I have always frowned at shorts in the office. But now I like the idea of long shorts, an untucked shirt and open-toe sandals at work. Is this OK? — Michael, New York
Given the heat wave currently sweeping the United States; the fact that most of us have been stuck at home for 16 months; the reality that many offices are no longer requiring a suit-and-tie dress code; the influence of tech culture, where shorts, tees and Tevas are acceptable work wear; and the fact that the rise of gender fluidity is finally eroding many of our most stubborn fashion prejudices, this is an entirely understandable desire.
(Phew! That’s a long list of whys.)
Yet it is also true that for most of the history of men’s dress codes, the idea of wearing shorts at work was pretty much heresy — at least in a white-collar office environment, even after the rise of casual Fridays. And the question of whether this is an outdated prejudice is the subject — still — of vociferous debate.
I mean, it is one thing that the town of Honesdale, Penn., barred men from wearing shorts in their municipality in 1938. It is another thing entirely to realize that the PGA still requires male competitors to wear long pants during tournaments. And they are exercising! In the heat! (Women, on the other hand, are allowed to wear shorts.)
This mind-set may stem in part from the origin of the garment itself. “Shorts” is … well, short, for “short pants,” which are what little boys traditionally wore to denote their juvenile status. On the other hand, the expression that someone “wears the pants,” is intended to denote the person’s powerful, boss-like aura. In an office environment, the message you want to convey to colleagues and clients alike is probably not: “Hey! I’m still a kid.” The message you want to send is more likely, “Have faith in my decision-making juju.”
It is also true that not all shorts are created equal. The designer Thom Browne has built a mini-empire on the foundation of the shorts suit, with himself as his own best model, most often appearing in a uniform of neatly tailored knee-length shorts, crisp white shirt, jacket, tie and dress shoes.
“I haven’t worn long trousers in over a decade,” Mr. Browne said. “If you feel comfortable and confident and true to yourself in shorts, then you should wear your shorts — with a big smile on your face. I wear them in the winter, too, with knee-high socks.”
Given that in 2018 Zegna bought a majority stake in Thom Browne that valued the brand at $500 million, it would seem that Mr. Browne knows what he’s talking about. As does the fact that when LeBron James was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he got the entire team to wear Mr. Browne’s shorts suits for their entrance walk.
When I asked Guy Trebay, our men’s wear critic, what he thought, he was in Italy where, he said, “in the current Saharan heat wave, locals are almost uniformly dressed as you describe.
“So give it a try. And if anyone gives you side-eye, just tell them you’re Florentine.”