Get Shorty

The site of men’s goose-fleshy calves is as sure a sign of impending – but not yet arrived – summer as any swallow. Shorts, it seems, are the sunshine default, a warm weather fallback for too many men relieved that the days of having to think about the best way to dress are temporarily over.

It’s as though the first day the thermometer creeps into double digits, some of us feel we must immediately break free of the long-legged prisons our pins have been locked in all winter. It’s not so much a sartorial decision made in response to warmer weather, but rather a seasonal expression of hope – style sacrificed like Aztec children in order to placate the summer gods.

Maybe this urgent desire to break free that explains the prevalence of board shorts; of Fred Durst-style baggies that could double up as sails; of nauseating patterns and cuts so unflattering you’d rather it was raining, so as not to have to endure acres of flesh bursting from fabric even Daisy Duke would reject for being too revealing.

Each summer, some of us plump for shorts for their practicality, with little time spent mulling ideas of how to build an outfit or flatter our physique. But less fabric needn’t necessarily mean less style.

Scout The Skies

Spring weather is changeable; the azure skies you leave home under are likely to bruise by the time you’re off the bus, and often break by lunch. We all know it’s easy to remove layers if you’ve overcommitted; less so to add ones you’ve not brought with you.

No matter the midday mercury, wearing shorts in spring is an acceptance that you’ve got no after-dark al fresco plans, so check your diary before committing to this decision.

“Don’t dive in too early,” says Farfetch private client executive Phil Green, who advises leaving it until at least mid-May before breaking out your shorts. Of course, that advice is moot if you’ve swapped Britain’s rain-lashed streets for your Riviera retreat (more on that later).

A better bet for the transitional season is opting for summer-suitable fabric – think 10oz (and below) denim, cool wool or cotton chinos, with cuffs rolled and socks ditched if the sun comes out. Please note at this point that any one item which is both trousers and shorts – made possible by some natty knee zips, say – is as sartorially expired as Schrödinger’s cat and really only suitable when leading your scout troop to jamboree.

Length Matters

Over the last few years, shorts have got shorter. It’s traditional to lay the blame at Daniel Craig’s overexposed legs, ever since his Ursula Andress-esque stride from the sea in Casino Royale, sporting a pair of La Perla shorts that took their name a little too literally.

But what’s suitable for Bond on a Caribbean beach doesn’t translate well to a barbecue in Colchester.

“A length that grazes the bottom of the thigh is best,” says Dan May, style director at Mr Porter. “It’s the most flattering to any body shape and avoids cutting off the knee.” May also advocates a cuff at the bottom: “It offers the illusion of shortness without showing too much flesh.”

That low thigh sweet spot is imperative even if you’re trying to cover up rather than show off. As with your upper half, acres of fabric only serve to draw the eye to precisely the thing you’re trying to divert attention from.

Even men with big thighs should opt for a slight taper to the knee, while the edges of your shorts shouldn’t extend beyond hip width, otherwise you risk boxiness that makes your calves appear puny in comparison. Ditto anything with cargo pockets – having things to carry was a problem you solved by picking up one of our key bag styles.

What Lies Beneath

Shorts are, by their very nature, revealing. So make sure what you unveil is worth showing off. You don’t need Chris Hoy’s legs to look good in shorts, but some muscle definition will boost your confidence and enable you to dabble in more options. “Building a toned physique means you can be more experimental in your choice of shorts,” says May, “so that both tailored and sports-inspired looks work well.”

If you’ve got a gym membership, perform three sets of each of the below with a pair of heavy dumbbells in hand. If not, fill a pair of shopping bags with tins and blitz through them at home.

Lunges x 12

Stand with your feet together and your shoulders back. Step forward with your right leg and sink down so your left knee almost brushes the floor. Drive back through your right heel to bring your feet back together, and repeat.

Perform all your reps on one side then switch to the other leg to carve out shorts-filling hamstrings.

Dumbbell LungesImage: Bodybuilding.com

Squats x 15

Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Keeping your back slightly arched, shoulders back and chest out, push your hips backwards to slowly sink down into a squat, focusing on keeping your knees over your toes.

Once your thighs are parallel with the floor, pause, and then drive up explosively through your heels for defined quads that will encourage an extra cuff turn-up.

Dumbbell SquatsImage: Bodybuilding.com

Calf Raises x 15

To hone the part of your leg people can actually see, stand with the balls of your feet on a step and heels unsupported. Sink down so your toes are higher than your heels, then drive back up explosively.

Hold the position briefly, then slowly lower yourself back down and repeat.

Calf RaisesImage: Bodybuilding.com

Pattern

It’s a mystery why men who otherwise eschew pattern even on their socks embrace coruscating visuals the minute their legs are on show. “If ever in doubt, always keep it simple,” says May.

Vilebrequin’s lobster motifs are fine for tanned, muscular legs strolling along the Cote d’Azur, but if you’re breaking out chicken skin pins then dark block-colours work best. On which note, a pre-summer dose of fake tan-infused moisturiser means you won’t be unveiling legs sadly bleached by winter.

If you’ve not been shirking legs day then trying pattern becomes easier – busier shorts draw the eye, after all – but be sure everything else is muted. “Make sure whatever you do on top is simple, otherwise you can look a little try-hard,” says May.

Men's Patterned Shorts - Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

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Here, There & Everywhere

No one short style works everywhere. Those knee-length Alexander Wang netted beasts might look great on the streets of Shoreditch, but they probably won’t go down as well at your folks’ anniversary garden party.

Knowing what to wear and when is even more important when you’ve got less material to play with. If in doubt, stick to plain, muted and neutral designs which can be paired with almost everything in your wardrobe.

Men's Plain and neutral shorts outfit inspiration lookbook

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  • J.crew Stanton White Cotton-twill ShortsJ.crew Stanton White Cotton-twill Shorts
The Relaxed Weekend

If it’s a kicking back, rather than dinner at the in-laws, kind of weekend, “channel the gymwear as streetwear trend,” says May.

“Go for a pair of jersey shorts, tee and sneakers.”

Men's Sports and Jersey Shorts Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

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  • Carhartt Chase Sweat Shorts In BlackCarhartt Chase Sweat Shorts In Black
  • Theory Stretch-shell ShortsTheory Stretch-shell Shorts
  • Nike Tz Shell ShortsNike Tz Shell Shorts
  • Oliver Spencer Loungewear Supima Cotton-jersey ShortsOliver Spencer Loungewear Supima Cotton-jersey Shorts
Holiday

“There are a lot more beach-to-bar options nowadays,” says May, mainly thanks to Orlebar Brown’s work in elevating shorts with intelligent cuts and fabrics that work as well in the water as at dinner.

“Always make sure they’re dry and team with a polo shirt and pair of swims to make the transition effortless.”

Orlebar Brown Swim Shorts are designed to go from beach to barImage: Orlebar Brown

Summer Party

Best done abroad (when you’re guaranteed morning to evening heat), with the right outfit shorts can go from off-duty to semi-formal. “Team them with a linen blazer, crisp white shirt and loafers, or a cardigan, shirt and Derbies,” says May.

Thanks to Pharrell, the short suit is also an increasingly feasible option. “Just remember to go for a darker colour to avoid looking twee.”

Men's shorts with blazers and short suits outfit inspiration lookbook

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Final Word

Injecting your looks with personality is trickier in the summer, simply because you’ve got less to work with. But that doesn’t mean defaulting to the wacky, or putting your usually upstanding sartorial sense into warm-weather hibernation.

Just remember the golden rules – length, cut and pattern – and your shorts can take you from office to bar.

Have you broken yours out yet? And where do you fall on the length debate?

Let us know in the comments section below.