I’ve gradually warmed to turn-ups, or cuffs, on trousers over the past few years. As a guy growing up, they were an anachronism: an outdated fashion, a sign of second-hand clothes and yesterday’s generation. But my opinions changed recently for two reasons, one temporary and one permanent. You should obviously take more notice of the second.
The first reason was that I saw more men wearing them. The question, as a result, of whether I liked turn-ups or not was put to me more often. That can easily change your point of view – as philosopher John Stuart Mill said, all ideas should be exposed to the fresh air of interrogation. The bad ones in particular – their lack of reasoning will suffocate them. It was one of his arguments for the freedom of speech.
In parallel, I was learning more about classic men’s dress, and liking more and more of what I was reading. That fondness for a particular period can make you more favourably inclined to what are essentially ephemera: the desire for flannel was far more practical than the desire for turn-ups. Though of course there are practical reasons for cuffs, which we shall get onto later.
So this reappreciation of turn-ups was driven by personal and social trends, which combined to produce experiments in new suits and odd trousers. I decided fairly quickly where I liked them and where I didn’t – on odd trousers more than suits, for example, on heavier cloths rather than middle- or lightweight ones, and on narrower trousers. Some remnants of that temporary, subjective phase still survive, in several pairs of trousers with great turn-ups and one or two suits that would probably be better without.
But those decisions on what I liked and didn’t like were also – though I didn’t really know it at the time – the foundations of the second, permanent and objective reason I changed my mind on turn-ups.
They’re really good at anchoring a trouser leg. It may not seem like a lot of cloth to add to the end of pair of trousers, but it makes a big difference to drape. The crease is sharper, the pleats stay in order and – most importantly – the bottoms are far less prone to flapping about.
The weight of cloth is linked to these effects in several ways. First, the heavier the cloth is, the greater will be the effect of adding on another layer. Second, lightweight trousers look silliest when they flap, but they look even sillier when double the size with a good 1 ½ inch cuff. There is a tipping point, beyond which cloth is heavy enough to bear turn-ups well; below that, the turn-up serves less to anchor the leg than to provide a greater weight to throw around in the breeze. Third, the narrower the leg is on a pair of trousers, the less cuff there actually is, making it safer and more effective to go with that option. Obviously that makes the ends lighter, but it also reduces the need for anchorage as there is less width to flap.
Those are my reasons. Today I readily wear turn-ups on odd trousers (perhaps half of the time) but rarely on suits. One exception will be a charcoal flannel number I’ll commission this winter, which will have relatively narrow trousers. When deciding yourself, run through both the permanent and fleeting reasons, and make sure you know which are which.