I fucking love a man in shorts. I consider a hairy stick leg poking out of a freshly cut jort pornographic; a muscular thigh wrapped in linen a kind of erotica. This isn’t a preference; it’s a passion.
My dedication to the cause has only increased since I came to realize that America has a rich history of hating on shorts. In the past, some towns even upped the puritanical ante by passing legislation against them. In 1938, for instance, the small city of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, completely banned shorts, with the local newspaper claiming the town was “modest” and “not a bathing beach.” As recently as 1959, Plattsburgh, New York residents older than 16 were forced to pay a $25 fine or spend 25 days in jail just for letting their calves see the light of day.
Today, the negative attitude toward shorts is still culturally strong as hell — at least for men. (This is America! Old, shameful worldviews die hard or not at all, apparently.) The PGA Tour prohibits male players from wearing shorts, even though female golfers can. And many businesses still have dress codes specifically prohibiting shorts, regardless of Casual Friday. Even if a workplace doesn’t explicitly codify it, a man wearing shorts to the office is a travesty gossiped about at the watercooler for months. “If you’re in the office, and you work anywhere but the International Society for the Advancement of Shorts, you should go home and change,” writes Awl founder Choire Sicha, who admits to loving a good “expedition” short, but only when he’s on a goddamn expedition.
Part of the perception that shorts are “improper” is their association with immaturity; in the past, some schools have mandated that shorts be worn by male students. In the mid-19th century, “Breeching,” the ceremonial practice of transitioning from a dress as an infant to shorts as a boy, was a major rite of passage. Like some kind of sartorial bar mitzvah, Boys would “come out” to their family members and walk around presenting themselves in exchange for some cash.
You’d think, though, that if all that history were to be damned, it would be now. Because we obviously live in an ever-increasingly casual world, one where formal attire in the workplace is almost extinct. Startups — in encouraging employees to wear a branded company hoodie until it disintegrates — have vastly transformed the expectations around office dress codes. More broadly, the millennial generation largely says, “Screw you, Dad” to standards set by boomers. Growing up, my mom told me, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” If that credo still rings true, I guess I’ll have to wear a T-shirt and jeans to my next fancy work event like most of the successful (and unsuccessful) entrepreneurs I know.
Yet the discrimination against shorts remains pervasive, with young men who are baristas/models/artists/DJs still dangerously donning jeans in 100-degree heat. Take, for example, cultural critic Fran Lebowitz. She doesn’t care what century we’re in; she maintains that men who wear shorts are “disgusting.” “There are few things I would rather see less, to tell you the truth,” she said in an interview with Elle. “I’d just as soon see someone coming toward me with a hand grenade. To have to sit next to grown men on the subway in the summer, and they’re wearing shorts? It’s repulsive. They look ridiculous, like children, and I can’t take them seriously.”
Most people, however, fall somewhere less extreme on the shorts-hating spectrum. “I think it’s acceptable to wear shorts in your own neighborhood during the day,” GQ style editor-in-chief Will Welch once told The New York Times. “And anytime you’re doing an outdoor activity: going to the park, or an outdoor concert, or a Mets game.” Designer Tom Ford thinks shorts are okay-ish, too, but not in the city: “Shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach.” Like with flip-flops, it seems there’s a complex, ever-changing standard around when shorts are appropriate on men. Even the Bermuda variety, which were invented for businessmen who couldn’t stand the island’s heat, have to be worn with tall socks to expose as little leg as possible. Only a kneecap is allowed in Parliament, fellas!
Normally, I’d be in favor of humiliating the male species, particularly because they consistently get a free pass when it comes to their shitty physical presentation. So why not inflict some more arbitrary, dumb physical expectations on men? After all, women are encouraged to shave the entirety of their bodies, expose as much skin as possible and then feel like it’s their fault when they get assaulted.
But the perspective we have on men in shorts is born of a similar puritanical policing of our bodies and behavior. The modification of bottoms — or rather, their shortening — has been political. The 1960s saw the rise of the miniskirt for women seeking sexual liberation. Similarly, short-shorts on gay men can be a marker of gay pride. Yes, an overly practical cargo short is dadcore in a bad way (i.e., not daddy at all) and Kevin Smith’s taste in jorts, if you can call them that, is horrifying. But the terror surrounding men in shorts is far more existential than pure visuals: We are afraid of what it might mean.
Men who join frats at Ole Miss and aspire to a career in finance are supposed to be enforcers of traditional values, not challengers. So, it’s confusing when they wear pastel purple short-shorts or American flag Chubberalls (sorry boys, they’re all sold out). Chubbies, the newish brand of “Radical” shorts, is aimed at hypermasculine men who love “moustaches” and “sports,” but the company’s marketing co-opts the political language of the oppressed. The “manifesto” on their website asks potential “Chubsters” to “take the plunge and join the shorts revolution.”
Of course, men don’t NEED a fashion coup, but it saddens me to think about how little menswear has evolved. The suit is forever the pinnacle of elegance; the short the exact opposite. Sandals are still bad/gross, and hats should never be worn at Da Club. My problem with most men who wear clothes isn’t aesthetic; my issue is that 99 percent of the time it’s boring. Even if only on the weekends, more men should embrace the idea that they can experiment with fashion, too. Maybe, just maybe, that means grabbing a pair of scissors and doing the jorts thing. As an esteemed fashion icon, I’m here to tell you there’s nothing wrong with men showing a little leg (or even some armpit; don’t even get me started on tank tops!).
So in an ideal world, we won’t return to the anti-shorts society of the 20th century. Men will be not just allowed, but encouraged, to expose their hairy limbs to the world. And every Friday during the summer, Hillary Clinton will enact a nationwide gam check, just to ensure that America becomes sartorially great, at last.