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A Look at the Great ‘Shorts at Work’ Debate

Fashion |

Every spring there are at least a dozen fashion editorials declaring that shorts are the big trend this summer. To which I say, in not so eloquent terms, “Well, duh.” Of course shorts are in. It’s summer. It’s hot. Shorts are an alternative to pants. We don’t need Anna Wintour to tell us that.

But in the last few years, the minds running the fashion industry have started to tell us how we can wear shorts in the office. This is very different then the days when shorts were really only worn if you were close to a beach or jogging. But somewhere along the line someone decided, in certain offices, you could wear shorts to work.

Shorts at work

In my mind, there is no doubt that shorts can’t look professional (Lindsay Lohan thinks they are appropriate for court appearances). Hey, in Bermuda business men wear shorts with high knee socks regularly. Shorts can be formal. Sometimes more formal than pants or dresses. But because of their history, they have gotten a bit of a negative reputation.

For a little bit of context, let’s take a short look at the history of shorts:

  • In 1932, tennis star Alice Marble wore knee-length, A-line bottoms to a professional tennis match and everyone freaked out because this was so scandalous. Wearing shorts to play a sport! Ridiculous! Women should play in long dresses!
  • Then all the pinups like Betty Grable started wearing them, but in even teenier versions. Audrey Hepburn (watch her in Sabrina) and socialites like C.Z. Guest managed to class them up, but then ladies like Marilyn Monroe could make them quite sexy by wearing a heel or a sexy top.
  • In 1971 hot pants entered the lexicon. These were super short, super tight, and super fly!
  • In 1979 actress Catherine Bach started wearing the tiniest pair of jean shorts the world had ever seen when she played Daisy Duke on The Dukes of Hazard. The shorts became known as Daisy Dukes, and were immortalized forever.
  • In 1989 Demi Moore became one of the worst-dressed Oscar attendees of all time when she wore a gown that featured a bustle and what looked like bicycle shorts. This was a bad moment for shorts.
  • Late 2000s: Somewhere in here shorts became acceptable formal wear. I think we owe a lot of this to Gwyneth Paltrow.
  • September 2012: Short suits (see Amanda Seyfried sporting one here) took over the runway at New York Fashion Week. Prabal Gurung, Jenni Kayne, and Marissa Webb all participated in the trend.

Okay, so now you are totally filled in, but this is still a debate. It is almost as good as the “H&M versus Forever 21″ debate. Even when it is an actual shorts suit, will people still take you seriously?

“What’s the difference between shorts and a skirt—even if they’re the same length? It’s that shorts are perceived as casual by nature, something that children wear, something we wear on weekends. That perception is changing,” said Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, in an interview.

I think in some fields it is absolutely changing, but I am pretty sure female lawyers and bankers will never be able to wear shorts to the office (partly because their offices are kept at 40 degrees). Now, for the past few years I have worked in casual environments where I could wear shorts. And I won’t lie, it is a very nice perk. But when I meet up with my friends who are dressed more conservatively for work, I feel a little silly. Suddenly I am a camp counselor and they are the Secretary of State (also, women in politics are never caught wearing shorts).

I think you can absolutely dress up shorts, especially with these beautiful suits, but showing more leg will always be different than pants. Of course, a long pair of formal shorts is very different than what Miley Cyrus wears every day, but in the big picture, a short is a short, of course, of course. In a poll done by work fashion site Corporette, when women were asked if they would wear shorts to the office, 72 percent said they would “Neeeeeeeeeeever,” or only perhaps if they were “suffering from a concussion or some other head injury.”

Basically, it really all comes down to where you work. If you work in an office where shorts are perfectly acceptable, then show off those gams (though I still think you should shy away from sporting the Daisy Dukes in the office), but if you don’t, stick to the pencil skirts and pants. And those are regular pants, not hot ones.

What’s your take on the Great Shorts Debate? Tell us in the comments!

Ask Kate White, Former Editor-In-Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine, if she thinks it’s appropriate to wear shorts at work!

Photo courtesy of Atlantic-Pacific

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6 Comments

It has already happened with women,at least occasionally on fridays,but not yet among men,who are still wearing longs all year round.Such is the injustice of our developed society,which allows women miniskirts everyday and shorts occasionally,yet forces men to cover their legs completely all the time.It is the men whom u should be writing your article for.

2y

I would support this article if it were writing about ways to allow shorts which are suitable FOR MEN at work,but once again,u people are only focused on how to make women more comfortable.What does that make us men?Why must we go about the same jobs in a long sleeved shirt and full long pants?I'd love to put on some shorts too,and I believe many men would too.

3y

I think fashion is constantly changing and that it has become acceptable for women to wear shorts at work. I think women can pull off the look although there needs to be a limit as to how “short” the shorts can get. As with everything else, wearing shorts need to be in moderation.

3y

How is it acceptable for women to wear shorts to work when men arent even allowed to do it?I'm stunned enough that miniskirts and tank tops are allowed for them.Come on,let us men try the shorts on first,dont hog all the comfort fashion,women.

3y

I think women can pull off wearing shorts to work considering the place we work in. If, like in my case, you work in a more creative space where there are no dress codes, then sure, go ahead! However, I think that doesn't give everyone the liberty to go around wearing micro shorts or wearing too bright or even beach shorts. Depending on how it's tailored, the material, and the over-all ensemble, I think shorts can have its place in the office.

3y

Isnt miniskirt enough?Now women want to wear shorts to work AND THINK THEY CAN PULL IT OFF?Come on,have some decency and leave the shorts-wearing to the men first,OK?We've had enough of tottering about in long pants in stuffy rooms without aircon or in the hot weather.Plus,men dont wear miniskirts,so its only reasonable to allow us to wear shorts if the situation and weather permits.Beach shorts a no no of course.

3y
Meredith Lepore

Meredith is the Editor at Large for Levo League. Before that she was the Editor in Chief of The Grindstone and was on staff at Business Insider. She has written for magazines including Marie Claire, SELF, Women's Health and Cosmopolitan. She earned her Masters in Magazine, Newspaper and Online journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Meredith resides in New York full time and enjoys SoulCycle, jogging and playing with her Yorkshire Terrier Otis, who also loves SoulCycle.