Writing for The Rake around the same time as my own momentous Paris visit — and perhaps inspiring the
aforementioned outfit — G. Bruce
Boyer posed the question, “Why not indeed wear a pastel chambray shirt, natty foulard bow-tie,
and lightweight blazer with a pair of patchwork madras shorts? Or a softly creased, tobacco-hued linen pair with a
cream-coloured safari jacket, a bright bandana tied at the neck?” Look at the street style
shots from Pitti a few weeks back, and you’ll see countless dapper chaps attired precisely
per Boyer’s latter suggestion.
On both the runways and the streets, of late, we’ve been seeing a lot of voluminous, pleated shorts,
hemmed just above the knee, with higher waistlines. This seems a reaction against the more trimly fitted,
mid-thigh-high designs that have been prevalent for around five years now. Either approach works, to be honest — at
the spring/summer 2018 menswear shows, shorts of all shapes and sizes were shown with a similarly diverse array of
sports coats and blazers (though generally, ‘play with proportions’ was order of the day: the skimpier the shorts,
the looser the jacket, and vice-versa). There are few hard’n’fast rules when it comes to shorts, except that styles
going below the knee should be avoided: they can veer into Capri pant territory, or resemble those awful baggy
‘cargo shorts’ so beloved of frat boys, which are as much a perennial no-go as socks and sandals.
Speaking of shoes and hose, when it comes to shorts-appropriate footwear, again it’s a case of
almost anything goes. Casually, without socks, boat shoes, driving moccasins, lace-up bucks, or simple
classic sneakers (think: Converse Chucks or Purcells, Vans Authentics or Slip-ons, Adidas Stan Smiths, Ludwig Reiter
Tennis or Santoni Low-tops) all work a treat. Penny loafers can be worn with or without socks, the former
(especially when white socks are chosen) makes for a very old-school preppy ‘Take Ivy’ vibe. The likes of Nick
Wooster have shown that even heavy brogues can be coupled with shorts successfully — though this stance should
probably only be attempted by the advanced flaneur. (Ditto the shorts tux, à la Pharrell.)
To up the formality level, Boyer counselled looking to the men of Bermuda, the British territorial island where since
the 1950s, men have gone about their respectable, nine-to-five business clad in blazer, shirt, tie, shorts and
knee-high socks. (Note: The Rake believes the look works better without that last addition). “Until the
male Bermudian showed us by stunning example that we could wear shorts in a more formal way, we’d always thought
they were either military, athletic, or generally very casual resort items,” Boyer wrote.
Shorts as we know them were initially adopted by British military stationed in Africa and Asia in the late
19th and early 20th centuries, with these early iterations modelled on the uniform of the
Nepalese Gurkhas. Generously pleated, wide of leg and boasting a flattering, high waistband, contemporary shorts are
inspired by these practical garments sported in the balmier locales of this era, and are available in an array of
tropical hues — in addition to authentic, militaristic olive khaki.
Passing from military to outdoorsy, sporting and leisure pursuits, by the 1950s, shorts had become acceptable attire
at America’s tonier country clubs, with many haberdashers supplying semi-formal ‘shorts suits’ (much as Thom Browne
has built a career doing today). When Slim Aarons documented “beautiful people doing
beautiful things in beautiful places” from the 1960s through the ’80s, many of his well-bred jet-setting subjects
were captured carrying off shorts — beautifully.
Just look at the images here. Comfortable, practical in warmer climes, and potentially downright elegant when done
right, it’s time we rethought the short. The campaign to #FreeTheKnee starts here.