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The Best Mesh Shorts Aren't Baggy At All

Breathable summer bottoms you can wear for more than just workouts.

best mesh shorts

Listen up. Here's some breaking news. It's time to dig up those mesh shorts you used to put on for practice; the kind you were forced to wear for gym class; the kind NBA players wore well into the late '80s. They're the right mix of streetwear and sportswear, modern and vintage, fatherhood and first-grade gym class. With the right top — say a T-shirt from your favorite streetwear brand or a plain one you buy in packs — they're elevated from bottoms you'd pack for a workout to something you want to be seen wearing. Plus, they're both easy to print or riff on and available in an array colors, making them ripe for customization by independent labels aplenty.

With mesh shorts, fledgling fashion brands short on cash can make a statement without emptying their first round of funding — aka its founder's own savings account. (Big fashion houses can, too, but they're clearly biting off what's selling elsewhere.) I for one think a mix of both is what elevated the style. But, it's been mostly due to the smaller brands making pairs people want to buy. Look no further polarizing fashion figure Virgil Abloh, the current head of Louis Vuitton. He started his career building a brand called Pyrex, which mostly sold Champion mesh shorts covered in logos. Then there's New York designer Eric Emanuel, who turned his popular "EE" short into a full-on label capable of sneaker collaborations with Adidas and cap collections with New Era.

But how'd we get here, to an era where something as ordinary as the mesh short warrants a write-up like this?

Well, the story starts with Champion, technically. The same company that invented the sweatshirt and subsequently the hoodie also conceptualized the modern mesh short, which, at the time, was merely meant for uniforms. Like most other menswear, it seems, mesh shorts bounced between military branches, universities, and sports teams before reaching the general public.

They stayed slim and short — five inch inseams and shorter— up until the late '80s. Then Michael Jordan appeared in a Nike commercial alongside known basketball super-fan Spike Lee. In it, Lee, played his popular character, Mars Blackmon, asks Jordan what makes him "the best player in the universe?" It's a shoe commercial so obviously Nike's paying him to say it's the shoes, but Jordan doesn't. Lee asks if the it's the long shorts, which, at the time, were way baggier than those worn by other professionals. Why'd Jordan wear his like that? He was superstitious. Supposedly, for his entire career, he wore his University of North Carolina shorts under another pair, and therefore needed them to be both longer and baggier to hide the second pair underneath.

Hip-hop as a whole picked up on the trend, and the rest is history. Baggy shorts were everywhere — and on everyone. Some, however, latched onto to the look and can't seem to let it go. Cue Sandlercore, the eponymous style of actor/director/professional dingbat Adam Sandler. He dons them well, but mostly because they seem more a part of him than not by now. You shouldn't start wearing baggy shorts, too, if that's what you're wondering. Instead, get a pair from this list. They'll fit better, hit higher and keep you cool in even the most sweltering summer heat.

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1 Best Overall Mesh Shorts: Van Cortlandt Grand Shorts

Tracksmith's Van Cortlandt shorts are made from an ultra-soft mesh, feature an anti-microbial liner, a straight hem and a four-inch inseam. They're performance bottoms but applicable for everyday wear — especially in the height of summer. 

2 Best Upgrade Mesh Shorts: Old School Mesh Shorts - Summer Edition
American Trench

Made in the U.S. from unlined poly performance mesh, Relax's Old School shorts are technically made for lacrosse players. However, as retailer American Trench has pointed out, these in colors Relax calls Summer Editions are right for wearing wherever you are. 

3 Best Affordable Mesh Shorts: Mesh Sport Short
Urban Outfitters

Champion invented the mesh short. It's only right they make this list. But, to be frank, the ones they sell on their own site are too long and too baggy. These are retro-tinged, the right length and come with a pre-distressed logo that sits just above the left knee. 

4 Mesh Shorts
Rowing Blazers
Rowing Blazers

Rowing Blazers' mesh shorts sell out quick. Every time they're sneakily restocked it seems they're gone just as fast. But, these — unusually thick (in a good way) mesh shorts made in Portugal — are reason enough to keep a close eye on their site. 

5 Aime Leon Dore x New Balance Gym Shorts Green
Aime Leon Dore

As I mentioned above, streetwear brands have elevated the mesh short to new heights. However, they aren't as readily available as you'd imagine. New York label Aime Leon Dore dropped these collaborative shorts last year, but you can still find pairs of reseller sites. Stick to StockX, though, as these are new and authenticated by the company.

6 AAU Shorts
John Elliott
John Elliott

Few brands blend street- and sportswear as well as John Elliott's eponymous label. These AAU shorts — a reference to the national organization that oversees youth basketball — are the right mix of vintage and modern flair. There's a zipper pocket on the back and these are fully lined. 

7 Essential Mesh Athletic Shorts
New Balance

OK. Not ready to shell out more than one hundred for a pair of...checks notes...mesh shorts? Fair. New Balance's pair checks all of the same boxes but benefit from being more than half the price of others on this list. 

8 8-Ball Mesh Short

Stüssy added some edge to the classic, prep-leaning mesh short with an 8-ball graphic and an arched text logo. It's subtle, but the addition makes it clear these aren't a pair you pulled out from a box in your basement.

9 Triple Hem Shorts (Gradient)
Bristol Studio
Bristol Studio

Count with me... one, two, three hems on these shorts by Bristol Studio. The inseam debate meets its match, but these aren't convertible like the camping pants from your childhood. All three layers stack atop one another, forming a gradient of the color blue, but there are plenty of other options on the site, too. Zipper pockets keep everything you're carrying close.

10 Monochromatic Mesh Shorts
Primitive Skate

Naturally, as everything comes full circle, skateboard brands are gravitating toward trimmer mesh shorts, too. Skateboarder Paul Rodriguez's brand Primitive prints their logo, in red, on maroon Champion shorts. 

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