I know that it is nearly Labor Day here in the States, the weekend that traditionally signals the end of the summer season and the packing away of seersucker, linen and white shoes, but I thought that I should say a word about shorts. Shorts, what used to be called short pants and were almost exclusively worn by children and some athletes, have become ubiquitous summer wear for most adult males. They are much on my mind as I am writing this whilst on holiday at the sea shore. Indeed, I am wearing a pair now. As is Cap’t Mike, I can only imagine.
Can a pair of shorts be considered elegant? Absolutely. If the wearer is elegant he will wear his shorts elegantly. Or at least look more put together than another who is less concerned with appearances.
Herewith, we present The Easy and Elegant Life Guide to Choosing and Wearing Shorts for Men.
[Image: © 2002, Alan Flusser “Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion”, p. 183. Used without permission; plese let me know and it will be removed.]
To my mind there are the right sort of shorts to choose and those that are less appropriate for anyone over the age of say… 25.
Shorts should be cut the way that your dress trousers are cut. That is, they should be fitted. If you wear pleated trousers, you may feel most comfortable in pleated shorts. If you wear pleated shorts they must be tailored to fit. I can hear the objections now. “Tailor my shorts? You must be joking.”
There is that. And if tailoring your shorts to fit seems to be an exercise in the ridiculous, by all means ignore my advice and opt instead to buy the flat front model. Many will tell you that flat front trousers– and by association, shorts — make a man look better. They may, it depends on how well you wear them and how you are built. And having said that, we should address the issue of bulk. Yes, we all want to be thought of as men of action, but do you really need cargo shorts? That is, do you really need that many pockets when you may carry a perfectly serviceable beach bag or Boat and Tote without attracting undo attention simply by virtue of your location (you are at the beach or poolside aren’t you? At the very least, you are dressed extremely casually.) Extra pockets, especially expanding cargo variety, add bulk when we don’t need it.
The other piece of the puzzle is to choose the right length. I grew up seeing men in Bermuda shorts. Many of those same men also wore black over the calf socks with them, but that’s another story. Bermuda shorts are cut longer, reaching almost to the knee.
As you can see, the shorts are trimly styled.
These days, I feel a far better option is to choose the pair of shorts that ends a little past mid-thigh, something with a 9-10′ inseam perhaps, certainly no “short shorts” and nothing longer than those ending 1″ above the knee.
(Ralph Lauren, but you knew that already….)
A word about colour. There are two that will always look good: khaki and white. (The pink number above is for an advanced state of preppiness.)
Khaki shorts are descendent of the military uniform, although the same may be said of the white short, which may be why they are always acceptable. Both, in my opinion, may be worn whenever it is hot enough to wear shorts.
Khaki shorts may be worn as cutoffs, or cuffed, pleated or not, a bit worn or in immaculate condition. White shorts should be kept as white as possible, although a bit of bleach may be employed to handle the tougher stains. Both khaki and cotton are at their best when offered in cotton of various weights. Delving into linen ups the ante in terms of “formality,” but I think that white shorts only look best in that fabric. I keep twice as many pairs of white shorts as I do khaki.
OK, we’ve sorted out shorts, but what about the rest of the kit to go along with them?
At the beach, almost anything goes these days. If you’re in fighting trim and well-tanned you can get away with wearing little else. At least on the beach, at poolside or aboard your fishing craft.
In town — yes, I know the idea of shorts in town is cause for concern, but that is another fight and one which we will not win at this stage of the game — pair your chosen shorts with either a tennis/polo shirt, a madras short sleeve, a camp shirt or a long sleeve with the sleeves rolled. All-white (shorts, shirt, shoes) can look too “cabana boy” these days, wear it at your risk. And remember not to match linen with linen as it just doesn’t look right. Tucking a shirt in generally calls for a belt. Ribbon, surcingle, D-ring webbing or braided leather belts look best.
Below the knee (I don’t think we’ll go back to the over the calf sock and blazer days unless you are visiting Bermuda and the occasion calls for it) you have several options. On the beach, flip flops are acceptable. I’ve found the best for me are made by REEF — incredibly comfortable with a footbed that shapes itself to your foot. Huaraches, or fisherman’s sandals I find harder to pull off, but they may suit you and the leather is appropriate for wear in town. Driving shoes are chic as are loafers, either in suede or hard leather. Boat shoes are expected, but not a bad choice, as long as they don’t look too high tech. In certain circles, white bucks are a summer staple with khakis and with shorts. Just leave the socks at home. Canvas shoes, like those worn by Mr. Coward in the photo that leads off this essay, are an interesting addition and may be worn with socks (ankle or short and rolled.) I’ll go so far as to wear desert boots with khaki shorts, but that is rather advanced and can look too “costumey,” as can my beloved espadrilles, outside of the Riviera or San Sebastian.
(Unless issued, avoid this sort of thing…)
Finally a word about that Riviera look: if you attempt to sport a neckerchief or my favourite striped sailor’s shirts, you risk derision. Begin with a standard cotton bandana in a neutral colour and decide if you can stand the heat. Roll the 3/4 sleeves of your St. James shirt or wear a short sleeve striped t-shirt to the beach to work into your comfort zone.
4 thoughts on “A Summer Short Story.”
This essay should be handed out to tourists as a flyer in Charleston… well done.
As to length, well 9-10″ may be fine on a tall chap but those of us in the mid to short range need to were something shorter even if it means exposing more leg above the knee. It really about creating an illusion of a longer leg.
However. That being said, the “Daisey Dukes” are best left to the 20 something women.
Great post, and boy do I wish I were wearing shorts! Only yesterday I was wearing tailored shorts… it is one of those few improvements on “style” I think we’ve made in the last 40 years or so. Legs wide enough to pass your waist through may be cooler (temperature-wise), but I think they look much more childish and unrefined (apologies to the Gurkhas!) Tailoring shorts (without cargo pockets anyway) can also be very cheap – my tailor tightened mine up for $14, and they look MUCH better for it. Yesterday’s shorts were tan and white seersucker, with a 8.75″ inseam, which falls 3″ above the point of the knee, or about an inch above the kneecap on 6′ me. The shirt was a white Underarmour polo/golf shirt, which I will hopefully be forgiven for, since I was actually playing golf (I hate baggy polo shirts, and the non-spandexy ones really do restrict the swing. I need all the help I can get.). The Grady-White visor may be unforgivably overplayed, but I was certainly not the only person on Pinehurst #2 wearing uncool headgear. No exuse I suppose – I would have worn plus-fours ala Payne Stewart if I had the gumption and the truly surplus income to buy a $180 pair of one-use shorts.
Today, somewhat regrettably, it’s a three button suit in tan and “natural” herringbone Irish linen. My shirt is so pale a yellow as to be almost an off-white (I call it “butter” colored) and a sage green tie with a minimal gold check pattern.
P.S. – I have to disagree with BH on one point – this information should be handed out to tourists EVERYWHERE. Not even just warm places – I’ve been in Quebec on a 60 degree day and the baggies and DV’s daisy duke’s were mounted on hairy pasty-white twigs as far as the eye could see (before, you know, the blindness set in).
Hmm… white shorts… I’d pair them with a French blue shirt, I think.
I don’t wear tan, as it doesn’t flatter me; instead, I have shorts in gray and blue, including a pair in navy. I will admit to getting a lot of use out of my cargo shorts, but I will not replace them with more when they wear out. Practical, yes. Stylish–you have to ask?
I have taken to wearing a bandana-like object around the neck when visiting hot climes (it never gets hot where I live). I twirl it then wrap it around my neck, tying a simple knot and flattening the ends so that no neck is visible. It keeps me cool and looks good, too. Thank you for the inspiration!