Ask Allie: The Correct Hem Length for Every Style of Pants

How to Determine Proper Pant Length: Tips for hemming trousers to the proper length depending on the style and the shoe. Via Wardrobe Oxygen - The Correct Hem Length for Every Style of Pants featured by popular Washington DC petite fashion blogger, Wardrobe OxygenOne of the biggest 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 pant will elongate your figure, make you look leaner, and have you look more polished and professional. Too long and the effect is sloppy, too short and it can ruin the line of your look and make you appear shorter, wider, and sartorially clueless.

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’s many gadgets on the market that accomplishes this without damaging your trousers. Hem Gems can be found on Amazon and come in a variety of colors to add some bling to your look while temporarily holding up your hem.  Style Snaps can also be found on Amazon and I know many women who have and love them.  City Clips are another reusable option that will keep your pant legs cuffed at a higher height while you wear commuter flats. Zakkerz get rave reviews from many friends and readers; they have two options and are the best for keeping drapey or silky fabrics rolled up.

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

Unless the pants or jeans are skinny, straight, or ankle 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 JAG Paley bootcut jeans in petite, and hemmed a regular length to be perfect with my 3” heels. It may seem excessive, but it may prevent you from destroying your favorite pants or buying “not quite right” pants.

My weight constantly fluctuates, what length should I make my pants?

When I was around 12 weeks pregnant, I began wearing maternity clothes. It seemed every pair of maternity pants and jeans were several inches too long. A wise friend told me to maybe hem one or two pairs for now, but the length will work as I got into the third trimester. That friend was right; in fact some of the miles long pants were now too short.

I’ve experienced the same issue on a smaller scale as my weight has fluctuated since having a baby. While the pants may still fit in the waist and rear, I suddenly am wearing highwaters. 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 show 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.

11 Comments

  1. Patti
    February 10, 2019 / 3:25 pm

    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.

  2. Kathryn Braun Fenner
    January 5, 2016 / 2:49 pm

    Binder clips work well for commuting hems…

  3. LoriM
    January 5, 2016 / 2:04 pm

    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.

    • January 5, 2016 / 2:15 pm

      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!

      • LoriM
        January 5, 2016 / 2:25 pm

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

      • Kathryn Braun Fenner
        January 5, 2016 / 2:50 pm

        I have trouble getting Stitch Witchery to adhere properly without burning my fingers.

  4. tgchi13
    January 5, 2016 / 1:20 pm

    Three heights for me, so I stay perpetually confused – flats, low boot, and heels.

    • tgchi13
      January 5, 2016 / 8:52 pm

      My favorite work (and general purpose) flats are the “two toe” Enzo Angiolini Liberty.

  5. Mallory
    January 5, 2016 / 12:06 pm

    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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