How Fitting is Your Fit? Part One: Pants Fit

Have you ever bought a new outfit and thought it looked great in the fitting room, only to get it home and find that it wasn’t quite right? Something was a little off. Was it the lighting? The color? Your mood? You know there is something wrong; you’re just not sure what it is.

It could very well be the fit. In the dressing room, we are so enamored with the color, the style, and that fact that a garment fits around, we don’t always see the other fit details that can throw off the look.

The most common fit problems have to do with length and these can range from the very obvious to the not-so-obvious problems. Most of us know to check the length of pants with shoes that we plan to wear …or do we?

Let’s start with a basic pant hem. For men, the rule of thumb is that the back hemline is at the seam of the heel of the shoe. Simple, right? But if you are a 40+ year-old man with a bit of tummy, your properly hemmed pants may be too long at the end of the day. That’s because the waistband tends to slip under the tummy throughout the day and you are stepping on the pants on the way home from work. If you have a really big paunch, I suggest you try suspenders. Not “old” enough for those? How about having your pants hemmed ½ to ¾ inch above the seam of the heel? It’s more comfortable than tightening your belt.

While we are on the subject of age, you may notice that some elderly people wear their pants very short. That is because falling is a very real fear for many of them and they would rather have their pants a little short than risk tripping on them. So if Mom or Grandpa want the top of their shoes to show, let them!

Pant hems for women are more complex, of course, because our fashion is more varied. If we are talking about skinny jeans, they can be hemmed barefoot because they sit just below the ankle no matter what kind of shoe we plan to wear. But for every other style, we almost have to decide on shoes before we have our pants hemmed. For instance, if we are wearing a two inch heel with a trouser width leg, the hem can be at the heel line. This length will work for flats, too. A taller heel requires a longer pant length, about ½” to 1” from the floor. But you will not be able to wear flats unless you don’t mind walking on your pants.

For an extra wide pant leg, a boot cut or wider, it’s better to have the hem about an inch off the floor because as the pant moves, it’s easy to walk on them if they are any longer. Unless they are tight jeans that ride up a bit when we walk! Jeans hemmed at the floor will usually work in that case.

Something else to consider is whether or nor your legs are even. Most of us have one leg ¼ to ½ inch – or more- longer than the other. Sometimes the difference is in the actual leg length and sometimes it’s in the hip shape. One side takes up more room than the other. The body is not symmetrical, as anyone who has regular chiropractic adjustments will tell you. So sometimes, the unevenness is what bothers us about the total look.

For you tall people, can pants be made longer? The answer is yes. If your pants are too short, look at the hem allowance. Measure from the hemline to the bottom of the edge finish. That will tell you how much they can be let down. Almost any pant can be let down at least one inch and usually more. The exception to this rule is JEANS. They cannot be made longer…sorry!

Sound confusing? If you are not sure about what an appropriate hem length is for you, make an appointment with your tailor. They will be able to advise you about the proper length and will also consider your personal preference.

Stay tuned for part two: Pants Continued…

Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Road, Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or

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Barbara Stone
Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Road, Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or
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5 Responses

  1. Avatar gamerjohn says:

    Nothing more fun than buying dress pants and having the snobby tailor insist that you pull them up to your belly button before he will pin the hem. Despite telling him that you wear your pants where you like them and they naturally fall, he tells you to be a big boy and wear them where he tells you. You walk back to the changing room and dump the unpurchased pants on the snob.

    It might be hard to fit someone built like me, but it is harder to wear clothes that don't fit because I am supposed to wear it differently than I like.

    • I understand your frustration and I, too, have known a few "snobby" tailors whose fitting philosophy is their way or the highway.

      It is our job as professionals to help you look your best in your clothes. But all we can do is give you our opinion. If you choose not to follow it, that is your prerogative. But I believe a professional should do the work as the client desires and shut up.

      (I have been known to tell customers not to tell anyone who did the alteration.)

  2. Avatar Patti Moffitt says:

    Barbara, I have read your articles over the years and always learn from you.

    Your article on hemming pants was educational and simple enough to help anyone

    wanting to learn how to perfect pant hems.

    Patti Moffitt

    • Thanks, Patti! Nice to know that I am educating people as well as entertaining them. And sometimes it's the little details that make or break an outfit. Hemming pants as little as 1/4 inch can make the difference between looking smart and looking dowdy.

      Keep reading ~ part two is coming soon.

  1. November 3, 2011

    […] Continued&nbsp&nbsp By Barbara Stone November 3, 2011 No Comments Printer-Friendly  In Part One of our fitting series, I covered probably more than you wanted to know about pant length. Length is the easiest […]