FFS: Short Shorts Are Back This Summer

FFS – For Fashion’s Sake – is a column that picks the threads of directional, divisive menswear. From the omnihype of luxury streetwear to the foibles of designers’ trippiest fever dreams, these are the bleeding-edge trends to cop or scoff at right now. This month: short shorts.

As a pre-teen, I had a teacher – a Mr Martin, coincidentally – who was one of those endemically British types of men who never actually served in the forces, but carried on throughout his life as if he’d been at Port Stanley. He was a man who believed in queen, country, good posture, cross country and hands out of pockets.

“Tuck your shirts in please gentlemen, you’re not rappers are you?” I distinctly remember him saying to me and a couple of friends as we hung about the corridor. He ran the school ‘adventure club’, preferred rugby to football, liked to recite a proverb or two and owned a canoe.

He was, all in all, a fairly conservative kind of bloke. But there was one strange mark on his character, an unlikely aesthetic chink in his armour, one fatal concession to flamboyance and silliness: he wore really, really short shorts.

This would have been the late 90s, but his shorts were from a different time altogether – the time of Steve Cram, Zola Budd, Geoff Capes and Gregory’s Girl. They were invariably made by obscure British sports brands whose names have long fallen into the charity shop ether. They stuck to the upper part of his thighs like newly applied wallpaper, with just enough give in the arse to cope with a yomp up the Brecon Beacons, and enough slack in the crotch to stop the child protection services coming in for a school visit.

Of course, shorts like this were always going to come back into fashion. Not only are they perfect fodder for fashion’s post-Demna obsession with ultra-normcore, but there’s something outrageous, noticeable, even glamorous about them. A certain quality that says “I have the nerve, and the legs, to wear these – and you don’t.”

So, who wears short shorts, as the song goes? The man of the future apparently – with the Spring/Summer ’19 shows chock full of Club Tropicana chic. Leading the charge are Prada, offering up the shortest of short shorts in a number of fabrics and styles – including neoprene and denim, in a collection that was part Richard Linklater, part Kevin Keegan.

Their French cousins Lanvin offered up a more streetwear-meets-schoolboy take on the form, with their offerings (some of which may even have been in polyester) swinging well above the knee, whilst Dries Van Noten had a more swimwear-influenced take on the concept.

Over in London, the always brilliant Martine Rose offered up a tighter, athleisure-inspired take on the form and the perennial trendy bloke’s favourites, Cottweiler, looked to the murky world of shellsuits and fun runs for inspiration – something I’m sure Mr Martin (wherever he is now) would approve of.

Clearly, these brands are following on from the recent re-acceptance of shorts by both the style community, and wider society. For so long, shorts were the domain of only tourists, ‘keep-fit enthusiasts’ and X-Games types – but as global warming pours down upon Northern Europe, the term ‘shorts out’ has become something of a meme, in London at least. Usually declared on the first day of worryingly warm weather, it’s an important moment in the pre-apocalyptic calendar.

Until now, most men have stuck to the safely-dimensioned JD Sports and Cos numbers – maybe a cut off jean if you’re Spanish. It’s true that we aren’t so afraid so show a calf any more, but your thighs are a different matter altogether.

This is probably because, like most of the trends we write about it in this column, short shorts are not for the huskier gentleman. If you’re carrying a bit of holiday weight on your bottom half, you’ll end up looking like a Matt Lucas character – if you’re a leg day guy, then you’ll end up looking like Stretch Armstrong. Chaps of a skinnier build might also shy away from the form, but according to the SS/19 collections, knobbly knees are in.

But when done right, the short has a refined, preppy, Dickie Greenleaf type of appeal. One that you’ll never get from your Nike Basketball numbers. It’s Monte Carlo, it’s Capri, it’s Mr Motivator, it’s Danny Dyer in The Business and Graeme Souness at Liverpool. It probably won’t work on the Holloway Road in September but does that ever really matter? The permission to wear short shorts has been granted – just make sure you tuck in your shirt.