Updated: Jul 18, 2022
Edit: This article was originally written for Silkxchange. As their site is no longer accessible, the full write-up is now made available here.
This may surprise you — despite being a menswear writer, I, for the most part, am happy to see others dressing however they desire. A noble idea, I know, but I still believe in the freedom of expression when it comes to one's journey into classic style.
One thing that makes the exception, however, is my intransigent eye for the balance between leg openings and the shape of shoes. At my worst state, this might even be a conversation that I bring up at a romantic dinner! (I suppose I’m not that charismatic, sadly.) But why am I so disturbed by this stylistic pitfall? To better understand, let’s turn our attention to the first half of the question — leg openings — by examining the evolution of the trouser cut over the decades.
The silhouette of men’s trousers has always been something fluid. If you ever hear someone claiming that trousers have always been cut with ample room in the past, they're mistaken.
Prior to the emergence of Oxford bag trousers in the mid-1920s — which set the scene for straight-cut trousers for the next two-and-a-half decades, as Alan Flusser rightly points out — closed-fitted, tapered trousers were what most men donned.
Indeed, we need not go as far as the men’s stockings in the Medieval age, nor the so-called ‘inexpressibles’, form-fitting trousers sported by the father of dandyism, Beau Brummell. Instead, by simply observing men’s trousers in the Edwardian age and subsequently the ‘Jazz’ suit of the early 20s, we can safely debunk the theory that men’s trousers have only gotten slimmer as time has passed by.
That being said, we mustn’t confuse the slimmer trousers of the long-bygone era with their contemporary variant. Perhaps of even greater importance, we mustn’t think the latter is an equally flattering substitute of the former. If we take a closer examination of their stylistic features, we could then notice why the thin line of difference may not be that thin after all.
First off, trousers from the past tend to feature a higher rise. Whether you are a tall or regular-built person, a higher rise and thus a longer pair of trousers would always guarantee more flexibility when it comes to the question of tapering.
In contrast, slacks nowadays, despite featuring a mid-rise, still attempt to pull off the same tapering effect. Spoiler alert — they aren’t quite as successful in that department. Nevertheless, we shall let this one slide for now as our focus here is on leg openings.
Moving towards the opposite end of the trousers. Here, not only are we more likely to see slacks from this day and age to have no turn-ups, but also there is a higher chance that they come with no trouser break, or more accurately speaking, hang above the ankles.
Now, this is not to say trousers from the early-1920s are significantly longer at the lower end. In fact, if you look closely at Picture 2, you don’t see much of a trouser break as well. That being said, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the presence of the turn-ups (with its additional weight) allows the bottom to look bulkier; thus, enabling a smoother transition to the shoes regardless of the narrower leg openings.
Taking a step back, however, it’s clear that just understanding the proportions of the leg openings would be insufficient. For instance, there are times where a narrower leg opening may be more acceptable – think of the linen trousers and Belgian loafers look.
To complete this theory, then, it’s appropriate to say that the wearer’s overall appearance and the impression of his height could also drastically change depending on the shape of the shoes.
As a general rule of thumb, the more pronounced (or more muscular, if I may) the leg line is, the longer the foot is, and hence the more acceptable it becomes for the individual to wear shoes that are a tad more elongated. Basic human anatomy 101, or so it seems.
You see, in reality, not only are our feet shaped differently around the world (see the article “In-Depth - Feet Shapes Around the World“ by Shoegazing on this subject), but this ‘rule’ also fails to take into consideration the wide range of shoe lasts as well as the style of individual shoemakers.
To put this into perspective, let’s imagine that you are a slim-built man with longer than average feet. You prefer to wear rather tapered trousers with narrow leg openings. For this reason, the style of shoe you would want to prioritize is perhaps an English almond toe, designed with minimal room at the front. That way, the proportions would still be visually closer to the standard mentioned above. Alternatively, you could don less form-fitting slacks. In this case, you have more flexibility in choosing the shape of the shoe.
Conversely, if you are a muscular man with wide yet shorter-than-average feet, you may want to consider an elongated chiseled toe. After all, it is rarely a great idea to have aggressively narrower leg openings under such circumstances.
Unfortunately, and overall speaking, there are far too many occasions where men disregard this rule and venture in the opposite direction. Understand your body shape, know your proportions, and you are already halfway from looking dashing.
Photo credits: As stated