Q I just saw an article in The New York Times, saying that the new look in men's shorts is very short. That sounds bad enough, but the ones they showed ranged in price from $35 up to $790. Does any of this make sense?
A Yes, I saw that same article, and I, too, had trouble with it. Our clothes -- and especially our summer clothes -- should be: 1.] age-appropriate, 2.] comfortable, 3.] attractive and 4.] affordable. Most of the shorts they pictured did not appear to be any of these.
They looked too short for anyone other than a teenager. I believe the most attractive length for men's shorts is mid-thigh, a few inches above the knee; typically, this means not shorter than a 7- to 9-inch inseam. It's hard to think of an occasion where a skimpy 3-inch inseam (such as one pair shown in that article) might be appropriate. I would be embarrassed to be escorted by a man wearing shorts that so closely resembled underwear.
The best way to know how shorts will fit (besides trying them on) is by knowing their inseam measurement. My feeling is that 7-, 8-, or 9-inch inseams are perfect for general casual wear. If, you are buying shorts for more active sports activities, such as running or tennis, and find the extra length bothersome, you might go as short as a 5-inch inseam. If you think your legs are too heavy or too skinny, choose shorts with a longer inseam. Why show off what you aren't happy about?
To be sure that your shorts flatter your body type, pay attention to the length and also to the width of the leg opening. Try to find shorts that follow the line of your legs. Shorts should not be too wide or skin-tight; you should be able to move around comfortably in them. Often it helps to look for "slim-fit" on the label; it can make all the difference. Most brands offer free shipping and returns, so it's easy to try on a few pairs at home, then only keep the ones you like. Once you find something you like, order another pair or two in different colors; you'll be set for the summer.
Also, the prices seemed absurd. Half of the shorts in the article cost $200 or more. The truth is that the ones I liked the best were $35 from Champion. Stores and online sites offer a wide range of shorts that won't break the bank in various fabrics, colors, patterns,and styles: Dockers, $40; Gap, $45; Nautica, $50; Everlane, $50; Bonobos, $55; Orvis, $80; Lululemon, $88, and others.
In addition to shorts that you buy, for casual settings there is nothing wrong with using that old method of creating a pair by finding in your closet pants or jeans that fit in the seat the way you like them to, and cutting off the legs (not too short). Then, either wear them as is with a frayed hem on the legs, or have your tailor/dry cleaner finish off the bottom hem. Start off with these do-it-yourself cut-off shorts somewhat on the too-long side. You can keep cutting them a bit shorter -- just a little at a time -- until you reach the length that's just right.
Versatile shorts can be dressed up or down, depending on what you wear on top. Your choice can be as formal and traditional as an open-at-the-neck dress shirt worn tucked-in with a nice braided leather belt, or as informal and relaxed as a polo, T-shirt or hoodie worn untucked. Other possible accessories (sweater, deck shoes or sneakers, a pair of no-show socks, perhaps a hat, etc.) can be added as long as they are appropriately casual and in step with the rest of this low-key look.
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