To Seam Is To Be

When the forecast reaches 60 degrees in Boston, you may be blinded by the sunlight reflecting off of my fellow citygoers’ legs, which haven’t seen the light of day in months.

I too am guilty of chomping at the bit to wear anything other than cords and wool stockings by the end of March, and will take the goosebumps in exchange for Vitamin D. While walking with a friend through the Public Garden the other day, we passed a group of young men with shorts of various lengths. Thanks to my trusty tortoiseshell sunglasses and all involved responsibly wearing masks, no more than a passing interest was registered between both parties. When within a reasonable distance, my friend clicked her tongue and said, “Any men’s shorts higher than the kneecaps might as well be thongs.” 

As the temperature rises, there is once again a great hullabaloo over the inseam length of men’s shorts. It’s a perennial conversation that, as with my formerly dear friend and I, could cause one to question not only another person’s opinion but their entire perception of reality. The debate has taken on a new level of intensity this year, and yes, there was much hair-pulling after I knocked the iced chai tea latte out of her hand. Perhaps we’ve all seen so little of each other in person that it’s jarring to not only see people in real life, but to behold so many men who were formerly hesitant to show off their gams. Twitter and TikTok have normalized the trend, with brands like the cheekily-named Chubbies ready to supply the demand. 

Not yet “thigh guy summer,” in 1953 Life Magazine reported that “male individualists” were raising hemlines above the knee to combat New York City’s ungodly summer temperatures. The Bermuda short is now an Ivy staple, and it’s funny to think of my grandfather wearing anything that was once subversive to lunch in Mashpee Commons. Madras and khaki variants appear widely (and tightly) in Take Ivy, and later actors like Paul Newman and Harrison Ford championed a closer cut and a higher crop for athletic and casual wear. At the risk of objectifying famous, professionally handsome men, this I like to call the “wawaweewa” length. Anything above a 5” inseam is best left to Europeans. The jury’s still out on an acceptable uniform sock length to wear with shorts, Grampy prefers over the calf.

At their best, shorts are the pinnacle of form and function. Like any garment, a pair that fits one’s body type anchors most summer outfits. Shorts that hit below the knee or mid-calf pose the threat of making the man wearing them look shorter and wider, even if they played college basketball. Shorts that are too short and too tight, well, I owe my friend an apology and another iced latte anyway. For me, and for others that like what I like, it’s reassuring to see that men do indeed have thighs.

That being said, there can be too much definition on a man’s body in the era of stretch cotton. There will be a learning curve, among all the other curves. — ZG BURNETT

16 Comments on "To Seam Is To Be"

  1. John Carlos | May 3, 2021 at 6:45 pm |

    The proper shorts inseam length, at least for me, is 9.5 inches. Anything shorter or longer doesn’t feel or look right.

  2. Menace to Sobriety | May 3, 2021 at 7:18 pm |

    I am young, tall, with a slim, athletic build, and opt for 6-7″ inseams. They are supremely comfortable and look much better on me than baggy, knee-length shorts.

  3. Depending on the shorts in question, I prefer 6″-9″, opting for the longer inseam if venturing out into public. For mowing the yard or lounging on the back porch in relative privacy, 6″ suits me fine.

    Best Regards,

    H-U

  4. elder prep | May 3, 2021 at 7:55 pm |

    The only word to describe the most acceptable style of shorts is Bermuda.

  5. John Carlos | May 3, 2021 at 10:10 pm |

    Elder prep- I am also elder and I couldn’t agree with you more. Bermuda is the only way to go when it comes to shorts.

  6. whiskeydent | May 3, 2021 at 10:39 pm |

    In my not so humble opinion, it’s not about the length of the inseam. Instead, it’s about the distance between the hem and the top of the knee cap. A couple-three inches of space should be fine. More or less flesh leads to spilled lattes. Mind the gap.

  7. John Carlos | May 3, 2021 at 11:56 pm |

    Whiskeydent- what the hell is a latte? Must be some kind of an Austin deal?

  8. John Carlos | May 4, 2021 at 12:13 am |

    Whiskeydent-just kidding but that never entered in to my thought process about the length of my shorts. No lattes for me.

  9. Minimalist Trad | May 4, 2021 at 4:21 am |

    It is the distance between the bottom of the shorts and the top of the kneecap that counts.
    For me, the distance should be zero; the shorts should just touch the top of the kneecap.
    Inseam measurements can be misleading.

    Unfortunately, no manufacturers provide details of outseam lengths.

  10. Most of the shorts I’ve purchased are at least 7”, but a few years ago I had a couple pair of old khakis made into shorts with a 5” inseam. I don’t wear them often, but when I do they give me a real Magnum PI vibe, and are certainly a conversation starter. They’re fun with an old polo.

  11. Well done exposé. By all means though, keep it casual. Shorts are unfortunately verging on the ubiquitous lately. One shudders to think of men who think it is just fine to traipse into the dining room with bare knees. The battle over exposed throats has been lost, but let us draw a line in the sand and sing “Men of Harlech” at the top of our lungs as we ‘wait the onslaught of exposed hairy legs…

  12. whiskeydent | May 4, 2021 at 12:21 pm |

    John Carlos
    We hipsters up here in Austin are way past the latte thing. It’s just so San Antonio now. Kidding. Have a good’n!

  13. john carlos | May 4, 2021 at 1:15 pm |

    Whiskeydent- I know you do have more than your share of hipsters there but from reading your previous comments on this site, I doubt that you’re one of ’em. A good one to you also.

  14. Charlottesville | May 4, 2021 at 2:34 pm |

    Another delightful post from Ms. Burnett. Just out of curiosity, I dug out two pairs of Bermuda shorts that I bought at the English Sports Shop in Hamilton 15 years ago. Both pairs have 8 1/4″ inseams. I did not try them on to measure the hem-to-knee gap, but the outseam is just a hair under 19″. Like them or hate them, they were indisputably correct as of the early 2000s, at least according to the shop that calls itself “the home of The Original Bermuda Shorts.”

    However, I have never worn the authentic shorts other than in their eponymous place of origin, because they seem too short to me when I am back in Virginia. And yet, I have a pair of seersucker shorts with an inseam a mere 1/4 ” longer, that seem fine, probably due to the 20 1/14″ outseam, which indicates that Minimalist Trad is on to something in his comment above.

    I wonder what the shorts from Trimingham’s were like. I was disappointed to find that it had just closed a few months before I visited Bermuda in late 2005 or early 2006, but the photos in old ads make me think they were a bit longer than the ESS version.

  15. As women’s clothing became more and more “shower curtain” like in response to the politically correctness of #metoo, men’s clothing became more and more “Look at me, girls”. Men’s shirts became closer fit across the shoulders and chest, the inseam on men’s pants/trousers/shorts moved skyward. Historically, for millennia, men have been the peacocks, women the brown-feathered birds in the bushes. For various reasons — the HUGE preponderance of Baby Boomer women compared to numbers of pre-Baby Boomer men being one of those reasons — women have strut their stuff to a fare thee well for several decades. The pendulum is swinging past its center point. This time five years from now, men will be strutting.

  16. whiskeydent | May 4, 2021 at 5:40 pm |

    John Carlos
    For a while, I tried to be hip with the Port Aransas dope dealer look: a ragged Hawaiian shirt, faded bell bottom Levis, cockroach killer cowboy boots, a week or two of stubble, a gigantic cowboy hat, about a foot of hair hanging out the back of the hat, and Ray-Ban aviators. However, my costume was a failure because I lacked the necessary dope in one boot and pistol in the other.

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