Thinking About Proportions: Leg Openings & Shoe Shapes
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 wrong. 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 from 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 at their stylistic features, we may 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 of a tall or regular build, a higher rise and thus a longer pair of trousers will always guarantee more flexibility when it comes to the question of tapering. In contrast, while slacks nowadays still aspire to pull off the same tapering effect despite featuring a mid-rise, they often aren’t as successful in this area as their high-rise counterparts. Nevertheless, we'll let this one slide for now as our focus here is on leg openings.
Moving now towards the opposite end of the trouser - here, not only are we more likely to find modern slacks without turn-ups (trouser cuffs), but there is also a higher chance that they are configured without a trouser break and hang above the ankles. Now, this is not to say that trousers from the early 1920s are significantly longer at the lower end. In fact, if you look closely at the timeline image from earlier in this article, you won't find much of a trouser break either. With that said, it’s important to recognize that the presence of the turn-ups (with their additional weight) allows the bottom to look bulkier and thereby enables a smoother transition to the shoes irrespective of a narrower leg opening.
Taking a step back, however, it’s clear that simply understanding the proportions of the leg openings won't be enough to strike the right balance. For instance, there are times where a narrower leg opening may be more acceptable or preferred – think of the linen trousers and Belgian loafers look. Given such situations, then, it's also important to consider the wearer’s height in relation to the shape of his or her shoes.
As a general rule of thumb, the more pronounced (or more muscular, if I may) the leg line is, the longer the foot becomes (visually speaking, that is). Hence, it becomes more acceptable for the individual to wear shoes that are slightly more elongated. Basic human anatomy 101, or so it seems. You see, in reality, not only are each of our feet shaped differently (see the article In Depth Feet Shapes Around the World by Shoegazing Blog on this subject), but this consideration or ‘rule’, if you like, also fails to take into consideration the wide range of shoe lasts and the style of individual shoemakers. To put this into perspective, let’s envision 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. That way, 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, 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 half-way from looking dashing.
Take care, and bye for now.