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.

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PUBLISHED July 8, 2011

Barron is a Lean Wardrobe Advocate and Founding Editor of Effortless Gent. He's from San Francisco but currently living in New York. Connect with him on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or Tumblr.

  • DNameIsJapoy

    How dare you make me wait for a new article! haha, been waiting for a new read from you lately!
    hmm, here in our place, there is a disappointing mantra for shorts…

    -denim, cargo, and ridiculously big.  Time to make a change!

    I would love to have shorts similar in design to be tailored specifically for me, but still hunting the local thrift shop for cheap ones.  Though I’m still currently focusing on “completing” my wardrobe’s pants. 😛

    Thanks for the tips!

    • Sorry about the wait, haha. Many of the commenters mentioned that a decent-fitting pant can make great shorts, which shouldn’t be too tough to come across.

      Good luck with the search!

  • Anonymous

    Only thing I’d add: don’t be afraid to buy chinos that fit well and cut ’em into shorts. I find that most shorts have obscenely wide legs (even for my betrunked self), but a cut-off (and hemmed, if you so desire) pair of ex-pants is notably slimmer.

    • Yep, good point. Not sure why they cut most shorts so wide, and pants work really well as shorts when you cut off the legs. Thanks for mentioning this.

  • I’ve made Jean shorts from my old boot cut jeans (that I wouldn’t dare wear again). Just cut them with some extra length and fold twice for a nice cuff to hit that sweet spot. Same thing with thrifted chinos! 

    • Glad you’ve cut up the bootcut jeans 🙂 and I’m not completely sold on the jorts just yet. I know they’re sorta “in” (at least according to SF’s hipsters), but they remind me too much of high school kids. I dunno.

      Do agree on thrifted chinos (or pants in general) that are converted to shorts. Pants can have a great fit and work well as cutoffs.

  • Exilio

    I’ve been working on the transition from cargo pocketed shorts and I have to say I am quite happy with the new look.  Much cleaner and feels more mature.  Great article and I agree with all the recommendations. 

    • Awesome! Glad you’re making the transition. Thanks for the comment.

  • Acekwest

    I was just going through my closet thinking I need new slim non cargo shorts. What are some good brands? Lol.

    Bout time on the article. Jk.

    • The images are linked to product pages on their respective websites. I think those are a good start.

      Yeah, sorry about that, been busy over here at 5&B / EG world headquarters. 🙂

  • Mikey

    I like cargo shorts.  That cargo pocket is a great place to put my wallet.  Sure beats having it in the front pocket, and I stopped putting my wallet in my back pocket years ago.

  • Mikey

    I don’t pay anywhere in the neighborhood of $50 for shorts, not even for long pants.  You kiddin’ me?

    • Never said you HAD to buy those shorts, I’m simply giving people different examples / options / price points.

  • Jwedel

    I advocate steering away from cargo shorts.  They’ve been overplayed for years and usually look just terrible.  If you’re going on a week-long hike and actually need all those pockets, go ahead, but put them away when you get back to civilization.

    • Yeah, I respect clothing worn for utility. Obviously dressy trousers wouldn’t work on a day hike, and so cargo shorts would be a better choice. For some reason it’s become the default choice; I think a streamlined silhouette is more fitting for everyday situations.

  • I think all of shorts shown are way too long.  Men have gotten carried away with the amount of fabric on their swim trunks and shorts.  At some point, they stop being shorts.  I endorse no longer than a 7″ inseam.

    • I have a hard time putting an absolute number on an inseam. What if the guy reading my article is 6’5″? or 5’1″? Is a 7″ inseam still relevant or applicable?

      As long as guys keep in mind that sweet spot that sits around the knee area, I think they’ll be just fine.

      • stan

         I think this “sweet spot” that you describe is for men who are insecure about their physical appearance.  anything above 9″ is man-pree.  Just because it is popular now does not mean it looks good.  Real men are comfortable wearing whatever they see fit.  as long as you are confident and well put together you can get away with whatever.  In all the images you show above the men look bottom heavy in their long shorts…like children wearing pants that a couple of sizes too big..  I advocate just above the knee to mid-thigh, but i prefer TRAD style.  Fashion as you know is all about proportion…and anything above 9″ looks goofy and hood,

    • Mike Cassidy

      I endorse no longer than 6″ for every day, 7″ for church, and church shorts must be pressed with a seam,
      made of material suitable for pressing, no drying pressing for church shorts.
      Mike Cassidy
      Utica, Md.

  • FrancisF

    The chambray shorts from jcrew are perfect for summer. I just wish they had more than one color option for the club shorts.

    • Anonymous

      francis; lands’ end canvas has a couple options, as well.  I have ’em in grey, as the blue looked a little jort-ish to me (got ’em, hated ’em, returned ’em to sears).

      • “jortish”, good word. sears sells land’s end canvas?

        • Anonymous

          sears owns lands’ end.  a few stores have lands’ end sections, and if they do, you can return any LE or LEC products to them.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you could return them to ANY sears, but I haven’t looked or tried.

      • OnlyShawn, thanks for the suggestion. I will check them out.

  • C

    I would just like to add, as a lady (and regular reader of this blog) I love homme-short shorts. The 1970s basketball are great. I wish men would wear them, even just as sport-wear.

    That being said, if I see another wide-let cargo pocket khaki short/too-big t-shirt combo I am just going to vomit on someone. The other day I witnessed it in conjunction with a sport coat. You would have been proud at my self control. I limited myself to a dirty look. Didn’t even say anything mean.


    • homme-short is quite short, at least by “everyday man” standards (if I’m thinking of the same type you’re talking about). I think with the right build / muscle definition, a guy can pull it off. That’s kinda the reason why I don’t give many absolutes in my articles, more just options and various things to try.

      and wow, i’d love to see the outfit you mentioned with a sport coat. i’d have to instagram that or something.

  • dvalenta

    Overall height and proportion have more to do with the length then saying how many inches above the knee are allowed.  I know this from many many years of experimentation. On a short man with short legs just above the knee is too long.

    • How short is the short man with short legs you speak of? I do agree that overall height and proportion is important, but regardless, if a man selects the correct proportions, the shorts will still hit somewhere around 2″ above the knee.

  • Mike Cassidy

    If you are really serious about your shorts, as I am, my
    styles will never be found in ‘Old Navy’, Walmart, etc. I can expect to find ‘SOME’ in Maceys’, or J
    C Penny. Most of my shorts are
    purchased on-line.

    On-line merchants seem to have a wider variety than the every-day
    department stores which seem hell bent on selling “Michael Jordan Shorts.

    Mike Cassidy

    Utica, Md.

  • Rod Siebels

    Talk about the shoes you pair with shorts

  • Justin VanHaitsma

    What about the plaid-pattern shorts. Are they out now? I still see them in stores, but every time I read an article regarding men’s fashion, they aren’t mentioned. I supposed I might take that as a clue to my answer, but I’m making sure they’re not just being overlooked.

  • JoJo Resto

    OK guys I have a question and I need an answer like ASAP. I have a month to go shopping. I’m going to Puerto Rico for Vacation and Im a size 38 I have a big Butt and thick thighs. Any suggestion? I dont want to look like i have a tumor when im walking in the streets