How to Determine Proper Pant Length for Women

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One of the most popular questions I get from readers is what is the proper length to hem pants? Years ago, there was a cut-and-dry answer, but these days, even hemlines get caught up in fashion trends. However, there are some classic guidelines to follow if you’re looking for a traditional cut or how to hem your trousers for the office. Below, I share how to determine the proper pant length for women in 2024 for a range of pant and shoe styles.

Why Proper Pant Length Matters

Choosing the proper pant length will make you look polished, your clothing will look more expensive, your figure more balanced. Too long of trousers, and the effect is sloppy; too short and you can ruin the line of your look.

You should always get your pants hemmed while wearing the shoes you plan on wearing with them. This will get a better feel for how the pants actually hang on you and will ensure a proper length hem.

This is a big reason why I recommend keeping your shoes around two different heights – a flat height, and a heel or wedge height. This way, you can switch around shoes while your pants still hang correctly.

a graphic showing the proper pant length for women for straight, skinny, bootcut, flare, wide leg, and ankle pants

How to Determine Proper Pant Length for Women

Below, I will be using a lot of terminology about pant cuts. The graphic above shares the six most popular cuts of pants for women, and the general length that is most accepted for each style. I hope this graphic helps you understand my descriptions below when offering tips on hemlength for women's pants and jeans.

Proper Hem Length for Classic Trousers

When I state classic trousers, these are work pants that aren’t fitted, not overly wide of a leg, no flared bottom, or cropped style. A straight, slightly wide, faintly bootcut, or menswear-inspired pant, whether it is part of a suit or a pair of ponte knit you wear on the weekends the back of the trousers should be ½” off the floor.

This is enough to be sure you don’t step on them, there’s usually a bit of a “break” (when the drape has a bend near the hem), and they have great drape. This ½” guide works for heels and flat shoes.

When wearing pumps or flats, you want the pant long enough that the top of your foot is covered and only the shoe peeks out.

Proper Hem Length for Wide Leg Pants and Flares

Wide leg jeans and pants, and extreme flares look best with a longer length. For such pants, you almost want your shoe hidden; the back of the pants or jeans should be ¼” off the floor. This length will keep them from dragging but will give a modern, clean look. Only a peek of your toe should be showing.

If this feels too long, consider the type of shoes you are wearing with these wide pants. A full-length wide pant looks best with a shoe of substance. Switch out your comfy ballet flats for a trendy sneaker, a round-toe shoe with one with an elongated toebox. The proportions may feel a bit more comfortable.

Proper Hem Length for Bootcut Jeans and Trousers

A bootcut is between the classic and the wide-leg styles; you can go with ¼” to ½” from the floor. Again, shoe style is a big determinant; the length of a bootcut with flats can look like highwaters with pumps. If you wish to wear a bootcut pant with both flats and heels, style with a heeled boot that slips under the hem for a modern vibe.

If you know you need to hem a lot from a bootcut or flare jeans, I recommend going with petite or trying a different style, as you may end up losing or ruining the actual silhouette with the alterations.

Proper Hem Length for Skinny Jeans and Pants, Jeggings, and Leggings

Skinnies are the easiest to determine proper pant length for women. Skinnies should end at the top of the ankle, but if they gather or pool a bit it’s okay. Also, because they are a shorter style, they can work equally well with heels and flats.

Proper Hem Length for Straight Leg Jeans and Pants

Since straight-length pants won’t always fit over shoes and don’t “break” well when longer, they can be shorter than other styles of pants. I recommend having the hem hit the bottom of the ankle before your foot starts. However, if you desire a longer pant and the fabric works, you can go longer. Just don’t go too short; a straight pant can easily look like a too-long ankle pant or “highwaters” when too short.

Proper Hem Length for Ankle Pants

Every season, it seems that trendy ankle pants are a different length. Like skirt hem lengths, the best choice is to have the ankle pant at a length to highlight the slimmest part of your ankle. To show these are ankle pants and not too-short straight or skinny pants, you need to show some skin.

An ankle pant, whether it is slim or wide-leg, should end somewhere around the ankle bone; I find being short with thick legs I prefer near the bottom of the ankle bone, while someone with thin or long legs may like a shorter pant.

An ankle pant should never skim your shoe. No matter the style of footwear, there should be skin between them and your hem. Since this is a shorter pant and you’re not worrying about a “break,” you can wear the same length ankle pant with heels and flats. If you wear with boots, they should be tall enough to hide under the pant hem.

How to Determine Proper Pant Length for Women by Wardrobe Oxygen

Common Questions Regarding Women's Pant Lengths

My commuter shoes are flats, but my work shoes are heels. How do I get to work without my pants dragging?

You need a way to raise up the pants for your commute; there are many gadgets on the market that accomplishes this without damaging your trousers. The Scotch brand has hem tape that is easily removable and only around $5. Hollywood Fashion Secrets also has a version that is less than $10. Cityclips are another alternative that temporarily clip up your hems. 

What length should my pants be to work with both flats and heels?

Unless the pants or jeans are ankle length, they rarely work with both flats and heels. Again, I recommend sticking to around the same height of heels so you can easily mix and match pants and shoes.

If you have a beloved pair of pants you wish to wear with flats and heels… consider purchasing two pairs. I have been known to buy the same jeans and have one pair tailored for flats and the other for heels. It may seem excessive, but it may prevent you from destroying your favorite pants or buying “not quite right” pants.

If you would prefer to stick with one pair of pants (I don't blame you), consider an ankle-length with a straight leg. This is a style that will work with a 3″ pump, a kitten heel bootie that slips under the hem, or even your favorite pair of sneakers. As mentioned above, a bootcut can work with flats and heels as long as they are worn with heeled boots that slip up under the hem of the pants for a continuous line.

My size constantly fluctuates; what length should I make my pants?

When I was pregnant and looking for maternity pants, it seemed every pair was several inches too long. A wise friend told me to maybe hem one or two pairs for now, but the longer length will work once I reached third trimester. That friend was right; in fact, some of the miles-long pants ended up too short.

Since then, my weight has fluctuated, and while the waist of my pants and jeans will still fit well enough, depending on my current size and shape, my pants and jeans may be dragging on the ground or just too short for comfort (or style). 

If your pants still fit elsewhere but your length is an issue, hem your pants for your regular heel height at your smallest size and switch to flats or kitten heels when your body is larger. Instead of replacing all your suits and trousers, if you maintain this larger size, consider buying a pair or two of shoes with a heel an inch shorter. Save money and be kinder to your feet at the same time!

I’m plus size; should I have a longer hem on my pants?

It’s even more important for those of us who are soft and have larger bodies to be aware of hems and proportion. While too-short pants look even more awkward when you’re larger, too-long pants look sloppy and can make us look as though we don’t care about our appearance.

I hate to admit it, but style is judged more harshly on large bodies. A good guide is don't have any skin showing between your pant hem and shoe unless the pant is a cropped or ankle style. In general, the above hem guidelines should work no matter your size, height, or figure.

What are the best flats to wear with work trousers?

A structured flat, meaning a shoe that keeps its shape even if your foot isn’t in it. One with a proper sole and maybe a tiny sliver of a heel to show it’s a shoe and not a slipper. An elongated or pointed toe is a nice touch and makes the shoe look more professional and is sure to peek out from your pant hem.

What if I like my pants longer/shorter than you recommend?

If you prefer a different length, I fully support you! Consider this a guide and not gospel. Fashion in 2024 is more flexible and fluid than it has ever been. There is no one way to wear fashion anymore and putting your personal touch into tailoring is an instant way to add style and a modern flair to your fashion!

This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for 2024 with current style trends.

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  1. Personally I think 1/4 inch off the floor is totally impractical advice for nearly all women. Why? Our waist size naturally fluctuates both from hormones (e.g. water retention pre-bleed) and from what we eat (e.g. some foods cause a bit of bloating). The result is that where trousers sit on our waist varies a bit, and 1/4 inch off the ground is such a tiny margin that a slight reduction in our waist size (e.g. due to not eating for a few hours) means our trousers sit lower and are trailing on the ground. Trousers trailing on the ground means they get dirty and in wet weather will get soaking wet (which tends to spread up the trouser leg leading to a bunch of flapping, heavy wet fabric around your ankles). Personally I hem everything at least an inch off the ground and it stops this problem. If someone literally *never* has a variation in waist size from any cause then 1/4 inch may be an appropriate margin, but I don’t think there are many women in that situation.

  2. Great points, thank you. Could you add info on wide-leg crops? They seem to end at mid-calf, i.e., the widest part of your lower leg, but there’s great variation. As a tall person, I can’t decide if I’m better off shortening them, letting out the hem if possible, or even fraying the hem. I’ve seen them worn with heels, but I prefer them with flat sandals. Thoughts?

    1. I didn’t add wide-leg crops because of this very reason. I think it’s a personal preference. As someone with large calves, shin, and ankles I like them longer but I have seen them an inch or two below the knee and look great and on others they look wonky. With flats I’d think a bit longer may look better; I fully support a released hem and love that it’s now fashionable to wear released hems!

  3. You inspired me. Spending the morning picking out stitches to hem up two pair of slacks. Also taking a pair in at the waist, because they actually fell down one day. Procrastination overcome. Thank you.

  4. I’ve been thinking about emailing in a question, but I may as well ask here since we’re more or less on a related topic. How should one wear ankle boots with jeans? And specifically, how should one wear ankle boots with straight or skinny jeans when it’s really, really cold? Temperatures well into the negative digits are typical where I live in winter, but often there’s little or no snow or it’s been shoveled and a person can wear ankle boots safely. But most fashion blogs chirpily opine that one should simply roll up or cuff one’s skinnies either to the top of the ankle boot or bootie or an inch or so above… and leave one’s ankles bare. Okay, no, it’s ten below. What to do? Wear a tall sock matching the color of one’s pants? Of one’s boots? Buy additional skinnies that are long enough to tuck into the boots? But so many jeans aren’t truly skinny all the way to the bottom hem and “blouse” unattractively if tucked into shorter boots or booties. I struggle with this every winter. As for straight leg jeans, can I just wear them over the top of ankle boots or booties if the leg opening of the jeans is wide enough? Or will I look like I’m stuck in the seventies? (It’s possible I’m overthinking all this, but with taller boots more or less out of style, I’m at a loss.)

  5. Can you also comment on maxi dress lengths? I’m so confused as to what’s best with my petite, curvy bod, and the thought of dress dragging on the filthy ground sleeves me out! Thanks!!

  6. I don’t understand exactly where you mean on skinnies. Top of the ankle is where? How is that different from ankle pants, which I thought were shorter, yet you say they can go down anywhere along the ankle bone?

  7. Allie,
    Looks like the link in the email is broken or missing. I’ve clicked several times and the response is that the page is missing.

    1. Yes, I am so sorry there was a technical glitch and the link changed itself around 9am ET. I sent a follow-up email apologizing and offering the correct link but from what I am reading it went into spam folders. The issue has been remedied it shouldn’t happen again, thank you Jacqueline!

      1. No problem and I’m glad you were aware. I just knew to go to the web version, but I thought to tell you in case you didn’t know. Great post, btw, I just bought some straight leg corduroys from j.crew and now think they may be a bit too short as they are above my ankles by about 3 inches! If they shrink they’ll look like high-waters!

  8. Do you ever hem pants on an angle so there’s a slight break in the front but not too short in the back? I do this frequently. It seems like all my pants really need this. Classic cut. Not overly wide. 1 1/2 heel.

    1. I second binder clips. I haven’t tried the City Clips but none of the other stuff listed work for more than one time.

  9. This is one of my questions, too! I also wanted to ask (or did I?) about how to hem – do you use needle and thread or that sticky stuff (less permanent?) or what? Esp important if the pants shrink in the second/third washing – etc. I am SO AFRAID to hem pants!! How wide of a hem is ok? I like to cut as little as possible in case of errors, shrinking, etc.

    1. Always launder a pair of pants before altering them. They shouldn’t keep shrinking after one wash, if so you should be washing in a different manner (no dryer, gentle cycle or dry clean). I take my pants to my dry cleaner to hem because when I have tried on my own they have never been even no matter how many times I measure. Also, having someone else do it you’ll get a more accurate length with your shoes because you’re standing upright. Too wide or thick of a hem and you can end up affecting the drape of the pant and the hem will be obvious. More than 2″ can look wonky; lighter-weight fabrics can sometimes handle 3″. You don’t want to just cut and hem; some fabrics you’ll want bias tape. Heavier fabrics you can foldover and hem, others you’ll want to serge the edge to prevent fraying. A hem seam is an invisible one too, which is tough to do on your own. I’ve used Stitch Witchery before and it’s not bad for basic suiting trousers, but won’t hold with heavier fabrics like ponte, and will be stiff/obvious on lighter weight fabrics. Depending on whether the pants are stretchy or lined, getting my cleaner to hem pants starts around $12 which really is a good deal to get a custom fit!

      1. Thanks! Yeah, I figured a wide hem was probably not advised. Maybe I will just take to my tailor/dry cleaner….

      2. A lot of high street clothes have washing instructions that don’t actually work for the fabric, e.g. wool that says it is safe for machine wash at 30 but actually shrinks hugely . I’ve had linen trousers shrink repeatedly after being washed as instructed, and I regretted hemming them so early. For fabrics that often shrink I’d be tempted to ask them to keep a big hem inside so it can be let down if they keep shrinking. Either the retailers don’t understand their own fabrics or they lie knowingly because putting a dry clean only label on it would deter sales.

  10. This is a great guide, thanks!
    To the commuter question: I wear a pair of dress socks with my flats, fold the socks them over at the ankle, fold the bottom of my pants under and catch the hem of the pants in the fold of the socks at the back only. It stops the backs of pants from getting stepped on, but is subtle and doesn’t leave marks or creases in the pants. It won’t really work if your pants are hemmed for 6 inch heels….but more modest lengths will work.

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