Kneecaps on Parade: The Season’s Best Shorts

If you spend all your days in an over-air-conditioned office, you’re probably not that concerned about the summer heat – it’s more likely that you’re wearing a coat to work to deal with hyperactive air conditioning. But if you find the chance to put away your linen and fresco trousers and spend some time outside, you may want to consider the heresy of shorts.

Now, those of you who are still complaining that men don’t wear shorts, can’t wear shorts, shouldn’t wear shorts – it’s time to give it up. Yes, if you’re in Europe, you’ll still be the outlier – but that’s why we left England, right? For the freedom to bare our tender little kneecaps which, thanks to the magic of sunscreen, can now escape the anger of the sun largely unscathed.

The thing is, for years the only reliable option available for a man looking for a pair of shorts was The Shorts; essentially chinos hemmed to fall just above the knee. They look fine with a button-up shirt, and if you wear your slightly ratty race tee from last year, no one really bats an eye. But you might be happy to know that you have more options. And you may also be happy to know that cargo shorts are now a thing again – if they ever went away. 

Change the Fabric

The easiest way to find summer relief is to look for a short pant in a lightweight fabric. Making a short in linen might not exactly be a revelation, but if you dread the summer months because your shorts are all thick cotton or (gasp!) denim, you might find solace in lighter-weight fabrics. Linen is certainly one option, but fabrics such as cotton gabardines or lightweight nylon blends can go a long way in helping you maintain some semblance of comfort. I’ve never understood the idea of a “heavy-duty short,” which seems to have come into being as a part of the lumberjack-manliness revival thing of the earlier 00’s, but I would avoid any product that tends that direction if I were you. If you need heavy-duty clothing, you probably need to wear something other than shorts. And if you need to wear shorts, you probably don’t want them to be heavy duty.

Thankfully, it’s not hard to find a brand offering a lighter-weight fabric. My perennial favorite, Blue Blue Japan, offers shorts made of linen or gauzy cotton in the same beautiful indigo hues as all their goods; but everyone from H+M to Cuccinelli is making them. They often tend towards Bermuda styles, but there are plenty of other shapes out there for a consumer who’s willing to browse the internet for an hour or two, such as this fun pair from Margaret Howell.

Bermuda styles are certainly an easy option if you favor a more conservative style of dress – wearing a short with a pair of loafers or espadrilles is definitely an acceptable way to keep both leg and foot cool while maintaining a semblance of propriety. My only word of warning is that once you cross the threshold of the upper kneecap, a Bermuda short can start to look a bit dated – and also start to restrict mobility in an uncomfortable way.


Change the Shape:

If you’re a streetwear die-hard, you’ll know that the wide, wool short look has been around for more than a few seasons, but it feels as though it’s really hit the mainstream now. There are a lot of brands experimenting with this silhouette: Rick Owens has, of course, been producing variations on his Swinger shorts for a decade now, and a host of brands like Acne, Comme des Garçons, Weekday, Philip Lim and E.Tautz have made it a standby as well. They often (but not always) hit below the knee, and the color of choice seems to be black – which is not the first option my mind runs to in summer.

However, you don’t have to go full-force to embrace a more interesting shape, and you don’t have to limit yourself to black wool. Dries van Noten has been playing with wide shorts, both short and long, in a host of fabrics for years. You can find cottons, satins, and wools, some with prints and some without, and he’s one of the only designers who can take such a long-derided item of clothing and make it look both chic and flattering without resorting to Gucci resort-level sleaziness. However, I think the relative newcomer Ddugoff also makes a nice-looking pair.  

In addition, for the more #menswear-focused, we’ve seen a few companies offering belted, pleated, ‘Gurkha’-style shorts this season, such as this Pitti-ready pair from Rubinacci. Wear with loafers, etc.

The beauty of wide shorts is that they do a half-decent job of keeping you cool. Airflow stays constant, and you don’t get the unpleasant feeling of tight fabric sticking to your thighs or – god forbid – chafing you when you walk. I also find that a slightly wider leg and leg opening – I’m just talking even just a couple of inches of breathing room – can balance out a looser top, and offer you more possibilities for styling – a topic we’ll cover next week.

Change Your Whole Lifestyle, Man

The rise of athleisure has made it possible for lazy oafs like me to claim we’re dressing fashionably while staying comfortable in our hiking and running shorts. I, for one, am not complaining, and since techwear is now officially a Thing, there are more brands than I can count that are now playing with takes on the “day-hiker in the big city” look. I tend to favor this over the “urban ninja cyborg” look – although if we’re talking utility, I suggest you follow your heart.

The best thing about this movement is that you can just wear your comfy hiking or trail shoes and feel fine about it. Well, with restrictions – those wide-toed Merrell things are always going to be ugly as sin, but Salomon trail shoes are firmly established in all the hippest streetwear stores, and they’ve got decent arch support to boot.

Of course, if you’re looking for the perfect complement to your Tevas, you can still find Gramicci’s original G short for about thirty bucks. There are also no end of hiking – and military-inspired cargo shorts, which will go largely unnoticed but will be useful. Brands like Battenwear and Snow Peak will have neat options, as will Nonnative. My only recommendation is that you stay clear of the “sweat short” unless you’re actually using them pre- or post-workout. Not for any aesthetic reason; just because wearing sweat shorts during the summertime is truly miserable.


Regardless of what you choose this summer, breaking up the monotony of your usual backyard wear can be a good way to keep yourself from mentally dreading the month you have to wait for cooler temperatures to come around again. I know it’s hard not to salivate at the upcoming fall collections, but taking some interest in the shorts you’re wearing can also help you feel like less of an utter child whenever you put them on.

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Jasper Lipton

EIC at Styleforum
Jasper likes indigo, flight jackets, and boots - but he likes his dogs even more. He dreams of buried cities and the spaces between the stars.

2 thoughts on “Kneecaps on Parade: The Season’s Best Shorts

  1. I’m trying to decide between spending $365 on a pair of Gurkha inspired shorts from Rubinacci, or $38 on a pair of reproduction British military Gurkha shorts from WhatPriceGlory. Any suggestions?

    • It depends on the look you’re after. The WPG pair is very much a repro pair, and you’ll probably want to hem them to a contemporary length once you get the size right. I ordered a pair and returned them, as they weren’t quite what I wanted at the time. 38$ is a fraction of the designer price, so if you’re willing to be patient and experiment, you may enjoy them. Keep in mind that the fabric may not be as interesting (it’s a plain khaki drill) as other options.

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