How short is too short for a pair of shorts?

How short is too short for a pair of shorts?

Q. Currently, what are the shortest length shorts that men should wear. I need a few new pairs but they all seem to extend below the knee, which looks too young (or faking being young) for my 50 years.

A. You are right that the small differences in lengths of men’s shorts do make a big difference in how current or out-of-style a man looks. To begin with, full (that is, baggy) shorts are a thing of the past. In terms of what is current in well-dressed adult circles, as with so many elements of men’s dress, the possible variations are telling. Although some elements are subtle and seemingly minor, there is a good deal to understand.

First and foremost, men’s shorts in all fabrics are cut a little higher and slimmer these days. To be sure that your shorts look current and flatter your body, you need to pay attention to the length AND to the width (the leg opening). You also really must try them on before buying to know how your waist, your legs, and your overall appearance look in each given style.

What do you need to consider? Length, width, fit, and fabric.

LENGTH Just as with swim trunks, past-the-knees board short lengths are too teenage looking. Currently, shorts should stop at the top of your kneecaps (at the longest). Specifically, they should end two-to-four inches above the top of your kneecap. Look for shorts with a 5”-9″ inseam. Yes, just as with tailored pants, shorts are measured along the inseam. The best length for most guys is around 7″. Anything longer than that may be too long. If you like them a little longer and also if you are tall, you may get away with 9″ shorts. If you’re shorter than 5’5″ or you want to show a little more thigh, you might want to wear 5″ shorts instead. Anything shorter than that should be limited to athletic settings.

Many men (especially younger, stylish ones) like their shorts a little shorter. While this is a matter of personal preference, I don’t think any man looks great with shorts that go past his knees.

LEG OPENING Another common mistake is wearing shorts that are too wide. If the leg opening is too wide, your legs will look thin (especially if you have skinny legs). A lot of shorts are too wide through the leg. Unless you have heavy legs, you should look for “slim fit” shorts or have yours tailored at the thigh. Not skin tight, but not too much excess material either. Shorts should be slightly fitted, but still comfortable. Don’t sacrifice mobility and comfort for a super slim fit.

You also want to avoid the triangular silhouette – where your shorts are wider at the bottom than the top. This happens when the leg opening on the shorts is a lot wider than the circumference of your thigh. It creates a bottom heavy silhouette, and it makes your legs look wimpy. For the most flattering look, try to achieve a nice gentle taper that more closely follows the line of your body.

FIT When trying on shorts, it’s most important that they fit correctly in the seat and hips. Everything else can be fixed (including the waist). Keep in mind that shorts can be hemmed or tapered for $15-$25 and can have the waist adjusted by 1”-2″ either way. If you are a slim guy, you have more leeway. Beware of elastic waistbands; they tend to emphasize “muffin tops” and “love handles.”


The main reason to wear shorts is to keep cool in warm weather, so stick with lightweight, breathable fabrics.

  • COTTON Soft and durable, cotton is a great hot weather fabric because it is light and breathable. It looks crisp and cool even with a slight wrinkle. Summer favorites are chino, madras, and seersucker. Seersucker has another great advantage: the fabric hides wrinkles particularly well due to the crinkled nature of the weave; no ironing needed.
  • LINEN is an extremely breathable fabric. The thing about linen is that you have to be comfortable with the wrinkled look, as there is no way of avoiding it. You certainly don’t want to be ironing or dry cleaning your shorts all summer. Quality linen gets softer the more you wear and wash it, and will last a very long time.
  • WOOL Although wool can be a surprisingly good choice for some summer garments, it does not seem to make sense as a fabric for shorts.
  • SYNTHETICS Polyester and nylon are durable and quick-drying, making them great for sports, exercising, and outdoor activities, but they are not breathable. Some people are more affected by this than others.
  • BLENDS Some people can handle a small percentage of fabric like nylon combined in a blend with a natural, breathable fabric like cotton. A blend might get you the best of both worlds, and will often suit your summer needs.

First things first: Are shorts even appropriate? If you are in any doubt as to whether shorts would be appropriate attire for an occasion, the safest rule of thumb is NOT to wear them. If you’re headed to the office, a business meeting, or even slightly formal occasions, they should be avoided. Shorts can be a no-brainer for the beach, for any athletic activity, or for casual (non-work, or very casual work) gatherings; in those cases, wearing shorts in hot weather is deemed acceptable.

By following the elements above you will be stylish and cool the rest of the summer and even on a few hot autumn weekends.

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Categories: Male Call