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From the Beach to the Office—Shorts are Making Their Way into Professional Settings

With temperatures rising, should pant hemlines be doing the same? From the beach to the office, shorts have come a long way

Rabih Kayrouz

When Catherine, Princess of Wales stepped out at a boating event in Plymouth in August last year sporting a jaunty nautical look, it was more than her sailing skills that set the tabloids alight. The royal completed her outfit with tailored white shorts and sneakers, her toned and tanned limbs a stark reminder to never skip leg day.

Catherine, Princess of Wales

Not everyone is blessed with the princess’s pins – but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the sheer exhilaration that comes from wearing a pair of comfortable, practical shorts. While there are certainly places where modesty across cultures would preclude the wearing of shorts for both men and women, the office is the new frontier for naked knees. Yet donning a pair of shorts in a professional setting could feel a bit risqué at first, especially in a more conservative setting. The streets of Paris might be full of elegant women in their city shorts, but could an average person with legs not quite of the Sporty Spice persuasion pull it off? The answer, if my own experience is to be believed, is a resounding yes. It might be the refreshing breeze, it might be the freedom from constantly worrying about a skirt riding up, but I am a convert. Shorts are not just for hiking and holidays. Who knew? Every chic Parisienne, it appears. And contrary to my early morning fears of looking like Little Lord Fauntleroy, my mid-thigh length pair of sharply tailored shorts, worn with an oversized blazer, makes me feel modern, classic, and chill.

Louis Vuitton Resort 2024

“Shorts are definitely appropriate for the office,” says Persian-American designer Amir Taghi. The Central Saint Martins and Parsons alumnus references his namesake luxury brand’s double pleated and cuffed Katy shorts as an “easy and modern” option, suggesting pairing them with a chiffon bow blouse or structured blazer. “I have always been a big believer that every woman should have a pair of shorts in their wardrobe. I’m inspired by women who dress to the beat of their own drum,” he says. For the office, think mid-thigh to knee-length, nothing shorter, tailored not shapeless, and straight or slightly A-line – leave the cut-offs and culottes for after hours. It is essential that the fit is perfect, with no sagging, bulging pockets, or riding up. This versatile silhouette can be paired the same you would a skirt, with the bonus of looking cool with pristine sneakers or chunky sandals.

Tom Ford SS23

The summer runways were awash with shorts of all lengths and iterations. At Tom Ford SS23 they were predictably tiny and shiny, or cargoed and embellished, Gucci Resort paired skinny, utilitarian pairs with big blazers, and Hermès showed tailored and wide versions in desert sunset colors or earthy tans, terracotta, and deep pink. Isabel Marant, meanwhile, brought her signature festival flair to shorts both miniscule and deconstructed. Rabih Kayrouz regularly includes canvas tailored shorts in his ready-to-wear offerings, saying they are “perfect for a hot summer day,” while Sandra Mansour has also given cycling shorts her unique touch. Zuhair Murad has created flowy shorts to pair with a matching blazer and strappy heels. Moroccan-French designer Charaf Tajer includes shorts in every collection for his label Casablanca, particularly drawing on the world of tennis. Head of design Rajinder Johal believes the climate of the Middle East means shorts should be an integral part of your wardrobe, albeit styled appropriately for each occasion. “Shorts are a versatile garment that can be worn with a tailored jacket or a fluid shirt,” he explains. “It’s for the woman who is constantly on the move and enjoys the art of bringing unexpected items together.”

Hermès SS23

While shorts have been maligned for ages as being informal, even juvenile and inappropriate, this probably stems from the fact that their moniker itself comes from “short pants,” denoting a certain “lesser than” quality. Traditionally worn by children before they reached puberty and by adults on holiday and while exercising, shorts have come a long way since the bloomers of the early 20th century. Before then, women couldn’t show their legs in public, but the Roaring 20s heralded a new age. Women were taking part in sport and needed the attire to match, so hemlines – and eyebrows – started rising. By the following decade, some women were wearing Bermuda shorts to participate in athletics. During the Second World War, when women filled the factory jobs left open by men fighting, workers would often wear loose-fitting shorts in durable fabrics to help them move easier. Yet once the war was over, it was back to covered legs for women, with some towns and cities in the US even banning the wearing of shorts in public by anyone older than 16. This didn’t last long, though, and by the Sixties and Seventies social mores had relaxed to the point where Daisy Dukes – those super short denim cutoffs named for the character from The Dukes of Hazzard who made them famous – were all the rage. Today, sporting a matching shorts and shirt set is a fast track to summer style. Just be considerate about the context and fastidious about the fit.

Originally published in the July/August 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia

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