There are few categories of menswear as polarizing as shorts, and their acceptance as civilized attire for grown men is a relatively recent development. Sure, shorts are a warm-weather staple—but the baggy, knee-grazing (or, quelle horreur, shin-grazing) styles of yesteryear have officially been canceled.
The reappraisal began last summer on TikTok, where some fed-up women made it clear that 5-inch inseams were the surest way to their…hearts. Short shorts went viral and soon celebrities from Paul Mescal to Milo Ventimiglia were seen strolling with their enviable quads on full display. Of course, when you have gym gains to flaunt, shorter shorts are an easy sell. But here’s the lesson of the internet’s 5-inch inseam obsession: Ladies (and gents) appreciate thighs of all shapes and sizes. It’s not about the state of the legs, it’s about the shorts they’re wearing.
Still, some guys have a deep-seated aversion to bottoms that don’t reach their ankles. It’s understandable, given the garment’s history. Shorts didn’t really start appearing until the late 19th century and, through most of the early 20th century, they were strictly associated with kids. Shorts were a part of most school uniforms until adolescence when one would graduate to trousers. As such, long pants were a symbol of manhood—no respectful adult would be seen in anything less.
The tide began to turn thanks to the Nepalese army, whose Ghurka soldiers were sporting shorts as early as the 1880s. British soldiers’ gear wasn’t as well equipped for the tropical weather, so the troops took cues from the locals, giving birth to Ghurka shorts and, later, Bermuda shorts. Like so much of menswear, the trend trickled down from the military and shorts began making their way into civilian wardrobes in the 1950s, remaining somewhat controversial until ’70s counterculture threw conformity out the window.
Now, we find ourselves at what just might be this millennium’s Summer of Love. Even if 5 inches is too daring for you (it’s not), 6-to-8-inch territory can be just as flattering. Plus, after a year of being holed up at home in various layers of loungewear, don’t you want to feel the breeze between your gams? Free your thighs and the rest will follow.
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Birdwell Corduroy Shorts
Corduroy shorts, like this pair by SoCal stalwart Birdwell, were a favorite of surfers in the ’60s and ’70s. Today, they still carry that sense of laidback cool—particularly when paired with a crewneck sweater on those days when the weather is just right.
Fear of God Track Shorts
These shorts may take their silhouette from retro running shorts, but the details are far more refined than anything you wore in gym class. They’re crafted from a mid-weight Japanese nylon and feature welt pockets and side seam pockets, just like traditional trousers. These pockets, however, are made of perforated Ultrasuede, so even reaching for your phone is an altogether more luxurious experience.
Craftsman Co. Linen-Silk Ghurka Shorts
For the classicists out there, here’s a riff on the shorts that started it all. They’re made from a wonderfully textural blend of cotton, silk and linen in a versatile shade of pale pink and, true to form, they feature a crossover Ghurka waistband. But instead of pairing these with a field jacket, we’d suggest a white T-shirt and tan espadrilles.
Bode Plaid Rugby Shorts
It doesn’t get much easier or breezier than this elastic-waisted pair in pure linen. Despite their abject comfort, the checked, sepia-hued pattern keeps things smart. Even smarter: add in a camp-collared shirt and snuff suede loafers (the softer, the better).
Sid Mashburn Mid-Length Tennis Short
Channel Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon with this crisply tailored pair in lightweight cotton twill, accented with leg-lengthening piping. While their inspiration may have come from the tennis court, these shorts are too good to reserve for racquet time.
Orlebar Brown Bulldog Cotton Twill Shorts
Orlebar Brown recently took its best-selling Bulldog swim trunk silhouette and rendered it in wear-everywhere cotton—we’re as surprised as you are that it took so long. Everything that makes the trunks a perennial favorite (a cut and length that’s universally flattering, elevated details like side tab adjusters) is even better in a garment-dyed twill that can go from coffee to cocktails.
CDLP Pool Shorts
As the name implies, these shorts were made for lounging. But that’s not to say they can’t leave the house. The silky, naturally-derived viscose textile will look perfectly louche with a roomy linen shirt and canvas sneakers.
Onia Noah Linen Shorts
Think of Onia’s linen shorts as the blue jeans of shorts—a reliable go-to you can throw on with pretty much anything. Ditch the generic khaki chinos and reach for these instead.
Giorgio Armani Dart-Tuck Cotton Twill Shorts
There are a few cases when a longer inseam can be a more stylish statement than sloppy, like these wide-leg shorts with darted pleats. The key is to balance out their volume, say with a tucked-in T-shirt and slip-ons.
Alex Mill Pull-On Button Fly Striped Shorts
This pair splits the difference between loungewear and propriety. They’ve got both a drawstring waist and belt loops, welt and utility pockets, a button fly though they can also be pulled on. In other words: They have the range.
Brunello Cucinelli Linen-Blend Bermuda Shorts
Another option for the thigh-shy: a partially lined, pleated pair from Brunello Cucinelli. The tailoring on these keeps the longer length from overwhelming but, if you ask us, just take those cuffs and keep on rolling.