I hadn’t seen Brit in almost a year and I worried that she wouldn’t recognize me with a fully sprouted beard. But when she saw me walking towards her on the street my over abundance of facial hair was not what caught her eye. “Why are your pants rolled up? Were they dragging?” These were the first words out of her mouth.
I first rolled my pant cuffs at age 8 in 1997. I was in the middle of a weight-height-fluctuation period and nothing seemed to fit me. To save yet another trip to the mall, I decided to wear the jeans that slid down my waist and cuff them so they wouldn’t drag and fray on the ground. I guess you can saw that’s partially the reason I cuff my pants now, but that’s not the defense I shot at Brit. “Oh, honey. I need to educate you on something called trends,” I said. I feel that most of today’s fashion-conscious men will roll their jeans and chinos as a means of showing off their ankles, but nearly all of them don’t have to. If they’re rolling their pants, chances are they know enough about fashion to have bought the right pant size, meaning their pants wouldn’t be dragging on the ground in the first place. Why cuff them then? Is it just for the sake of a trend that we wear or style a piece of clothing?
It’s a very common theme amongst men – we do something because everyone else does it, but nobody knows why. Then there’s the case of timeless fashion trends that men have always done, but few know why. I’m talking, of course, about that “ubiquitous necktie,” as Kathleen Hunn, teacher at Marylhurst College, calls it. Out of all the men’s fashion pieces, the necktie is by far the most useless, and yet it’s a staple that’s survived since the 1800s. In The Psychology of Clothes, J.C. Flugel refers to the tie as a symbol for man’s “devotion to the principles of duty, of renunciation, and of self-control.” Men adhered to this fashion trend as conformity to popular conceptions about fashion, although the necktie itself lacked any real function to men’s dress or lifestyle.
To Hunn, the only purpose the necktie served, other then to denote the wearer’s knowledge of fashion, was to mark one’s masculinity. “Neckwear,” she writes, “assumed the position of absolute focal point and phallic symbol,” which prompted men to apply more attention to the type of tie and how they tied it. This masculine association with the necktie most likely contributed to the image of the dandy as the ideal image of how American men should dress. The idea behind the dandy is that the entire presentation down to the minute details – tie, Pocket Square, pant cuffing, and, a more recent addition, the tie clip – is just as important as the look itself. M. Murphy, contributor to Dress magazine in the early 1900s, wrote how men risked “social shame, embarrassment and loss of status in the eyes of [their] peers” as a result of poorly given attention to these minute details.
I too imposed a status demotion on Brit for her fashion ignorance, for being unaware of cuffed pants as a popular trend. It’s how I react when I look at the men of SoHo and Madison Avenue if I see them with ties and blazers but without proper pant styling. Ties have become so commonplace as part of men’s attire that more up-to-date styling and pieces must be revolutionized and updated so that one may differentiate himself as a man who’s in the-fashion-know.
That’s the only function of rolling one’s pant legs and is the only function behind the necktie. These are elements of attire that real men are supposed to know, and one risks the dangers outlined by Murphy by choosing to not conform to these standards. While the tie may be a standard for masculinity, details like cuffed pant legs are standards for style. Fashion is being spread to a wider audience than ever before, which is why modern dandies and fashionistos must set themselves apart from the rest. A common language is created between them all through the use of style flairs unnoticeable to the common man. Tie clips, pocket squares, shirt collar, tie pattern, and rolled pant legs identify oneself to those in-the-know as a member of this elite group of men who individually maintain a working knowledge of trends and rely on “etiquette manuals and menswear magazines when making fashion decisions,” as Hunn puts it.
Brit may have shared a laugh with herself at my seeming expense, but her amusement at my style choices only furthers this idea that there are two separate communities of style-conscious people: those who don’t understand why we roll our cuffs and those that do.