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    

Vintage Patagonia Baggies Mens Shorts-black-no Tag-fits Like MediumUmbro Vintage Retro Celtic Football ShortsAdidas 80's Vintage Shiny Running,sprinter Nylon Shorts,retro,d8,size:xlAdidas Rare Vintage Shiny Nylon Sprinter Shorts Glanz SprinterhosenWaterproof Nylon Rare Vintage Pe Football ShortsAdidas Vintage Shiny Nylon ShortsAdidas Vintage Look Nylon Shorts Pants Size 30" Used Manchester United FcNike Arizona Wildcats Sz L 36 Vintage Bibby Basketball Game Pro Cut ShortsRare Fila 80's Vintage Bjorn Borg Mk2 Sttanta Tennis Shorts,size:mediumMens Retro/vintage Adidas Shorts 36" Waist/largePolo Ralph Lauren Vintage White Tennis Shorts 100% Cotton Xl EucNike Shorts - Vintage / Retro - Mens Sz Large / L - White - Running, AthleticAdidas Vintage Look Nylon Shorts Pants Size 32" (uk) Used *very SmallAuthentic Polo By Ralph Lauren Vintage Plaid Men's Shorts Size 38 Euc! Yeezy80's Limpies Skateboarding ShortsLot X 3 Vintage Adidas Short Shiny Running Trefoil Shorts 1970s 1980s L 32-34 NrVintage 70s Gym Shorts Lot Dead StockVintage Adidas Satin Nylon Shorts - Mens Medium - Blue Satin-like MaterialMens Vintage Umbro Black Blue Purple Color Block Athletic Board Shorts LargeDiamond Supply Co Sweat Shorts Black Tech Tiffany Kith VintageErima Vintage Shiny Nylon High Cut Running ShortsMen's Vintage Asics Silky Thin Nylon Running Shorts Sz 34-36Vtg Nike Authentic Alabama Crimson Tide Basketball Jersey Game Shorts Sewn LogosAdidas 80's Vintage Shiny Running,spirnter Nylon Shorts,retro,d7,size:large/xlAdidas 80's Vintage Shiny Running,sprinter Nylon Shorts,retro,d10,size:xxxlAdidas 80's Vintage Shiny Running,sprinter Nylon Shorts,retro,d6,size:largeAdidas 80's Vintage Shiny Running,sprinter Nylon Shorts,retro,d5,size:mediumVtg 80s Op Corduroy Shorts * White * Ocean Pacific 1980s Cords Rare Mens : 34/36Lot Of 2 Vintage Patagonia Baggies Shorts Large Purple And Orange 3.5" InseamVtg Usa 80's Umbro Checkered Checked Black Nylon Soccer Shorts Men L Large LgAdidas Vintage Sprinter Shorts West GermanyForever 21 Men Denim Fashion Jeans Cutoff Shorts Red Vintage Distressed ZaraVtg 80’s Op - Ocean Pacific Corduroy Surf Beach Shorts Size 38 Pale Blue VeVintage 80s Ocean Pacific Corduroy Shorts Size 32 Op Surf SkateboardMen's Vintage Descente Silky Nylon Running Shorts Sz 32-34Vintage Mens Nike Nylon Running Shorts M Med Fila Vintage 1982 Wct World Championship Tennis,tennis Shorts,retro,size:smallMen's Vintage Asics Silky Nylon Running Shorts Sz SmallVintage Burberry Nova Check Men's Xl ShortsMens Vintage Retro Umbro Shorts Color Block Black Red Size SmallVintage Matsuda Drop Crotch Shorts Cream Sz LVtg 80s Op Corduroy Shorts * White * Ocean Pacific 1980s Cords Rare Mens : Sz 36Men's Vintage Asics Silky Nylon Running Shorts Sz SmallAdidas Shorts - Vintage / Retro - Mens Sz Medium - White & BlackAdidas Men Vintage Tennis Shorts Pants Size 36" (uk) Used *stains*Nike Vintage Basketball Shorts Size XlGreat Vintage 90s Mens Xl Adidas Hi-cut Lined Running Jogger Sprinter ShortsVintage 80's White Tennis Shorts Squash Badminton Racquetball Short Shorts 34"Adidas Men Vintage Look Nylon Shorts Pants Size 34 (uk) Used *deffect*Champion Mesh Sweat Shorts Black White Red Vintage Reversible Off Pacsun Fog Hummel Vintage Retro Navy+white Shiny Nylon Satin Running Soccer Shorts Size XlMens Vintage Nike Clemson Tigers Purple Ncaa Basketball Shorts -xxl-big ManVintage 60's Gym Shorts Eastern Michigan Emu Champion Brand 36-38Men's Vintage Nishi Japan Silky Nylon Running Shorts Sz 30-32Vintage 80's Umbro Black Lite Nylon White Trim Soccer Shorts, Size Adult MediumVintage 80's Umbro Checkered Purple Lite Nylon Soccer Shorts, Size Mens XlFlusser Vintage Men's Shorts Lime Green W 38 100% CottonGenuine Playboy Black Nylon Shiny Shorts Sz W32 Very Good Cond Vintage Rare See Vintage Matsuda Baggy Drawstring Black Shorts, Sz Large,Polo Ralph Lauren Mens Vintage Elastic Waist Khaki Shorts Size Large