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.
The proper length of pants 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.
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. When wearing pumps, only the front of your shoe should be showing.
Hem Length for Wide Leg Pants
Wide leg jeans and pants, and extreme flares look best with a longer length. For these, 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.
Hem Length for Bootcut Jeans and Trousers
A bootcut is between the classic and the wide leg styles, so you can go with ¼” to ½” from the floor. If you know you need to hem a lot from a bootcut or flare jean, I recommend going with petite or trying a different style as you may end up losing or ruining the actual silhouette with the alterations.
Hem Length for Skinny Jeans and Pants, Jeggings, and Leggings
Skinnies are the easiest. They should end at the top of the ankle, but if they gather or pool a bit it’s okay. Also because they are to be shorter, they can work equally well with heels and flats
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. Near the bottom of the ankle, before your foot starts is a good point for the hem. 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.
Hem Length for Ankle Pants
Every season, it seems that 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. The pant should end somewhere around the ankle bone; I find being short with thick legs I do better near the bottom of the ankle bone, while someone with thin or long legs may like a shorter pant. An ankle pant should never be skimming 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 with heels and flats.
Common Questions Regarding 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.
My weight 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 I will find that while the waist will still fit well enough, depending on where I sit on the scale my pants and jeans can be dragging on the ground or just too short for comfort (or style).
I find if the 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 you’re heavier. 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.
I’m plus size, should I have a longer hem on my pants?
To look polished, it’s even more important for those of us who are soft and overweight 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 do feel that it’s more flattering to not have any skin showing between your pant hem and shoe; while slim women can have a bit of foot show with work trousers and pumps, it’s a cleaner look to have a continuous line from waist to floor. 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.
This post was originally published in 2016, and updated for a new decade with new products and style trends.