In the summer months, shorts are a necessity. They're how you'll stay cool commuting to work or relaxing outside on the weekend. You should aim for a pair that is both comfortable and fun, an equal embrace of casual elements like linen and drawstrings and structured features like pockets and polished hems.
What to Look for
Just like pants, shorts can be divided into several categories: chino, utility, sweat and, broadly speaking, sport shorts. The former are more formal, while the latter skew more casual — the sort you wear to the gym or to the grocery store, but rarely anywhere else. For the sake of brevity, I'm covering the kinds you can wear to summer events and on errands.
Keep an eye out for shorts with an adjustable waist, structured hips and pockets and a finished hem. Shorts with big, billowing pockets will make you appear wider than you are, breaking up the body's natural line. Shorts that flare out will do this too, so avoid ultra-lightweight fabrics like nylon unless the occasion truly calls for them. Stick to fabrics like cotton or twill, because they're breathable but also the most versatile.
These fabrics are also the ideal weight. They're hefty enough to afford the shorts some structure while being lightweight enough to wear comfortably even on the hottest days. The fit of your shorts matters, too. Pardon the weird visual, but you should be able to slide an open hand up into the bottom of your shorts. If you can't, your shorts are too tight. (Compression shorts don't count.)
Understanding Inseam and Outseam
When buying a pair of shorts, you've probably inspected their inseam — aka how long they are. What's the difference between a 5-inch, 7-inch and 9-inch inseam? Five-inch shorts are the most ambitious of the bunch. For most men, this short will sit smack dab in the center of your hip and knee. High enough to be breezy yet low enough to ensure you aren't revealing too much.
A 7-inch short will hang further down, essentially just above the knee. On most bodies, there will still be a little thigh showing, but this is the short short for men who don't like short shorts.
For the conservative crowd, there's the 9-inch short. It'll be right at or slightly above the bend of the knee, meaning little to no real thigh exposure. But don't worry about the 9-inch short being capri-like. This length will rarely, if ever, hit beyond the knee on anybody, even if you're all torso. Anything beyond 9, though, is where the droopy designer, or early aughts-referencing, pairs are. Super baggy shorts are a look, but rarely a flattering one for normal folks.
Simply put: 5-inch shorts are short; 7-inch shorts are the sweet spot; 9-inch shorts are for those too scared to show off some thigh.
As far as the difference between an inseam and an outseam, think of it this way: the inseam accounts for the length between the crotch and bottom hem. The outseam measures from the top edge of the waistband to the bottom hem. An average outseam is 18 inches. An average inseam is 7 inches.
The Best Shorts for Summer 2022
- Best Overall Summer Shorts: Alex Mill Flat Front Chino Shorts
- Best Upgrade Summer Shorts: Finisterre Lane Pincord Shorts
- Best Affordable Summer Shorts: Uniqlo Dry Stretch Easy Short
More Shorts for Men
Unstructured shorts aren't it! Yes, they're comfortable — ah, basketball shorts — but they pair well with very few tops. As such, opt for something sturdier, like Alex Mill's Flat Front Chino Shorts. They're made from 98 percent cotton and 2 percent spandex (for some stretch) and feature four pockets — two big ones on the front and two on the back.
Finisterre's upgraded Lane Pincord Shorts are made from organic cotton and plastic-free finishes. They're the ideal weight and length, and they offer two big pockets on the front and snap closure one on the back. Plus, they come with belt loops in case you're between sizes or tucking your shirt or tee in.
The most straightforward pair of shorts is probably the chino short. And Uniqlo’s penchant for no-frills quality basics makes it a go-to in this regard. Its Chino Shorts come in a cotton-polyester blend in a half dozen different colors. They aren't all-cotton but they look it. Plus, they dry super fast.
For the price, there are few better bottoms than Australian surf brand Rhythm's Classic Linen Jam shorts. The 6 inch inseam sits above the knee and the linen-cotton blend construction affords breathability and a natural look and feel.
The corduroy on these Banks Journal shorts is barely visible, making it an understated yet elevated short. They're also plenty comfortable, though: there's an elasticated waistband, binding on the inner seams, and a little bit of stretch in all of the right places.
Available with a 7 or 9 inch inseam, as well as 7 different colors, Flint and Tinder's 365 Shorts are essentially chinos that cut off at the knee. They do, however, feel way lighter in the hips and seat. The shorts themselves are 8 ounces and made with 2 percent spandex.
With Outerknown's SeventySeven Cord Utility Short, you get a comfortable, casual short in one of six colors. (Or, them all, if you're really in love with them.) These also come with a unique 8.25 inch inseam, which is right in between the sweet spot (7 inches) and slightly long (9 inches).
Because of its elasticated, adjustable waistband, J.Crew's Dock Shorts come in letter sizes: XS through XXL. They're made from a mix of cotton and elastane, and have a 6 inch inseam. Plus, if you're not into olive, you can pick from over a dozen colors.
We don't really think of shorts as something you'll break in over time — they're supposed to be comfortable and ready to go from day one. But, while Taylor Stitch's are, they're also designed to develop with wear. These are made from an 8oz mix of organic cotton and linen, and both garment-dyed and -washed. They also have an 8 inch inseam, angled pockets (so things don't slip out) and bar-tacked stress points.
Battenwear's Local Shorts are some of the most versatile on this list: They have curved pockets so things don't slide right out; there's a zipper closure stash pocket below one; and an interior drawstring to ensure the proper fit. Plus, its inseam sits right in the sweet spot: 6 inches.
With reinforced pockets and a hidden, secure snap pocket, Howler Brothers' shorts are ultra versatile utility shorts with a polished, chino-style appearance. They're super simple, meaning they'll go with anything, but they're full of bonus features.
Marine Layer's Saturday Beach Short is made from heavyweight double cloth canvas with a 7 inch inseam and a relatively standard fit. They're super soft, too, because they've piece-dyed and stonewashed. (Broken in straight from the box!)
Remember what I said about outseams? Roark's Porter 3.0 Shorts have an 18 inch outseam, and a durable yet soft and stretchy feel. There's a hidden zipper pocket as well, plus a buckle button waist.
The Cord Local Short is a casual short masquerading as something more formal: It has a faux fly for structure, corded construction and welted back pockets. But, it's also made from a mix of cotton and spandex and has an elasticated waistband.
You can still rock corduroy in the summer. In fact, Birdwell encourages it. Its loungey shorts feature front patch pockets, a rear flap patch pocket and a button fly.
Linen is super lightweight. That makes the fabric ideal for summer garments — like shorts, shirts and pants. Alex Crane knows this, and that's why their Bo Shorts are made from imported French linen. They were enzyme washed so they're super soft, but they can only be hang dried. Plus, since the fabric is full-bodied, it rarely wrinkles.