No other item of menswear is more hotly contested than shorts. The debate as to whether it’s “appropriate” for men to wear them or not has circled back and forth over the internet for the last few years. In 2011, designer Tom Ford declared, “A man should never wear shorts in the city. Flip-flops and shorts in the city are never appropriate. Shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach.” This prompted strong reactions from defenders of shorts, including a, let’s call it, strongly worded takedown of Ford’s opinion on Deadspin.
In 2015, in an interview with Elle, social critic and author Fran Lebowitz added her own commentary on men’s leg wear: “It’s disgusting. To have to sit next to grown men on the subway in the summer, and they’re wearing shorts? It’s repulsive. They look ridiculous, like children, and I can’t take them seriously.”
Frankly, it’s Lebowitz’s opinion that is childish. Men can wear shorts if they want to (except for cargo shorts, which the world has apparently decided to shun entirely). And plenty of intelligent folks have advocated in favor of shorts, especially in recent years, and further, many have done the unthinkable, adopting the garment for non-casual situations as well. But even if Ford and Leibowitz’s ideas are out of touch with modern sensibilities, they do touch on a larger point that, even in an era where shorts have been widely accepted as a reasonable fashion staple, they can be difficult to pull off.
I’m a stereotypically neurotic millennial dude. I have my insecurities, and my legs have always been one of them.
But for as vapid and illogical as the anti-shorts argument is, I myself have rejected the “sky’s out, thighs out” mentality for years now.
And I’ll level with you why: I’m a stereotypically neurotic millennial dude. I have my insecurities, and my legs — pastier than the cast of a Tim Burton flick, visibly hairy but not hairy enough to be attractive in a Connery/Selleck/Reynolds fashion and, well, let’s call them thick — have always been one of them. I simply can’t bring myself to subject the world to my legs.
So shorts have been a difficult sell. Getting the length is tricky: too long and they look silly, too short and they show off too much of the aforementioned tragedy that is my lower half. The fit is tough, too, because most cuts are tight enough to be uncomfortable, and if they’re too loose they’ll make that damn “swooshing” noise and, again, are ridiculous-looking. Even if I find the right shape, it then opens up another can of worms — what shoes actually look good on me with shorts? No shoes actually look good on me with shorts — believe me, I’ve tried everything from slip-on sneakers to wingtips.
And, I can’t help but think that there might be a little something to the “childish” argument. With shorts, there has always been a comical association with schoolboys, emotionally stunted fraternity brothers, bike cops, UPS men and AC/DC. Men, generally, like the idea of commanding some semblance of respect, and we often try this through our attire. Regardless of whether its an erroneous belief or not, plenty of men feel as though shorts are a threat to respectability.
Some trendy shorts advocates have been suggesting the shorts suit as a solution. If you can look in the mirror in that getup and be okay with looking like a Kennedy child at a lawn party, I’m not only happy for you, I’m incredibly jealous of your bravado.
Then, we get to situations where you simply can’t wear shorts at all. Traditionally, shorts have always been a big no-no for upscale occasions. If you work a white-collar job, plenty of offices will frown on your exposed legs. Other formal affairs like weddings also aren’t the time to be flaunting calves. And, even many shorts advocates agree that if you’re going out after dark, you’ll look like a jabroni if you rock shorts at a bar or decent restaurant. Recently, some shorts-loving gentlemen have been suggesting the shorts suit as a solution. If you can look in the mirror in that getup and be okay with looking like a Kennedy child at a lawn party, I’m not only happy for you, I’m jealous of your bravado.
For me, every attempt to wear shorts has led to a more uncomfortable situation than if I were to sweat it out in long pants. In recent years, I adapted to this, and if you’re like me and can’t stand how you look in shorts, the answer is a pant made from lightweight material. The best: linen. It’s light, soft and breathable. It borders on that summer-formal and casual line. If you’re going out for a summer’s-night dinner, to an office that doesn’t look so keenly on shorts or some sort of semi-formal event, they’re the way to go.
Then there’s the lightweight jean. If you keep the weight of your denim under 12 ounces and keep the wash fairly light, you’ll keep your lower extremities nice and cool. Same goes for chinos, of which you can find plenty of lightweight options from reasonably priced purveyors like J. Crew, Bonobos and Brooks Brothers. Roll those bad boys up a tad for a little extra ventilation, and you’re good to go
Someday, maybe, I’ll change my mind about shorts. I look forward to when I can shamelessly show off my gams without a care in the world. But until that liberating day, I’ll continue to wear pants in hot weather. I’m fine with it, really. Going lightweight has allowed me to retain what sartorial edge and dignity I had to begin with, while keeping my bottom half exceptionally airy and cool. If you feel the same way, try it — it’s only shorts that have something to lose.
Three Ways to Keep Your Legs Covered and Cool
New Fisherman English Twill Chino by Officine Générale $149
New Simon Slim-Fit Linen Trousers by NN07 $175
M3 Slim Straight Sailor by 3×1 $245