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How Short Is Too Short for Men’s Pants?

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The male ankle! Or mankle. (I love word hybrids.) Of all the body parts to be a source of controversy, this is one of the oddest. Yet the question of whether to show or not to show the masculine talus (the official name of that nobby bone between the tibia, fibula and heel) has been a topic of debate for years. In 2005, Thom Browne, the designer who has almost single-handedly been trying to raise men’s hemlines, told The New York Times that the ankle was “the new male cleavage.”

Though he now mostly wears shorts, Mr. Browne said, when I asked him recently: “When I did wear trousers, I wore them just above my ankle bone, and I loved them at that length. It annoyed people, and I loved that.”

And, indeed, when a guy struts around showing off that strip of skin, people react in the same way. They stare. They scratch their heads. They write articles about it — like this one. Recently The Australian Financial Review asked, “Is It Ever OK for Men to Flash Their Ankles in the Office?” (That is not a joke.)

Once a subject of derision popularly mocked as “flood pants,” shorter male pants became a thing again when Mr. Browne introduced them back in 2001, in part as a reaction to the big, billowing suits of the 1990s (see Michael Jordan). Mr. Browne shrank the silhouette, narrowing the pants and slimming and shortening the jacket, making it seem like the hipster version of the 1950s company man crossed with Buster Brown.

At first, it was something shocking (in part, because, along with ankle-baring, Mr. Browne favors actual shorts), but in 2018 Mr. Browne sold his company to Zegna in a deal that valued it at $500 million, thus suggesting that rethinking male pants may actually be the way forward. Since then, it has been adopted by assorted celebrities, as well as by Rishi Sunak, the British prime minister.

According to Guy Trebay, the men’s fashion critic for The Times: “The trouser itself is the foundation of the silhouette, and it’s the one thing men get wrong a lot. For example, Kevin McCarthy’s too-tight dad pants, made worse by the exposed statement socks.”

He continued: “The best way to judge fits of any kind is in a three-way mirror and with a trusted and ruthlessly honest friend nearby. For a general rule of thumb, though, I consulted with Nick Wooster (@nickwooster), a style influencer with one million followers. He said: ‘Generally speaking, pants should never go above the ankle bone. Anything above that tends to make legs appear shorter.’”

Also important, according to Mr. Trebay, is “taking into account the width of the leg: the wider the leg, the longer it needs to be.” Conversely, the shorter the leg, the narrower.

Mr. Browne, however, simply advised, “Wear clothes in the way that feel true to you: true to your taste, true to your style, true to what you want people to see about you.” Even if it’s your mankles!

Still, know this: After sitting through the most recent men’s wear shows in Florence, Milan and Paris, Mr. Trebay said that “in all three cities, trousers and jacket skirts were longer than they’ve been in years.” So does the fashion wheel turn.

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.



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