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 guy. Every. 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.
Charlie (aka Sebastian McFox) is an inch or two taller than me, so he can wear both shorter and longer lengths.
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.
Timothy AKA Penanceroyaltea is the same height as I am, but I like the relaxed silhouette of his longer, wider shorts with printed shirts.
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