Sartorial Love/Hate: Turned Up Denim


Jeans are not trousers. No oxymoron this; jeans are jeans and need to be treated as such. Though a little tailoring wouldn’t go amiss, treating jeans like a pair of wool flannels is an aesthetic mistake. Equally, jeans that are treated like an antique polishing rag are also an error. Cutting holes in a ragged pair is as weird and unwelcome as ironing or pleating, but one of the more common foibles of denim wearers, a practice with strong historic precedence, can also attract the ire of onlookers; turn-ups.

Turn-ups are historically associated with the early decades of the twentieth century when the practice was widely adopted into fashion and became the norm, for a number of decades, in suits and trousers. The original purpose of turning up trousers was to avoid damage; sailors, for example, would turn them up on a wet deck. Clippings of Edward VII wearing turn-ups on his country jaunts gave the style, considered until then an inclination of the working masses, the royal seal of approval: society, and fashion, followed suit.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that denim was accepted as appropriate attire. Until then, the fabric had been worn in the workplace by blue collar employees and had been devoid of any detail of design or shape – most of the original workers jeans were loosely fitting and lacking in any appealing shape. However, many of them were also turned-up; to avoid dragging the hems in the dirt and grime of the working environment and precious little to do with a desire to cut a fashionable figure as most workers were required to pay for their own overalls.

The practice therefore has some stylistic precedent, despite the fact that it is accidental. Strangely, turned-up denim can often look smarter than plain hemmed denim though, for some, that contrast between the outer side and inner side of indigo denim is too distracting and looks affected. The quantity of turn-up seems to be a matter of personal taste although the bigger the turn-up, the more noticeable it is. Personally, anything much above 2 inches and the jeans begin to look comical.

Perhaps due to its working-class origins there is very little dogma on the practice of wearing denim. It was a trend begun by the young for the young; the word ‘proper’ was distasteful to their rebellious vocabulary. As a result, no one seems able to successfully dictate exactly what a pair of jeans should be.

Personally, I think the turn up looks best on slim, straight legs and when it finishes well above the shoe; long, baggy jeans do not suit the style as well.


  1. joe joblanksy said:


    You’re blog (the content atleast) is great, but it’s totally unreadable due to all the ads. Do you really need a huge ad for google in between the title and the actual content of the post? And do you need links to the most innocuous words in the posts. They are not helpful, i know what jeans are. Again, I don’t mean to be so harsh, but the good content of your blog is totally being overshadowed by the extraneous elements.

    November 17, 2010
  2. joe joblanksy said:

    “Your” blog, of course.

    November 17, 2010
  3. Mark said:

    You must not be overly familiar with many blogs:

    1) This blog is relatively light on advertisements;

    2) Many blogging applications feature plugins that hyperlink certain content [read: it’s not necessarily their choice to inform you what jeans are].

    – Mark (not in any way affiliated with this blog, just a defensive fan)

    November 17, 2010
  4. MensFlair said:

    joe joblanksy,

    Our homepage as well as columnists’ pages with all the following pages containing past articles are free of in-text ads. The reasoning is that regular readers are accessing our website by visiting homepage or page of a columnist checking if there are new articles. Only those that visit our website by accessing a certain article directly through it’s permanent link will be able to see those ads. Presumption is that those aren’t regular readers but the ones that found us by Google query. It may not be the ideal system as I’m sure many regulars are visiting us by feeds. To those we can only apologize and suggest to try to ignore the in-text ads. We also apologize to Winston for usurping his article on this unrelated matter.

    November 18, 2010
  5. Eric said:

    Firefox/Seamonkey + Adblock Plus + NoScript = no ads, no links, no worries.

    As for the turned up denim, I find it to be a feminine look despite its origin in manual labor, I suppose because I’ve only ever seen it in the context of inherently feminine slim jeans. Never liked the look on guys.

    November 18, 2010
  6. David V said:

    So actually addressing today’s post. I recall that as a child in the 50’s wearing my jeans turned up. The reason was that jeans, in fact pants, came in one length. Your “good” trousers where hemmed to your needs by the tailor (or mom). Jeans where already hemmed to a long length and as they were for manual work of play, not worth the money for tailoring. It was about the mid sixties that you could buy your jeans to length. that’s when you saw the cuffed (turn ups) disappear on most but the older guys.

    November 18, 2010
  7. Stylez G. Write said:

    I insist on a small cuff.Gone however,are my inclinations for what can only be described as ‘fireman’s cuffs’…

    November 22, 2010
  8. Wearing turned up jeans suddenly makes the choice of socks more important than usual. I really like the jeans though.

    November 27, 2010

Comments are closed.