cuff vs. not. Someone who is shorter and/or stouter may want to avoid cuffing, because it can amplify as opposed to complimenting your proportional lines. Some experts also prefer you to never cuff your fuller cut pants in similiar deduction, with trimmer pants looking best with cuffs. While you should always take these great examples of sartorial self-assessment seriously, I nevertheless still campaign in the name of all things tradly to have at least most of your mainstay khakis and chinos to abide by this “off the cuff” trad mannerism.

As you may have guessed, The Great Architect of Trad is the dashing gentlechap in the title photo. No-break. Cuffed.