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Numbering Pants
Posted by James F. Brown on Jun 28, 2009 - 8:20:11 PM

UNITED STATES—In this column we’ll discuss the numbering system for pants sizes.


Pants have two numbers that indicate their size. The first number is the waist circumference in inches. The second number is the inseam length, also in inches. The inseam is the distance between the crotch seam (where the legs come together) and the ankle.

These two numbers are for pants that don’t need the legs hemmed; they are worn “as is” without tailoring. Other pants, usually dress pants, have only the waist number. Their legs are long and not hemmed, and need to be tailored to the correct length. The legs may be finished plain or with a cuff. This is a matter of individual preference, either style is fine for dress pants and suit pants. However, tuxedo pants are never cuffed, but always hemmed plain. Plain hemmed pants are angled, with the back of the legs slightly lower than the front. Cuffed pants are hemmed straight and horizontal. The pants length is correct when there is a slight “break” in the front leg crease. The pants should touch the shoe without bagging and sagging. When dress pants are hemmed, always save the excess material. It can be used (if necessary) to repair tears and rips and to fashion replacement belt loops.

The waist size is perhaps the single most important consideration. Here honesty is the best policy. A lot of guys are wearing pants that are actually too tight in the waist. The pants may have fit correctly “way back when” but they don’t anymore. It’s a fact of life that body dimensions change over time, and usually it’s “inflation” — not slenderizing — that occurs.

Often we hold out the hope that we’ll lose weight and that our clothes will again fit well. It’s an agonizing ego hit to admit that’s unlikely to happen. So many men angle their pants and belt down in the front in order to button the pants and zip the fly. That’s a big mistake, resulting in a belly “overhang” that only emphasizes weight gain. Pants that fit realistically and are worn with the waist horizontal actually look slimming. One should be able to easily slip a hand between the pants and the body when the waist size is correct.

There may be another sizing consideration when it comes to ready-to-wear (untailored) pants. Pants may be labeled “slim fit,” “regular,” or “relaxed fit.” Try on these different types and get what feels comfortable and looks best on you.

For dress pants that must be tailored, when in doubt as to size, always get the larger size and have the pants taken in for a proper fit. That way, if there’s future weight gain, the pants can be let back out.

We’ll continue with more on clothes sizing systems in the next column.


James F. Brown is a business consultant and expert on professional attire. His e-mail address is



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