Pant or trouser “break” refers to the fold in the fabric that occurs at the bottom of the pant leg as it rests on the shoe. This fold “breaks” the clean line of the trouser drape, hence the name. The proper amount of break in a trouser fit is subject to personal preference, and will affect the visual style and fit of the pants. Both the taper through the lower pant leg and the length of the inseam will affect how much of a break pants have.
Note that this information is based on traditional lace-up dress shoes. Loafers tend to have a lower counter (back of the shoe) height, which can affect how much sock is exposed and where the bottom hem of the pant leg hits the shoe.
A full break is indicated by a significant amount of fabric pooling and folding at the ankle and a wider leg opening width. This is the most old-school and traditional of the break options, and works for looser fitting trousers and people with a more traditional style. To achieve a full break, the length of the trousers should reach well beyond the ankles to at least midway down the counter of the shoe, and the opening width should be wide enough for the leg opening to fit around the laces.
A half break is a more modern alternative to a full break. This look can work well for a slim fit trouser, and is created by some fabric pooling at the top of the shoes with no sock exposed at the ankle. The trouser length should reach the middle to upper part of the counter and have a notable but not-too-significant bend in the fabric at the front of the trouser bottom. The leg opening width can be cut relatively slim for a more modern business style.
Trousers have no break when the length of the pant leg just kisses the top to the shoe, barely touching the shoe’s laces and the top of the counter. A small amount of ankle and/or sock is exposed when you’re standing. This is a more modern look and is great for office wear, and it works well with more traditionally slim or relaxed trouser fits though is often worn with very slim fits and a more aggressive taper through the lower leg.
Showing Ankle, or Negative Break
A bolder statement can be made with an even shorter inseam length that shows ankle and/or socks. The pant leg opening will hit above the counter of the shoe and not touch it. A great look for a trendy or less formal environment.