If one were to abide by the codes of traditional menswear, bare-legs are the antithesis of professional and formal dressing. Even in July, when the humidity in New York turns the city into a hotbox, one can find a stream of slacks-clad businessmen flowing out into the street with a thick sheen of sweat coating their brow. But, increasingly, menswear style mavericks are embracing shorts for the most elevated of occasions, from date night (with Rihanna nonetheless) to luxury fashion shows to even the Met Gala.
A meaningful reconsideration of where and when shorts are appropriate is long overdue. They have long been positioned as overly casual (see: beachwear) or youthful (perhaps because, for a long time, they were known as “knickerbockers”— the go-to attire of 19th century children). The very wise Tom Ford once said, “A man should never wear shorts in the city. Shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach.” But the limitations on shorts in Very Important Situations is not entirely practical for menswear wearers, especially when sun dresses and breezy skirts are more than perfectly acceptable. As my colleague Christian Allaire once wrote, “The problem is, men baring their legs in a professional setting has become a total taboo. Wearing shorts to the office? Forget it: Human Resources would personally escort me out of the building.”
Increasingly, however, fashion is elevating shorts. No one has quite mastered their fancified iteration better than Euphoria actor Jacob Elordi last week. The internet heartthrob attended Valentino’s spring 2024 show in a pair of expertly (and strategically) pleated shorts. The Pierpaolo Piccioli-designed trousers achieved, what I like to call, the golden ratio of thigh-to-leg on Elordi. The look felt flirty and sleek, versus—as short-wearers can often fall victim to—casual, slouchy, or juvenile. Paired with a leather blazer, a skinny black tie, and wide-frame sunglasses, Elordi provided a mature and hard-edged spin on a garment and fit otherwise associated with studious pupils. The pièce de résistance? The actor’s exposed Nike-branded socks.
A particular section of the internet fawned over the look. “This summer shorts are SHORT!” one user wrote.
Elordi is not alone with an elevated approach to shorts. A$AP Rocky donned a Raf Simons-designed short-suit set late last year for an upscale date night with his partner Rihanna. The rapper has routinely turned these styles into youthful ensembles worthy for formal affairs, including a Prada number for Milan Fashion Week. Younger stars are embracing it as well: Gossip Girl star Evan Mock donned couture Thom Browne shorts at the 2021 Met Gala, paired with a latex mask, while at Cannes Film Festival last month, Troye Sivan dished out a gender-fluid interpretation of fancy shorts by pairing his with a loose cut-out blouse.
The de-casualization of shorts is more than apparent on runways, too. Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino sent out a cadre of models in pleated shorts in white, black, camel, brown, red and more for the brand’s spring 2024 show. Sometimes they were paired with blazers with thick shoulder-pads or a knitted polo with a matching tie—explicitly office-minded garb. Over at Dior, creative director Kim Jones has developed a penchant for crafting boyish pastel-hued short sets crafted with a skater boy-sensibility.
Of course, no designer has worked harder, or longer, at making a strong case for formal shorts than designer Thom Browne. The designer has long sent out masterfully tailored short suit sets on his runways for years. He practices what he preaches, too—short suits are a signature uniform.
Then again, Browne does have the chutzpah to go behind such a bold style maneuver—he leads a successful global brand and is chairman of the CFDA. But I think, in today’s increasingly anything-goes menswear landscape, even an intern could pull the look off. With the right calibration.