Why do people turn up (or cuff) their jeans?
Almost every time I've featured jeans in recent months, someone has asked about turn-ups. So I thought it was worth a dedicated post I could point people to going forward.
Interestingly, I think the reason it's coming up more is that there are more people around not wearing them. But we'll get to that in a minute.
Turn-ups on jeans have become the dominant fashion gradually over the past 20 years or so, in parallel with the popularity of higher quality, often Japanese denim.
There are a few reasons people point to. One is that those raw Japanese jeans often came in one length, and it wasn't easy to find somewhere to alter them properly. Another is that it was a way to show off the selvedge down the inside of the outseam - one sign of quality. And a third, probably smaller factor is that it was seen as authentic - harking back to the workers that originally wore denim, and had to roll them up to fit.
The causes don’t really matter though, because I don’t think it's why most people cuff their jeans.
Rather, they do it because they like the look (more casual, some visual interest) and because everyone else is doing it. Turn-ups on jeans have become so ubiquitous in many places that it’s rare to see someone not cuffing their jeans (even guys that have no real interest in clothes - it just feels odd not to).
Now none of us on this site like the idea of following fashions. But as discussed in the past, what we think of clothes is heavily dependent on associations, which are part and parcel of mainstream, longer term fashions.
If it looks like more of a statement not to cuff your jeans - perhaps like buttoning up a polo shirt rather than unbuttoning it - then doing it is only about fashion in the very broadest sense. You only have two options after all.
That said, there are a few objective reasons why it's nice to turn up jeans.
It means you can adapt them to any length you want - perhaps a little less with boots, perhaps more for clearance on a wet, puddly day. It also makes more of a feature of the fading on the hem - so-called roping - which might appeal to those (like me) that admire the way jeans fade in general.
And then there are the reasons we're familiar with from tailoring - cuffs interrupt the line of the trouser; they're a bit more casual; they provide visual interest, but could also shorten the legs.
I think these classical factors are mostly relevant with dark denim.
It's only then that someone who really wants to lengthen their legs visually (for whatever reason) would find a turn up makes a difference.
And it makes the biggest difference to whether a jean looks smarter without a turn-up. l can see the point of view that an uncuffed, dark jean is easier to wear with a black shoe, for instance. And the opposite too - that a turn-up helps if you're wearing a dark jean with a light, chunky, textured shoe, like a tan suede, Alden longwing.
One reader asked why you wouldn't just get jeans shortened to the correct length. Well if people want them cuffed, then that is their 'correct' length.
And if you're into vintage jeans, you might not want to shorten them because you want to retain the roping - it could look odd if there were strong fading elsewhere but nothing at the bottom of the leg (even though that would come with time).
This can actually be a pain if you find vintage jeans that are great elsewhere, but too long. In that case your options are to have a big turn-up, sort of double cuff them (see piece here - 'Japanese cuff') or get an alterations tailor to cut them to length and leave the seam hidden behind the turn-up. (Coverage on that on this piece, on how much jeans can be altered.)
The latter is the most satisfactory visually, but feels a little inauthentic. I think it's quite personal whether you care, and which of those three you go for.
Why do I turn-up my jeans? Partly because I like that interruption and slightly more casual look. But I recognise that it’s also partly because it's more conventional - the current convention.
When you see people deliberately wearing jeans with no turn-up, it looks (to me, in my locale, social group, social media group) like more of a look, more done for effect. You’ve been seeing with fashion brands for years, and in more progressive magazines such as L'Etiquette (above).
But as mentioned at the start, that may be changing, and when the length of jeans allows I’ve played around with not having turn-ups - it looks a little cleaner, perhaps feels more straightforward too.
The important word there, as ever, is ‘play’. This is not a seasonal fashion, it’s a decade-plus trend; and it’s a small thing, not like cut-offs or letting your trousers puddle around your ankles. So play around with the choices, and accept that a chunk of how you feel will always be social.