07 Mar The Problem With Men’s Pants

I was watching the old Dick Van Dyke show the other night and couldn’t help but noticing the men’s pants—specifically the hem of their pants. They stop at the ankles. In 1960 that was the sartorial ideal: trousers that stopped at the ankles. The hem of men’s pants have never been higher since.

My friends and I would have called these “flood pants” or “farmer pants.” For anybody who came of age between 1970 and 1990,  men’s pants were supposed to “break” just below the shin and lie on top of the shoe. You weren’t supposed to feel your pant leg fluttering about your ankles when you walked. And, when you sat, you didn’t have to worry about your pant leg riding up to your calf.

My mother always hemmed my pants. She taught us boys how to do it too. If you didn’t hem your pants, you looked like a clown, your pants-ends bunched on top of your shoe. This has changed. It seems nobody hems pants anymore. As a result, most of us men are wearing pants that are way too long.  It does look clownish, I must admit. But, for most of us, it’s an inevitable necessity for the following reasons:

1) Nobody knows how to hem pants anymore. Why? Times have changed. Most young men and women are growing up without having had any domestic training. I once dated a woman who didn’t know that when you iron clothes you need to dampen them to press out the wrinkles.

2) If you do know how to hem pants, you don’t have time to do it. I’m not good at hemming, have no patience for it, and find it maddeningly laborious.

3) If you can find a professional to do it, it costs too much–as much as half the price of the pants themselves. Most pants don’t last long enough to warrant that kind of investment. At bottom, it’s an expenditure too dear for these hard times.

I don’t know if or when pants hems will rise again. I can recall when, as a boy, my pants legs were sometimes too short, a fact I would not notice until my peers made fun of me. My humiliation could not have been greater had I been naked. Too-short trousers still carry that stigma. As for the opposite, the too-long trousers, it seems we’ve learned to live with them. About once a week, I tell myself that my pants are too long–I carry too much fabric on my shoes. I don’t like it and I suspect that, years from now, I will look back and cringe at what we now consider appropriate.

I know, I know, it’s just fashion, a bullying arbitrary notion of what is and isn’t cool. Very likely, some day men will be wearing body stockings made of recycled tissue paper and heaven forbid your tissue isn’t black or translucent or ornamented with crushed fire-flies. But, for now, consider this: if you were to get all of your pants hemmed to the classically appropriate length tomorrow, people might take notice but no one would make fun of you.