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September 23, 2006

More Male Fashions

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Since we were recently on the topic of male fashions ... How about a moment of silence in acknowledgment of the summer just past? Everywhere I looked ...

That's right: everywhere I looked there were men wearing longer-than-knee-length shorts. What a strange fashion season.

Why would anyone think that this style is attractive?

I'm happy to admit that long-long cargo shorts look good on a few guys -- but most of them, it seems to me, are younger than the age of 7.


In the stores it was near-impossible to find summer shorts of a more traditional length. And, in any case, the over-the-knee style became so omnipresent that the visible male knee -- anything but a shock in summers past -- started to look ... kinda embarrassing, and kinda obscene.

Where did the long-long style come from anyway? I have a dim sense that it arrived via today's usual route: basketball via gangsta-hiphop. But I'm not really sure.

How about a little gallery?

To establish context and understand just how far things have gone, get a load of what men's shorts once were at the opposite extreme:


It seemed to me that a nadir was reached very late in August when some men -- including some mature men -- started turning up in public wearing mid-calf-length ... er, slacks, pants, shorts, whatever. A billion years ago, this --

-- was called the clamdigger, or the pedal pusher, or (on gals) the Capri pant. So far as modern guys go, though: There oughta be a law. I don't want to see any male who isn't a bona fide Tyrolean backpacker wearing mid-calf length pants, do you?

How do the gals react to the long-shorts-on-men look? I notice that -- in a recent posting I did about magazine design -- the heavenly Gretchen Mol was asked (in the article illustrating the posting) to name something that she doesn't like. Her response: "I'll tell you what I don't want to see, and that's grown men in shorts or cargo pants. If you're older than 12, do you really need all those giant pockets?"

Whoops! At the beginning of the summer, I was looking forward to those pockets myself. I was hoping to be able to go out with room in my pants and/or shorts for securely-stashed wallet, keys, camera, sunglasses, and change. But on precisely none of the pairs of cargo-pocket-equipped pants and shorts that I bought this year did the pockets actually work well.



posted by Michael at September 23, 2006


For those of you who have read J. K. Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces", none of this is surprising. The last time I went looking for some shorts, I gave up and bought a few pair which did not have all those damn pockets. I rolled up the legs a few times and now, avec cuffs, I proudly wear them in public.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on September 23, 2006 4:12 PM

Shorts are very hard for guys to wear -- they look too informal for all but very casual occasions, and even then the guy must have muscular legs, trimmed or no leg hair, no lighter than olive skin, and footwear that looks nice without socks. Otherwise it looks kinda gross or goofy. As this doesn't describe many guys (me included), we'd do best to wear pants or jeans. If weather is an issue, wear pants that are looser and made of breathable natural fabrics. Even in summer, though, you're not outside for that long.

Oh, and tall. Sub-tall guys look even shorter when their leg-line is broken into dumpy chunks by shorts. Shorts don't provide much shape / structure either, do they? It always looks like you just rolled out of bed: not a flattering silhouette for any guy. Assuming you don't crumple your pants & jeans into a ball for storage, they'll give a more clean, crisp outline.

So yeah, shorts are just an all-around bad idea for guys. But that's one less category of clothing to buy!

Posted by: Agnostic on September 23, 2006 5:39 PM

You wouldn't believe what I saw 2 weeks ago, while waiting for Acela at the Penn station:
a portly catholic priest, with the collar and all, dressed in black longer-than-knee shorts. A yappie wearing ridiculous hair lick, tight shirt and cargo pants, looked positively dignified by comparison.

Posted by: Tat on September 23, 2006 11:15 PM

So far as modern guys go, though: There oughta be a law. I don't want to see any male who isn't a bona fide Tyrolean backpacker wearing mid-calf length pants, do you?

mike -- fyi, any guy who wears really short shorts like the 70's pics you put up is assumed to be either gay or a hopeless loser. It's kind of like wearing tighty whities rather than boxers -- just opens you up to ridicule. Often these super short shorts are seen on the kinds of middle aged guys you see at the gym sometimes in fluorescent sweatpants. There is a big difference between "slob/lazy" and "loser/clueless" and I'll go with the former perception over the latter anyday :)

Posted by: gc on September 23, 2006 11:34 PM

1) There used to be an expression a boy's getting his first pair of long pants. That age should also mark the last time he should wear shorts in public. "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child..."

2) No man after the age of, say, 30 should be seen in public wearing jeans. "... but when I became a man, I put away childish things." 1 Corinthians 13:11

Posted by: Greg Hlatky on September 24, 2006 7:32 AM

Gosh, it’s hard to know what to say, other than that I’ve got a pair of those knee-length cargo shorts on my manly corpus right at this moment. I live in a climate with very, very hot summers, and I need to do lots of walking around town. I don’t want to get into the details of all the ways the human body can sweat, but I can assure you that allowing your calves to breathe some fresh air directly, and having pockets sufficient to avoid carrying a backpack are small but not inconsequential mercies when the heat index is 115 degrees.

But I agree with the general principle: shorts and cargo pants are strictly for days off/very casual wear; otherwise, dignity simply suffers too much. Grownup men should wear long trousers.

Posted by: mr tall on September 24, 2006 7:54 AM

Actually I like shorts myself. I'm just marveling over the way *everyone* was suddenly wearing longer-than-knee-length shorts. What's the advantage or appeal of that? (GC -- I think the short-shorts are pretty funny, and read very gay, too.) Men didn't used to be quite so easy to push around in a fashion sense. Pockets are nice too, at least they would be if they worked.

The one thing I have trouble with is the pedal-pusher length. Capri pants for men? Let's leave that to Rafael Nadal.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 24, 2006 8:34 AM

I'm an archaeologist and wear cargo pants while doing fieldwork. I gave up on jeans for field pants years and years ago. And yes I really do need those pockets for field notebook, GPS unit, maps, camera, tape measure, flagging tape, etc. I usually buy BDU pattern pants (they have reinforced seat and knees) in non-military colors (no camo) so people don't think I'm part of a militia or something. Most of the archaeologists and field biologists I work with do the same.

I live in Southern California and grown men of all ages wear shorts all year long around here - including me. Practical, comfortable and socially accepted. What's this no leg hair thing, Agnostic? Who cares? I'm also puzzled by the just longer than knee length but is probably just part of a fashion cycle. Like the ugly ties and dress shirts cycle we are in right now.

I see a fair number of the capri pants on men here, but they all seem to be European tourists. Count me out.

If that offends Ms. Gretchen Mol, I'm afraid she will just have to avert her eyes when she's around me.

Posted by: Reid Farmer on September 24, 2006 2:15 PM

Working as an archaeologist, I wear cargo pants for fieldwork. And yes I do need those pockets for notebook, GPS unit, camera, flagging tape, collection bags, etc. I usually buy BDU model (with reinforced seat & knees) pants in non-military colors (no camo) so I don't look like I'm a militia member. Most archaeologists and field biologists (all ages & both sexes) that I work around do something similar.

That said, there's a time and place for everything, and I don't wear them in the office, or in formal client meetings, or to church.

I live in southern California and men of all ages wear shorts in casual settings year round. They are comfortable, practical and accepted. I am typing this wearing a knee-length pair.

What's with the no leg hair, Agnostic? Who cares? I don't understand this aversion to male body hair.

I, too am perplexed by the just longer than knee length, but I assume that's just part of a fashion cycle. Like the cycle of hideous ties and ugly dress shirts we are in right now. Actually, the length of board shorts worn by surfers out here has been getting longer for years and it's probably related to that.

I see a fair number of capri pants on men here, but most all appear to be European tourists. Count me out.

I suppose if Gretchen Mol has a problem with my pants and shorts she will need to avert her eyes while in my company

Posted by: Reid Farmer on September 24, 2006 6:24 PM

I do own a pair of below knee length dark gray cargo shorts. I bought them thinking that the pockets would be useful. But I found that putting anything in there that weighed more than a feather had too much moment when walking. The farther it is from the hip joint, the bigger the moment arm and any item that you don't use that often, such as a cell phone in my case, ends up swinging like a pendulum and may end up dragging your leg :) This is highly uncomfortable and has turned me off cargo shorts.

Posted by: JM on September 24, 2006 7:51 PM

Sorry for the almost duplicate comments. I put the first version in, shut down the computer, and left to run errands for a couple of hours. When I came back, I booted up, refreshed and there was no comment. Thought the first hadn't worked and wrote the second. Lo and behold then they both appeared.

Posted by: Reid Farmer on September 25, 2006 5:10 AM

Seeing comments like, "So yeah, shorts are just an all-around bad idea for guys," arrived at by explicitly skipping over the utility/comfort factor, make me very glad that I don't really care about my image.

In fact I'm not sure how long my various pairs of shorts are; I feel pretty confident they're just over the knee. Probably a couple of years old, and some of them even older (and probably, it would seem, shorter.) I currently think the capri-pant length thing on guys looks ridiculous. I don't consider those shorts OR pants, so I'll probably be able to continue thinking they look ridiculous while I just wear whatever's passing for "shorts" during the time-period that I make the trip to buy them.

Posted by: i, squub on September 25, 2006 9:40 AM

I am very tall with scrawny, hairy legs. All I can say is, thank god for knee-length shorts. I look like an ostrich in anything shorter.

Posted by: the patriarch on September 25, 2006 12:19 PM

was called the clamdigger, or the pedal pusher, or (on gals) the Capri pant. So far as modern guys go, though: There oughta be a law. I don't want to see any male who isn't a bona fide Tyrolean backpacker wearing mid-calf length pants, do you?

Aren't these just plus-fours? A perfectly respectable choice, and certainly better than showing off one's knobby knees -- that's just embarassing. It's full length slacks for me, but faced with a choice between shorts and plus-fours, I'd opt for plus-fours.

Posted by: Taeyoung on September 25, 2006 12:20 PM

I'm 41, 6'1 175 lbs.
I bicycle a lot, mostly for utilitarian purposes. Except for days of extreme heat, I never wear shorts, just roll up the pant leg to keep it from getting tangled or getting greased by the chain, and try to remember to unroll them when I'm earthbound. My legs are long and well toned, but after 40 a greater sense of decorum is in order.

On the matter of men tucking in shirts: some correspondents suggest that only those without tummy flab should go untucked. True up to a point, yet men without belly flab tend to have the kind of behinds women prefer, and tucked-in shirts will provide them a better view.

Posted by: James M on September 27, 2006 6:48 PM

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