How to choose age and situation appropriate shorts

Q. With the days now becoming longer, I’m thinking of buying one or two pairs of shorts. I am wondering, How long should they be? Anything else to look out for?

A. I certainly understand why men are confused when buying shorts. I cannot think of another garment in a man’s closet that has such a wide range of possible looks. Men must make a choice about how long the shorts are, what fabric, what color, what cut/style, and how they should fit – all these options require consideration and each decision affects the overall appearance you will project.

Everyone has seen a man in public wearing a pair of baggy khaki shorts and a too-long, too-loose gray T-shirt. While shorts are basically casual, that doesn’t mean that they have to look sloppy, or as if you are about to shoot baskets in your driveway. . .unless you are.

The key thing to remember is that, even when wearing shorts, it is important to be dressed appropriately for the occasion. This means matching your shorts to the way you prefer to dress in the colder months. So, conservative dressers should stick to classic/traditional shapes, casual dressers might opt for chino shorts, and fashion-forward types can go for a bold print, just not too bold.

As your question indicates, the first thing to consider is length. Another reason so many men look terrible in shorts is that they fail to choose shorts that flatter their body type. Length should depend both on your body and in what settings you plan to wear your shorts.

Available lengths can range from mid-thigh (old school) to below the knee (“street” style). The well-dressed guy will choose shorts that are anywhere from two to four inches above the knee. That is the perfect length for tailored shorts and will take him anywhere that shorts are accepted. Shorter than that suggests a volleyball or basketball game. A little longer seems to cry out for dark knee-high socks and maybe even a blazer – a great look in Bermuda, but rather foolish here.

While some shorts actually come down below the knee; this is an awkward look that seems wrong for anyone and for almost any situation. As with trousers, the length of shorts is measured along the inseam. The most classic fit has about a 9-inch inseam (8 to 10 inches, or 7-inch if you’re under 5’9”). Anything longer than that will most likely be too long (tall guys can get away with shorts that are a bit longer).

A common mistake that men make is wearing shorts that are too wide in the leg opening. Unless you have heavy legs, you may need to look for “slim fit” shorts or have your shorts tailored. This ensures that your legs don’t look thin and weak. But shorts shouldn’t be skin tight. They should be slightly fitted and comfortable; you should be able to move around comfortably in them.

There certainly are other considerations beyond length and leg width, including, as mentioned earlier, how casual one is going to be. A man should have at least one pair of shorts that have a conservative look, as described above. Beyond that, shorts offer different styles, cuts, and fabrics.

Tailored shorts, both flat-front and pleated, are versatile styles that work in most situations, from shopping to weekend social events. Bulky cargo shorts (with oversized patch pockets) are not only too casual for most social occasions, but area almost always unflattering. These are best left for hiking. Longer, knee-length board shorts only look appropriate on teenagers.

Look for shorts that have either a plain waistband or a waistband with belt loops; they are more formal and work nicely for casual social dressing. However, don’t choose shorts with belt loops if you don’t plan to wear them with a belt. Shorts with elastic waists or drawstring waists are a lot more casual. They’re intended for workouts, yard work, lounging, and sleep.

As with most clothing, fabric choices are endless. This doesn’t mean that all are appropriate in all situations. Cotton, cotton/poly blends, and stretch twill are classic and more formal choices. Nylon, denim, fleece, and sweat-shirt fabric are casual and are suited for athletics, the beach, and spending time at home.

Shorts in solid colors like tan, khaki, navy, gray, and olive are always safe choices, since they work well with tops in every color and pattern. Madras plaids, and denim are options that take more thought. Don’t go for some wild pattern, unless you are going surfing!

Some of the shorts get-ups men wear are hard to understand. Not only do they look too casually dressed to be out in public, but they often look outright ridiculous. I cannot fathom what would possess any man to allow himself to be seen looking so not put-together. Just because shorts are intrinsically casual does not mean they have to look adolescent and sloppy.

Dressing in shorts does not have to be a childish act of rebellion, intended to display disdain for dressing like an adult. If you make sure yours are age- and occasion-appropriate, shorts can be a fashionable and comfortable choice.

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