The Decline And Fall Of The American Inseam


Without preppy style — not to mention other WASP values — to act as a guiding beacon over mainstream American culture, bad things happen. People are chronically rude and selfish. They don’t exercise. They’re suckers for false, gaudy dreck. They become obsessed with celebrities and long to become one on reality TV.

And their pants get really long.

The November issue of Vanity Fair includes a photo spread on the “new establishment” of technology, media and entertainment moguls who gather each year in Sun Valley. Surely some of these entrepreneurial brainiacs went to an Ivy League school, but as we all know (with Zuckerberg and his hoodie the most flagrant example), kids today don’t graduate Harvard having become educated in how to dress.

According to oral tradition — plus citations in film and printed matter — at some point in time teenage preppies began to wear their pants short either because they outgrew them, or had recently bought them but were aping the look of their betters, whose frayed and grass-stained khakis were purchased at an earlier stage of puberty. Likewise, Ivy-clad grownups wore their grey flannels with little to no break.

But that was the old establishment. Behold the new:







According to sartorial science, however, for every style sin there is an equal and opposite one. Men who rise each morning bent on world domination but who can’t dress themselves without looking like a fool are no doubt terrified of looking like an altogether different kind of fool:


I leave you with these words of Aristotle — “Nothing in excess”— and advise that your trouser length be neither too long nor too short. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

34 Comments on "The Decline And Fall Of The American Inseam"

  1. I wear my chinos with no break at all. The cuffs just slightly graze the top of my shoe. On a side note. After explaining the type of chinos that I am looking for to a coworker she replied,”You want mommy waisted chinos that flood?”

  2. Thoroughly sloppy look; like they don’t have the sense or energy to get a fitting. Maybe they grew up with perpetually short pants from growth spurts. You can add Major League Baseball. Actually saw a player trip over his puddling pants. Hope we “grow” out if this.

  3. “Nothing in excess” has also been attributed to Socrates and to Solon of Athens.
    It deserves to be the motto of Ivy, as opposed to, preppy style.

  4. Richard Meyer | November 4, 2013 at 11:23 am |

    From wearing sloppy, saggy low rise jeans habitually.

  5. All that fabric bunched up around the ankles is what they call “ghetto chic.”
    At least the habit of sagging trousers and showing the top of one’s boxer shorts in public hasn’t become endemic.

  6. DB McWeeberton | November 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm |

    I remember this dating back to the baggy suits and pleated Dockers from the eighties, which is why i had such a hard time finding pants I liked during that era. I don’t think it’s new at all–just the remnants of the generation of men who got fearful of taking any interest in their clothes, and became really uncomfortable in anything but the baggiest, droopiest outfits.

  7. Most of these folks grew up wearing jeans and rarely wearing anything else. Unfortunately, most of them wear their other trousers just like jeans. That means worn at the hips and “stacked” on their shoes. Since nearly everyone around them also dresses like this, it likely never crosses their minds that there is a problem.

  8. Tunbridge Wells | November 4, 2013 at 1:12 pm |

    Nothing compared to their hairstyles!

  9. DB McWeeberton | November 4, 2013 at 1:13 pm |

    Pants from Thirtysomething (circa 1987):
    I think this is about when the concept of properly-fitting pants died…

  10. @DB McWeeberton

    These folks are well-dressed compared to what one sees today 🙁

  11. Eliot Spencer | November 4, 2013 at 3:17 pm |

    Sadly, you see this far too often in today’s society. Men no longer take pride in their clothing and see suits, blazers, ties, trousers, etc., as nothing more than a costume they must wear to work or in other formal situations. I lost all hope for the modern American male the day I was asked why I was “dressed-up,” while wearing khakis and an OCBD.

  12. A.E.W. Mason | November 4, 2013 at 4:17 pm |

    I consider trouser length as important as the drape of the jacket. I see many male celebrities dressed in their best on the red carpet with trouser legs in puddles just like some of these photos. Remarkable.

  13. Cranky Yankee | November 4, 2013 at 4:37 pm |

    A few years ago, I bought some grey flannels (plain front) at Brooks in San Francisco. As the tailor was pinning and marking them (no break), the salesman said, “Oh, that’s right. You guys from the East Coast like your trousers shorter than the rest of us.”

  14. Malvernlink | November 4, 2013 at 4:59 pm |

    The “new establishment” proves the point that good taste and class can not be bought.

  15. Malvernlink | November 4, 2013 at 5:04 pm |

    @ Cranky Yankee

    You have to remember you were in California, ground zero for the slobbification of America.

  16. All that said…if your wearing cowboy boots…your jeans should “stack” on your boots…I was a farm hand for three years…and learned that lesson the hard way form many old hands…

  17. Really baggy pants with an appropriate inseam length would be interesting. unfortunately for a lot of the younger followers of this board every pair of pants from brooks (even milano) make us look like the man on the right in McWeeberton’s pic. I’ve wanted to try bill’s but my guess is that they will be even baggier.

  18. On Thanksgiving Day, among other things, I will be giving thanks for the fact that there are still gentlemen who care about such matters because they realize that such details are not trivial at all but signs of self-respect and respect for others.

  19. Those kicks be mad dope, yo

  20. Blame “Revenge of the Nerds”. 🙂

  21. @ Cranky Yankee

    I had a similar experience a few months ago. I bought a new pair of slim, plain front grey wool pants to wear with my navy blazer. They had unfinished hems, so I took them to one of these alteration tailors. When I told them how I wanted them (cuffed, with a very low break) they told me: “Oh, that’s how British people wear them.” 🙂

  22. I think the right term is “short break”, rather than “low break.” But you know what I mean, don’t you? 😉

  23. Some clothing manufacturers promote the sloppy look by selling trousers already hemmed but in only one length, just as some shirt sellers sell shirts with only one sleeve length.

  24. I prefer a small break in my pants, always an inch and half cuff, measured for hemmed wearing Weejuns. I prefer not to show stockings unless sitting down or crossing my legs.

    John P.
    Do as I do, buy Ralph wash khakis on sale, buy the right size in the waist, but longest inseam and have them cuffed.

  25. Pants should never be too long or short, but I also refrain from universal standards. The length of your rise and break should be determined by what best complements your body type, not trends or traditions. People with short legs and long torsos benefit from a higher-rise and the lengthening lines of an inch of un-cuffed break. Someone with a shorter torso and longer legs can wear wear mid-rise trousers with cuffs more successfully and so on.

    Always find what works best on you, it may not be traditional or trendy. Every person has a platonic ideal.

  26. fred astaire | November 5, 2013 at 2:54 pm |

    How many of you still wear a tie at Thanksgiving dinner? You dine at home or out?

    I polled people in my office and I was the only male who wore a tie for Thanksgiving dinner.

  27. A.E.W. Mason | November 5, 2013 at 3:05 pm |

    @Fred Astaire: I do, whether dining in or out. Actually, I wear a sport coat and tie on the weekends. I actually enjoy it. Most people think I’m crazy.

  28. Not crazy. Good taste.

    Isn’t this the look that many a “Quant” sports? First, snag the B.A. in theoretical mathematics at Princeton; second, land a job in hedge funds; third, get filthy rich in a matter of months while remaining clueless about matters of manners and taste. Eschew good posture, neatness, smirk, athelticism and cleanliness in favor an eternity in the library.

    I had been led (perhaps falsely; I am open, as always, to correction) to believe that the Ivy Heyday look was cool, and therefore a big deal among the B.M.O.C.’s (especially athletes), but not so much among the wonks, geeks, and nerds, who were mostly slobs. This rings true. Of course, now I’ve invited the inevitable “But aren’t we all a little bit nerdy deep down inside?”

  29. I dress for the venue. I always wear a tie to Mass, on dates depending on the gal and venue. But, I don’t always wear a coat and tie to the office, for example when I get a heads up that the IRS or FBI are on their way over. On those days I dress for burning and shredding documents. 😉

  30. James Redhouse | November 5, 2013 at 11:02 pm |

    I no longer dine out, because people don’t know how to dress properly, and that desteoys my appetite. For that matter, they don’t know how to dress for the theater or a concert, either.

    Like A.E.W. Mason, I also always wear a tie and jacket on weekends.

  31. When wearing jeans with Western boots, some stacking is a traditional and “correct”.

    Certain denim enthusiasts stack their jeans because they wish to cultivate the resulting fade patterns. These are folks who fuss over the tiniest design detail and have their jeans hemmed to precise dimensions using specific, vintage machinery.

    Beyond these examples, I can think of practical reasons why longer pants would provide a functional benefit to certain professions and activities.

    One might disagree with the motivation behind these choices, but it is rather ironic to attribute them to ignorance or laziness.

  32. jiheison
    Most I know, including me, wear the same 501s with Weejuns as we wear with western boots. Living in the Midwest there are plenty activities wearing boots are appropriate. The “stacking” disappears when horseback riding, motorcycling or percher on a bar stool. 😉

  33. For years I wore my pants with no break at all, to the astonishment of the people who fitted them for me. My attitude was that break looked sloppy. More recently, through repeated conversations with my girlfriend and my tailor it has become apparent to me that a decent break looks more sensible than no break and that well-made clothes are made with generous amounts of fabric, even when it comes to the break in a pair of pants. If the khakis shrink a bit, I’ll keep wearing them. But I no longer enhance it by demanding an extra-short inseam.

  34. I’ve recently lost a large amount of weight and have gone from stacking/cuffing to none by complete accident. It never occurred to me but it turns out I was wearing my pants inadvertently low because of my belly for years. I just never adjusted the inseam I used before gaining the weight. Now that I actually use my waistline I find that my pants touch about the top of my shoe unless I wear a boot type shoe. I find this preferable because it shows off my shoes and my snazzy socks.

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