How to buy shorts and how to wear ‘em

July 8, 2011 · 30 comments

in Apparel, Color, How To, Tips

Let’s face it. It’s summer. It’s hot as balls outside. Do you really want to keep those sweaty legs in heavy denim?

Pants just aren’t fun in the summertime. The problem is, guys can be clueless about shorts. They tend to wear medium khaki-colored cargo shorts or sporty, oversized gym shorts. There are other options, you know.

Here are some tips on doing shorts right.

Mind the length

You want to hit that sweet spot with shorts, anywhere from juuust past your kneecap, to juuust above it. That’s your safe zone.

Any longer, and you start to wander into manpri territory (or if you’re wearing basketball shorts that long, then wannabe thug territory).

If your hemline starts to wander higher and higher above the kneecap (think 3+” above), you’re approaching Mom shorts length. Keep going and you’re all up in the hot pants zone.

Anyway, you get the picture. Between 2″ above and 1″ below your kneecap is the sweet spot.


So you know how pants have “cuts”, which refers to how slim or baggy they can be? Shorts have the same thing. Walk around any shopping mall and you’re bound to see these young whippersnappers in their huge oversized shorts. Sure, they’re probably buying em like six sizes too big, but they’re still a fuller cut.

You can get slimmer cut shorts nowadays. You don’t want them to hug your thighs like spandex might, but you do want a little bit of shape, kinda like a well fitting pant, but without half the leg. Makes sense, right?

If you’re paying attention to the cut of your jeans and chinos, why wouldn’t you do the same for your shorts?

Men's Striped Pincord Shorts - Land's End Canvas

J. Crew Chambray Club Short

One pair I’ve yet to check out (and have heard great things about) is the Emmett, from Unis. Granted, they’re a slimmer pair with a higher hem (and a higher price point), but they’re supposedly a great fit.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about the cut of Unis’ pants, and I’m sure her shorts are just as awesome. If you ever get a chance to try these bad boys on, go for it and let me know what you think.


Material: I tend to stay away from jean shorts, and I suggest you do the same. With twill and chambray, you’re generally safer.

Pleats and pockets: Stay away from pleats as you would with pants; they add extra fabric and bulkiness to the hip area that you just don’t need. Don’t listen to people who tell you otherwise.

Same with cargo pockets. They’re starting to make slimmer cut cargo pants, and I’ve seen a couple pairs of slimmer cargo shorts floating around, but if you can help it, avoid it. No matter how slim they make cargo shorts, you still look like a college kid when you wear them.

Color: Yes! Experiment with color. Go crazy with it. It’s summer, it’s hot, you can get away with it.

I have a pair of lime green shorts and a pair of faded red ones. I even have blue and white pinstriped cotton ones I wear all the time. Inject color into your wardrobe when you can; it makes things more interesting.

J. Crew Stanton Short

Another upside to twill and chambray is that they come in so many washes and you can have a whole rainbow of shorts if you really wanted to. Here’s one of my favorite styles from J.Crew, called the Stanton short. Look at how many swatches they have. Ridiculous, right?

Well there you are, some pointers on picking out a great pair of shorts for the summer. If you’re still schlepping around in a pair of ratty old cargo shorts, or you look like you just played some hoop, it’s time to upgrade your selection. The world needs more men in well-cut shorts to balance out the legions of dudes who look like they just don’t give a crap.

What say you?

Not much of a shorts guy in summer? Or do you wear shorts all the time? Or, wait, are you still wearing those jean shorts you wore back in high school? Be honest.

Let’s hear what you think of these pointers in the comments below.


Barron is the founder and editor of Effortless Gent, a site dedicated to helping guys figure out what looks best on them. He's based in San Francisco. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Previous post:

Next post: