The origin of the Turn-Up is attributed to Edward VII (Prince of Wales). At a time when most roads were really just paths and people still travelled by horse, many turned the ends of their trousers up to avoid getting them muddy. Prince Edward asked his tailor to secure the turn ups in place so he wouldn’t have to keep rolling them up and down. Ever the Trend-Setter, whatever the Prince was doing, everyone else followed.
But 20 years before this, Jacob W Davis was writing to Levi Strauss, suggesting his patent for the rivet which would make jeans into the durable workwear required by cattle ranchers and cowboys.
The collaboration between this Latvian tailor and his denim supplier allowed for jeans to suddenly become mass produced and ready-to-wear.
Ready-to-Wear clothes almost always cater to the largest customer as it is easier to make something smaller than larger. So many cowboys found their trousers were suddenly too long. To avoid tripping up they would turn their jeans up to the right length. This was for purely functional reasons.
Turn Ups became political during and after the Second World War as cloth was rationed. Using enough material to allow for turn-ups was akin to putting 2-fingers up to government restrictions. The wearing of over-sized Zoot suits in America eventually led to unrest and rioting between the adopters of this sub-culture and soldiers who deemed it unpatriotic.
After the War, wealthy bankers and lawyers in the City and on Wall Street, adopted the wide leg, pleated suit trousers with turn-ups to show the rest of the world that they could afford the extra material, mirroring the way Christian Dior’s New Look used excess fabric to denote extravagance and prosperity.
Cuffs dipped in and out of style throughout the late 20th Century, being seen on stars like David Bowie and Paul McCartney, as well as in more formal settings such as boardrooms.
The rule for suits became if the trousers have pleats then they should also have turn-ups to balance the weight of the extra cloth. But if they are flat-fronted then turn-ups seem clumsy.
In the noughties, as suits became slimmer and lapels became narrower, turn-ups became rarer. And as traditional workplaces are now few and far between, even suits themselves are becoming exceptional. With the influx of Start-Ups, WFH, Flexible Hours and creative roles, workwear has become less formal, jeans are now ubiquitous office-wear.
And as more and more opt to cycle to work, many found it helpful to roll up the hems to avoid damaging them on the chain ring, just like Edward VII over 100 years ago.
Although jeans were developed for working men, high-fashion brands have been getting in on the action, with an ever growing market for expensive denim. In recent years that has meant Selvedge denim, a type of high-quality cloth made on shuttle-looms (or hand-looms) which for a long time was almost exclusively woven in Japan. The jeans are then cut along the straight edge meaning there is no need to overlock them to prevent fraying.
However, in order to let everyone know you are wearing this premium material, you need them to see the inside edges. How else to do that but to turn the bottoms inside out. And once again, people are using the turned-up edges of their trousers to show off their wealth. Just like the post-war businessmen.
Nothing ever changes.