Forget Pants, Life is Shorts

Engelbert was a classmate of mine in San Diego for many years.  I’ll never forget him: he had a jokey demeanor, was cursed with a mass of untamable hair, towered high above everyone, and could laugh at himself.  But that’s not what he was known for.

He was the shorts guyEvery.  Single.  Day.  

Shorts always seem to get a bad rap, but Engelbert didn’t seem to care. His stockpile was impressive; I don’t ever remember seeing the same pair twice all the years we were in school together.  It could rain, a freak ice age could sweep the world and drop temperatures to negative Kelvin, and Engelbert would still be wearing shorts.  I once pressed him about it, and after looking at the upper right corner of his eyes for a bit, he simply shrugged.

“I just like shorts.  I always wear them,” as if he and shorts had a tacit commitment to each other, from which no temptation could persuade him to betray.  We parted ways after middle school, but I’m sure he stayed loyal to his beloved, down to this very day.

Needless to say, Engelbert is an exception regarding shorts.  Many, in fact, are not a little bit uncomfortable with them, offering many excuses why shorts just aren’t for them: my legs are too white, too thin, too fat, too hairy, etc.  Some believe shorts should be strictly confined to areas that require them.  Tom Ford is famously quoted as saying that shorts “should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach,” never in a chic city such as New York.

But the casualisation of humanity drives ever onward, and what was once regarded as quaint sportswear has not only become acceptable but by now ubiquitous. After the baggy 90s, shorts became progressively shorter and slimmer, and now all the cool cats from Donald Glover to the apogee of cosmopolitan cool himself -Jeff Goldblum- are flexing in shorts.  Observe this Instagram post from earlier this year:

Now that’s a man comfortable in shorts. Not that we’re suggesting 1″ inseams, but still.

Last year GQ produced what is in my opinion the most pragmatic guide for determining your ideal shorts length. The formula from writer Martin Mulkeen basically takes your height and adds your comfort level when it comes to showcasing your shanks, or what he calls your “Leg Love Quotient.” All guys six feet and shorter can get away with inseams of five inches; those taller can choose longer inseams if they wish.

It’s noteworthy that longer shorts really only became popular in the 90s; before then, shorts kissed the top of the thigh and were more briefs than actual shorts. The whole idea was to lengthen the leg and appear closer to what many considered ideal proportions. For the same reason, I prefer 5″ inseam shorts on myself. I’m an average 5’8″ish, and while I don’t think I’ll ever go full Goldblum, I may experiment with a 3″ inseam…or maybe not. As long as the leg opening is a couple of inches wider than my hamhocks, I’m good.

Eidos shirt, J. Crew shorts, Toms espadrilles
Borsalino straw hat, Monitaly guayabera, Stussy shorts, Tom’s espadrilles
Borsalino straw hat, You Must Create shirt, Levi’s Made & Crafted shorts, Common Projects shoes

Charlie (aka Sebastian McFox) is an inch or two taller than me, so he can wear both shorter and longer lengths.

Orlebar Brown Diamonds Are Forever shirt and Setter shorts
Proper cloth collarless shirt, Informale shorts, Doek shoes

Daniel AKA datinventory is a bit over six feet, and likes to pair longer-length tailored shorts from Stòffa that makes it look like he should be spending his summers on a lake in Italy. Which, in fact, he does.

Borsalino straw hat, Barba shirt, Stòffa shorts, Crockett & Jones loafers
Borsalino straw hat, Barba shirt, Stòffa shorts, Superga sneakers
Borsalino straw hat, Stòffa shorts, Crockett & Jones loafers
Borsalino felt hat, Barba shirt, Stòffa shorts, Baudoin and Lange loafers

Timothy AKA Penanceroyaltea is the same height as I am, but I like the relaxed silhouette of his longer, wider shorts with printed shirts.

Engineered Garments shirt, Naissance shorts, Timberland boots
Engineered Garments popover shirt, Naissance shorts, Engineered Garments x Vans slipons

Let this year be the year that you make room for shorts in your wardrobe. You don’t have to wear them everyday like Engelbert, but see if you can bust them out at least a couple of times this summer. Pair them with prints and Vans, keep it simple and throw on a guayabera and espadrilles, or keep it tailored with a linen button up and loafers. They’re not going to take up that much space, after all — they’re shorts, remember?

For a historical perspective, here’s a collection of Esquire articles from the 1930s-60s

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Peter Zottolo
Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.
Peter Zottolo

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7 thoughts on “Forget Pants, Life is Shorts

  1. Let’s take a deep breath. First, all of these photos show men in aquatic or BBQ-y environments, where shorts have always been appropriate. Second, all of the men in these photos are wearing trainers or espadrilles, not flip-flops. (They probably also keep their toenails clipped, but fortunately we don’t need to find out.) Third, most of these men are not wearing those abominable cargo shorts.

    But in the real world outside of Majorca, shorts–mostly of the cargo variety–are now being worn on city streets, in (allegedly) chic restaurants, even at nighttime events. And outside of Majorca, very few men own or wear espadrilles. What they wear with their shorts are flip-flops. And t-shirts with advertising.

    I know a woman who has recently gone on four consecutive first dates with college-educated men who showed up, at city restaurants, in cargo shorts, flip-flops and t-shirts. These were Friday-night dates so presumably after work. She wore a nice dress or skirt to every date. Those guys are ghosted.

    Some hard truths: Legs don’t get that hot, even on really hot days; it’s just not a major pain point. And outside of a resort, women think men in shorts look like boys–and men in cargo shorts like douchebags. Men, do you want to get laid, or feel the breeze on your calves? I thought so. Be brave, and strap on your big-boy pants.

    • I feel for your friend, Max. I’d get behind your cry for pants, except it reeks of hominem, as if shorts and flip-flops murdered your family. Legs don’t get hot? Seriously?

      Let’s meet somewhere in the middle: don’t wear shorts at funerals and avoid them on evening dates unless it’s at the pool bar, and do try them when on leisure activities. Deal?

      • That’s a deal Peter, but I suspect it will be unilateral as I don’t see a lot of guys building out their cargo-short summer wardrobe. Anyway I’m already there with shorts in (most) daytime leisure activities.

        Maybe I’m weird but I never feel like my legs are gonna burn up in loose khakis or linen slacks. Slim-fit heavy denim is another matter. All the best.

  2. I’ve never understood the loathing of shorts in menswear. I’ve worn them since I was a kid, and always will; in the summer they are a necessity. I don’t know how anyone can wear pants in the summer unless they absolutely have too, I know I can’t, especially in South Florida in the summertime. Yes, legs do get really hot; they are a large portion of the body; if I wear pants in hot, humid weather I feel like my legs are getting steam-cooked. And, as you have shown above, they can look great. They might not be appropriate every time or everywhere, but for most casual situations they are perfect.

  3. To be honest once the mercury goes over 30c I have no qualms donning a pair of Cargo shorts. The PRL have been a wardrobe staple for years along with linen Bermuda shorts. The Gurkha shorts worn by Sebastian McFox are something I want but in a British Khaki. In my twenties i had a lot of ex Army Western Desert Bombay Bloomers or short longs. Mind you i did wear RPL cargos and a linen shirt to David Byrne in Sydney in 2013 as the temperature was 40c even after dark.

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