It’s time to take a look at the down-low on jeans — literally the down-low, down low around your ankles where the legs of the jeans end.
If your jeans are too short, you’ll know it. The trouser legs will end up on your ankles, too high to touch your feet no matter what shoes you wear. Unless you’re going for a highwater look, that’s no good. Your only options at that point are wear the jeans high, or wear the jeans higher. Jeans that are a little long, on the other hand, are versatile. You can let them stack up on your shoes. You can fold them into a neat, crisp cuff. You can get a tailor to hem them (and let them out again if you grow or start wearing your jeans higher). Know your options.
The “Perfect” Length
First let’s talk about how jeans sit when they’ve reached the perfect, platonic ideal of fit. A pair of jeans that’s exactly the right length for your legs will end with a hemmed cuff just brushing the tops of your shoes. Not resting on the shoes and not floating above them — touching them, but not hard enough to bunch up. That’s “perfect” in terms of fitting your body. But it’s not always perfect in terms of style, and a pair of jeans that’s perfect in one pair of shoes might end up floating above or stacked on top of a different pair. So don’t get too attached to that perfect length. You can achieve it by going to a tailor (wearing the shoes you’re most typically going to wear with the jeans) and having the jeans hemmed, but there’s nothing wrong with owning jeans that are a little longer.
Stacking isn’t quite tucking the cuff of your jeans into your shoes or boots, but it’s getting close. The cuffs are rested on the top of the shoes, right up near the opening, and the fabric above them bunches up into a “stack” of small, loose folds. It’s like a tuck without all the pulling tight and bunching up that makes tucking look so uncool. Stacking looks best with tight jeans and high shoes — think high tops and chukka boots. You’ll need a sturdy shoe, too, with enough of a lip around the top opening for the jeans to rest on. Short men get a little boost in perceived height from stacking their jeans up on tall shoes. It also makes your feet look bigger, so guys with those double-digit shoe sizes probably want to steer clear. If you’re into honeycomb fades, stacking is hands down the way to go. Nothing else gets you those crisscrossing wrinkles in quite the same way.
No stack involved: the jeans are worn loose and long, covering the ankle and the opening of the shoe entirely. This is the traditional look for bootcut jeans. It works well in soft denim that falls smoothly. A really stiff pair of jeans can look pretty clunky. This is a tall guy friendly look, since it cuts out some height and makes the feet look smaller. Be picky about your length if you’re going to cover the tops of your shoes. Some denim resting on the shoe uppers is fine (that’s the goal), but you don’t want to mix covering and stacking. If most of your shoe is hidden and you’ve got denim stacking up into folds around your ankles, the look is just baggy and oversized. Not flattering for anyone. Keep the jeans short enough that they fall comfortably over the shoe and no more.
Cuffing Jeans (Folding)
This is the go-to style for guys who want to show off their selvedge denim right now: a squared-off fold turning the bottom of the trouser leg inside out. It’s so trendy that you can get an inexpensive, non-selvedge denim with a completely functionless colored stripe along the seam, just so that it looks more like selvedge when you fold the cuff. Whether you’ve got that colored stripe or not, a crisply-folded cuff looks good in thick, stiff jeans that have at least a little looseness in the ankle. Don’t fold skinny jeans unless you’re trying for a very feminine look. Straight-leg and bootcut work well like this. The bigger the fold, the chunkier the look — good for skinny guys who want to add some visual weight; not so good for guys who already carry some bulk on their own. It also takes some height off, so this is a better look for tall men than short. Wear a big shoe to carry off a big fold: chunky sneakers, chukkas, bucks, that sort of thing.
Cuffing Jean (Rolling)
For a messier, narrower look than the crisp fold, you can start rolling at the hem and work your way up into a rounded doughnut shape. These are usually a little deliberately mussed — they’ve got some wrinkles and unevenness that you don’t get with a broad, sharp fold. This one’s good for getting skinny jeans up to the ankle when you’re wearing low sneakers, slip-ons, or sandals. You see it a lot in the summer, and it works best with thin, summer weight denim as well. Stiff denim bulks up and makes you look like you’ve got a puffy blue set of water wings on your ankle.
For those baggy ankles that need taming: hook a finger into the outer seam, pull the leg of the jeans taut, and then fold all the slack over into a loose triangle laid flat against the side of your leg. Then roll the cuff up, pinning that fold in place. If you did it right, you should be able to see the seam tilted at a sort of angle along one side of the roll. It shows off the edge on selvedge denim, and as an added bonus it’s a tight roll that won’t slip — perfect for cyclists.
When in doubt, a tailored fit never looks bad. Have a tailor take the jeans in to that perfect, platonic length we talked about: just long enough to brush the tops of your shoes without resting on them. Lately there’s been some experimenting with smooth hemmed jeans, so that there’s no visible, stitched hem like the quarter-inch or so you typically see at the cuffs. The jeans just end in a smooth fold of cloth, making them look sleek and minimalist. That’s good for dark jeans dressed up a little (with a sports jacket, say), but not so great for rugged, working-class looks.
So there you have it: all the options, from a sleek, tailored fit to a comfortable stack in those delicious honeycomb folds. Pick your favorite, or try them all out. The same pair of jeans can be worn lots of different ways, depending on your shoe choice. Options for everyone! What is your favorite way to wear your jeans? Comment below to share your best styling tips!