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Jeans and trousers

Q&A: When should I turn up my trousers?

Q&A: When should I turn up my trousers?

If there was ever a question that stoked debate among Thread's Facebook commenters, it's whether to turn up the ends of your trousers. For some, turn-ups seem to evoke dark memories of too-short trousers their mums forced them into. Others who've seen turned-up trousers in magazines or on social media find the style a bit more interesting but they aren't quite sure how (and whether) to pull it off.  

Thread's style director, Shaunie Brett, reckons fashion sometimes needs a reality check: "If you never went outside, and only stayed home looking at 'street style' on Instagram, you'd imagine 75 percent of men walked around constantly in turn-ups," she says. "In reality it's less than a quarter, and rightly so. Turn-ups are wrong for smart occasions, and sometimes even smart-casual ones. However, they are a great look if you're having a casual day, kicking a football around or going to the pub."

Here, Shaunie shares the definitive guide to when (and how) to turn up your trousers—and when it's better avoided. 

Turn up your trousers if …

You want to make an outfit with jeans or chinos look more casual

"Turn-ups make any outfit a notch more casual, so they work well with jeans or chinos. If you want to wear a shirt and chinos to a nice lunch and then straight to the pub, for instance, turn-ups might well be the answer: they make the same outfit look more laid-back."

You cycle to work

Photographed: Jigsaw Derby trainers (£98), Selected indigo jeans (£65)

“Turn-ups are obviously good for cycling, because they keep the trouser bottoms from fraying on the chain. But if your jeans are tapered or slim like the ones here, they might be narrow enough not to catch on the chain even if you don't turn them up."

You're wearing shoes that end halfway down your arch—such as boat shoes or loafers—or boots you want to show off

"If you're baring a good amount of foot anyway, leaving some of the ankle exposed makes your outfit look more considered and shows some confidence. At the other extreme, turn-ups can look good with boots because they reveal the whole boot." 

You're excited about selvedge jeans

Photographed: Oliver Sweeney white trainers (£279), Selected indigo jeans (£65)

“Selvedge jeans are a good example of trousers that are worth turning up. The extra stitchwork inside—which is designed to prevent fraying—looks interesting when the jeans are turned up. Because of the thickness of selvedge jeans, a strong, single fold about the width of a credit card looks sharp."

Don't turn up your trousers if …

You're wearing a suit or tailored trousers

Photographed: Research Garments white t-shirt (£15), Peter Werth navy formal trousers (£69), Grenson oxblood Derby shoes (£200)

“Turn-ups look less and less appropriate the further up the formality scale you go." 

You want to look smart

Photographed: Jigsaw Oxford shirt (£69), Whistles navy blazer (£195) 

"Here's the smartest outfit that works with turn-ups: A shirt, chinos and loafers. Maybe an unstructured blazer thrown on top. Anything smarter—for instance, a tailored blazer and tucked-in shirt—just doesn't work with turn-ups' casual look."

Also … three turn-up techniques

  • One to three narrow (half-inch) folds. This is the safest turn-up technique, which looks good most often. Just remember to make crisp folds; never roll. 
  • One large (two-inch) fold. If the lining is attractive and the fabric is strong (e.g., selvedge denim), a thick, crisp fold looks great.
  • The fold-and-taper. A bit more complex, this, but it works well for wider-leg trousers. As you fold, bunch up the leg to make a vertical fold, then fold up the entire trouser leg horizontally. This creates a neat taper, but needs a few folds to hold itself in place.