The Origin of the Cuff
Today, a lot of the higher-end raw denim jeans come in a standard inseam size. With a 35 inch inseam and above, chances are that you will need to shorten the length somewhat. You can either have your jeans hemmed to the correct length or rely on the alternative that many denimheads choose: cuffing.
Historically, jeans were actually also only manufactured in one standard length. The reason for this was twofold. Back in the days, all jeans were unsanforized and, therefore, shrink-to-fit. Making only one length was also practical from a manufacturing standpoint. It was simpler for the factory and better for the merchants. Instead of having a wide range of varying sizes of waist and length combinations, only the waist dimensions changed. If there was no tailor to hand, or they could not afford it, the miners and the cowboys would roll up their jeans to the right length.
Cuffing remained a popular and viable way of altering the length of jeans for almost 100 years. Cuffs were iconized by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, wearing his Levi’s 501 jeans, and James Dean, most often seen in Lee’s.
Sanforized Denim and Fashion Made Cuffs Redundant
Cuffing fell out of fashion when the stable, sanforized denim became the norm. People could buy their inseam and be sure it would remain the right length.
At this time, the selvedge edge (sic) was on its way out. The narrower shuttle looms were replaced by more modern looms that didn’t self-lock the edge of the fabric. No longer could you flash your selvedge ID.
For a decade or two, this cheap denim was all that was readily available. Thankfully those dark times are over. We can again find beautiful selvedge fabric and proudly fly the flag of quality denim by cuffing our jeans.
But cuffing your jeans is no simple task.
Know Your Denim: Sanforized or Unsanforized?
The first thing you should do is find out if your jeans are made from sanforized or unsanforized denim.
If it is sanforized then you can find the right length and cuff right away. Although at Rope Dye we DO wholeheartedly recommend an initial soak. Even sanforized denim can shrink a little and this will take care of that.
If the denim is unsanforized (like the Indigofera Clint jeans above) then there’s no way around soaking the jeans in warm to hot water to shrink down the fabric. Some people go to more extreme lengths. Giving their jeans, a hot machine wash then tumble-dry.
Rely on the advice from the people who sold you the jeans. If they are selling unsanforized denim they (should) know exactly what the shrink properties are of the jeans they are selling. If they don’t, walk away.
Why Is This So Essential For the Cuffing?
First and foremost it is essential for the overall fit and look of the jeans. When it comes to cuffing, getting the length wrong can lead to unnecessary damage and ill-fitting jeans.
Imagine cuffing your unsanforized jeans to the perfect length. After the first wash, they could end up three inches up your leg. Not cool!
Finding the Right Length
This is not as easy as it sounds and requires a little trial and error.
Put the jeans on and adjust them to where you normally wear them on the waist. Fold the leg of the jean back on itself revealing the selvedge edge. Adjust it to the correct length for your inseam.
Now jump up and down on the spot for a while and see where the jeans sit. Adjust as necessary.
A lot of guys will leave their jeans an inch or more too long. This may look acceptable initially, maybe even kind of cool. But when the jeans start to settle and mold to your body it will result in a very ill-fitting pair of denims. The dreaded drooping knee bags being the most obvious sign of this.
Choose Your Denim To Match Your Shoes
Getting really geeky about this (and let’s face it, we love to do that) your choice of footwear can also have an impact on the length to which you cuff your jeans.
If Red Wings are your thing, a good rule of thumb is to have the length about an inch off the floor when you are standing up straight.
If you are more the Converse/sneaker type, then a quarter inch of space between the floor and the hem will serve you well.
Setting Your Cuff
When you start wearing your cuffed jeans day in, day out the cuffs will set in and create a prominent ridge. This happens remarkably quickly.
Once this happens you will not be able to go alter the cuff without having a telltale line showing you messed up. Now you can see why it is so essential to get it right first time!
As you can see below, the denim is damaged where the cuff has set. These jeans are approximately 6 months old with 4 months of wear.
The Dangers of Cuffing
Aside from the above aesthetic dangers there are some physical consequences of cuffing your jeans which simply cannot be avoided.
It will damage the denim. The fold where the jeans are cuffed gets a lot of abuse. It will wear down quickly, fray and rip. This is inevitable I’m afraid. Personally I find this a great part of the breaking in the process but I know many who hate it.
The cuff is essentially an open pocket. It will collect an incredible amount of dirt and grime. Over the years, I have found rocks, sticks, coins, cigarette butts and once a girls phone number. Clean them out regularly. It could lead to a beautiful love story.
The biggest danger of all is not to the jeans, but to the wearer. Cuffs can catch on things. This will be essential to take into account for bikers or people working around heavy machinery. If so, ask yourself if you wouldn’t be better served hemming your jeans. At least make sure your cuffs are tightly rolled. No 10-inch straight folds.
Images courtesy of Life Magazine (and Denimhunters).