Most fashionable types think of shorts as an afterthought, permissible for boys and professional athletes, but never stylish on serious adults. Yet the range of khakis, cut-offs, lederhosen, jorts, basketball shorts, and any number of other styles is proof that short pants are an important part of the male wardrobe, and deserve a place of recognition in our sartorial history.

Men have not always been so ambivalent about shorts. In the late 16th century, knee breeches were a standard part of aristocratic menswear in Western Europe and the colonial United States. These buckskin or woolen breeches typically fastened with buttons or buckles at the waist—there was also a set of small buttons on the outside of the leg. For more formal occasions, short silk pants were worn with high white socks and white waistcoats over ruffled shirts. At the time, the youngest boys wore dresses until they were “breeched” and began wearing shorts, which typically occurred by age 6.

In France, the breeches worn by upper-class men were known as “culottes.” Sometime during the late 18th century, these noble breeches were adopted by German peasants who made them from durable materials like leather to withstand rougher daily wear (“lederhosen” translates to “leather pants”).

Up through the 19th century, parts of the British military wore white breeches that ended just below the knee and were layered with black gaiters that extended from knee to boot. These shorts were usually unlined, had a fall or “drop front” opening, and were detailed with regimental buttons along the outer seam.

Knee breeches fell out of fashion in the early 1800s as most adult men aside from servants transitioned to tighter, full-length pantaloons. By the end of the century, most westernized cultures reserved shorter knee-pants for boys, who transitioned to full-length trousers around puberty.

During the early 20th century, a new style of baggy pants that gathered in a tight cuff below the knee, known as knickerbockers, became popular among adults, particularly for athletic activities. Short trousers or “shorts” closer to their contemporary design weren’t actually adopted until the early 1900s, when the British military adapted shorts into their uniforms for warmer, humid climates like India and North Africa.

British vacationers brought the loose, military-style “walking shorts” to the island of Bermuda in the 1930s, and eventually the look became called Bermuda shorts. Bermuda’s strict laws on public indecency meant that men’s shorts had to be at least 22 inches in length, and policemen carried rulers to verify if a pair was too risqué. Eventually, retailers caught on and started making Bermuda shorts with carefree tropical prints or madras fabric...

During World War II, a fabric shortage in Bermuda pushed local bankers to adopt the style for business attire; the shorts were worn with knee-high socks, a dress shirt, tie, and blazer, which soon became the standard professional look in the subtropical region.

In postwar America, shorts were increasingly acceptable for casual leisure activities, especially as the temperate climate of California became the setting for countless films and television shows. From the board shorts of surfers to the denim cutoffs of the hippies, shorts were here to stay.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Mens Rare Shiny Satin Vintage Red Puma Nylon Sports Shorts Glanz M 36 Mens Rare Vintage Green Nylon Adidas Sports Shorts 36" LRare Shiny Silky Satin Vintage Blue Nylon Adidas Sports Shorts Glanz 34 MMens Vintage Retro Adidas Liverpool 1991/92 Home Football Shorts Size 30 WaistRare Shiny Silky Vintage Satin Blue Erima Nylon Sports Shorts Glanz Xxl 40Rare Shiny Silky Vintage Satin Blue Adidas Nylon Sports Shorts Glanz M 34Vintage Op Ocean Pacific Corduroy Gray Shorts Trunks Size 34 Made In Usa L@@kRare Shiny Silky Satin Vintage Blue Nylon Adidas Sports Shorts Glanz Xs 30Vintage Levi's Big E Denim Jeans Barn Find Cuttoff Shorts Work Pants"kuhl" Vintage Patina Dye Men's (size 40) Dark Green Hiking Shorts Nice !!!Men's Vintage Japan Cramerpro Running Shorts Sz 32-34Mens Rare Shiny Silky Satin Vintage Dark Blue Nylon Adidas Shorts Glanz 38" XlMen's Vintage Shiny Onion Skin Running Shorts Sz 32-34Vtg Birdwell Beach Britches Surf Trunks Board Shorts Made In Usa Men's 34Men's Vintage Gona Shiny Silky Nylon High Cut Running Shorts Sz 30-33Vtg Woolrich Mens Corduroy Pants Knickers Mountaineering Skiing Hiking Usa 32Men's Vintage Shiny Japan Mizuno Running Shorts Sz 30-33Vintage 70's-80's Atari - Property Of - Gym Shorts Sz LMen's Vintage Silky Nylon See Through Nishi Running Shorts Sz 32-34Men's Vintage Shiny Japan Mizuno Running Shorts Sz 32-34Men's Vintage Nylon Asics Running Shorts Sz 30-32Men's Vintage Gona Shiny Silky Nylon Running Shorts Sz 32-34Men's Vintage Shiny Silky Nylon Nishi Running Shorts Sz 30-33Men's Vintage Purple Spellout Running Shorts Sz Large Made In UsaFox Racing Mens Large Boardshorts Board Shorts Trunks Vintage Motocross Bmx JtMens Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt Sz Medium Retro Paisley (golf Pant Shorts VintageMen's Vintage Shiny Nylon Champion Running Shorts Sz 30-33Men's Vintage Silky Nylon See Through Nishi Running Shorts Sz 30-33Men's Vintage Op White Corduroy Shorts Size 36Vintage Op Ocean Pacific Op Corduroy Shorts Mens 32 Yellow 80's SurfVintage 90s Nike Andre Agassi Challenge Court Tennis Shorts Pants Orange Size SMen's Vintage Silky Nylon Nishi Running Shorts Sz 30-33Men's Vintage Smooth/silky Nylon Asics Running Shorts Sz 30-33Mens Vintage 90's Tommy Hilfiger Black Denim Jean Shorts Size 38 Big Logo PoloVintage Op Corduroy Shorts, Size 30Vtg 80s 90s Aloha Hawaiian Baggy Gecko Print Surf Shorts Mens Sz S Board Skate *rare* Nike Vintage Athletic Mesh Shorts Blue Nylon Sz S Men's Men's Vintage Shiny Onion Skin Champion Running Shorts Sz 30-33Men's Vintage Mesh Nishi Running Shorts Sz 32-34Men's Vintage Shiny Nylon Asics Running Shorts Sz 32-34Sz 40 Vtg History Iceberg Made Italy Sylvester Denim Shorts Mens VgucVintage Adidas Climalite Shiny Satin Burgundy Sz S Soccer ShortsMens Rare Shiny Silky Vintage Satin Green Nylon Shorts Xxs 28"Men's Vintage Funky Smooth/silky Nylon Asics Running Shorts Sz 30-32Russell Athletic Vintage Ringer Tee Gym Shorts Bundle Medium White RoyalMen's Vintage Shiny Silky Nylon Asics Running Shorts Sz 32-34Men's Vintage Gym, Running Shorts Sz 30-33Mens Rare Shiny Satin Vintage Red Nylon Sport Shorts Glanz M 34" Men's Vintage Shiny Nylon Running Shorts Sz 32-34Reebok Usa Vintage 80's Mens Large Lightweight Athletic Running Shorts B1