Fashion has finally broken down one of the last style faux pas.
At last month’s European men’s shows, on the runways and cobblestone streets, a few trends emerged from the ether and solidified into full-blown style movements. The utility bag, for one, has become an object of worship comparable to women’s purses. The classic suit has risen from the dead and now feels cutting-edge. And, most unexpectedly, shorts have become the new pants.
Let’s not pretend that the men’s fashion jet set—the buyers, editors, stylists, celebs, and grifters who cruise through Milan and Paris Fashion Week—woke up one morning and discovered shorts. Shorts are everywhere. Most American men wear shorts all summer and don’t think twice about it. They do so to the dismay of some, like Fran Lebowitz, who declared in 2015 that she’d “just as soon see someone coming toward me with a hand grenade” than wearing shorts. (“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,” she continued.) The fashion world has more or less agreed with the Lebowitzes of the world, shunting shorts to the periphery of style. They’re what you wear to the bodega to pick up a pack of smokes, not to a runway show.
The notion that shorts are casual wear is the one universal socio-cultural dress code we have left. Clubs and restaurants around the world ban shorts but not jeans. Prince George is infantilized by royal tradition, forced to wear shorts until he turns 8 years old. A man in feminine silhouettes is less shocking than a man wearing shorts in the wrong situation. I’m even allowed to wear a T-shirt to the Condé Nast offices (though I might duck out of an elevator if a certain artistic director walks in), but shorts will get me sent home to change.
But this season, everywhere you turned at Paris Fashion Week, from the front rows at Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton debut to the street outside Comme des Garçons to the Alyx afterparty, men were sporting Adidas soccer shorts, swishy fashion shorts, hacked-off jean shorts, droopy streetwear cargo shorts, and even regular old Boy Scout khakis. It’s official: We are living in a golden age of shorts.
So where did this latest fashion subversion come from? “I think it’s part of the sneaker-sweatpants casualization trend,” says Nick Wooster. “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.” Nick used to be the only guy in the front row at fashion shows to wear shorts—one move among many that turned him into a street-style legend. For him, it started in 2010, when Thom Browne trotted out the infamous shrunken suit with shorts. Nick was inspired to hem a pair of his suit trousers into shorts, which got him in trouble with Bergdorf Goodman, his employer at the time, but it was a revelation. “It’s a little bit upsetting,” Nick says. “So, good. That’s the problem today, there’s nothing really left that’s upsetting.”
Now Nick tends to wear a fuller short that hits just below the knee, which he says feels more formal than a shorter short. As they have for years, men are following suit. And you can thank Rei Kawakubo for turning the sloppy long short into an elegant style status symbol. Comme des Garçons Spring-Summer 2018 produced the designer piece of the season: a pair of long, flowy, pink sequined shorts. (James Harden wore them in the April issue of GQ—and he wore shorts on the cover, too.)
Shorts naturally appeal to the generation of streetwear kids who mix and match high fashion and prosaic garments with ease. “It’s pretty much an extension of that whole sportswear thing that’s happening now, where things that were once seen as not acceptable or too dressed down are now being paired with expensive items to make things more relaxed,” says Matthew Henson, who styles A$AP Rocky and wore drapey Rick Owens DRKSHDW shorts with a hockey jersey last week in Paris. “If you have nice legs, your shorts can be as short as you want them to be,” Matthew adds, “but I definitely think that right below the knee is the acceptable and appropriate length.” Dress codes mean nothing to those for whom Virgil Abloh is a fashion Pied Piper. (Virgil’s Louis Vuitton debut included luxury cargo shorts.) Even if the shorts-wearing Luka Sabbats of the world were allowed to have afternoon tea at Claridge’s, would they want to?
Now that men have liberated their legs, the next barrier to fall is the aversion to feminine silhouettes. If it was unthinkable to see a pair of bare legs every other seat at men’s fashion shows, why can’t they be emerging from, say, a Jil Sander skirt? According to Nick, we may already be there. “The Comme des Garçons shorts are basically a skirt,” he says, “depending on the angle.”