An idea with legs
by Billy Warden
photographs by Tyler Northrup
If hell exists, the thermostat will be set at Summer in the South and the dress code will be—traditional men’s business attire.
The combination of scorching sunshine, soaring temperatures, and fitted, full-body coverings is a penance we men aren’t sure we deserve. Alas, in this modern era that sees so many segments of society moving toward less restrictive norms, there seems to remain one final taboo: professional men wearing shorts to work.
About the cursed subject, the popular news website Business Insider once said, “ … who is the promotion going to go to—the guy who wears a pressed button-up and khakis every day, or the guy who decides everyone in the office needs to see his pale legs … ?”
As if the threat of career ruin weren’t enough, note the writer’s dig at “pale legs.” Body shaming is warranted, it seems, by the notion of men’s bare knees making the office scene. In Raleigh, the idea is sometimes greeted as more radical than crepes at Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue. During the making of this essay and how-to photo spread, one aghast clothier scolded that encouraging shorts at work would only exacerbate men’s propensity “not to care what they look like or act like,” and generally hasten the end of society (or something like that).
But far from pulling the thread of an apocalypse, escaping the straightjacket of traditional business vestments—that is, wearing shorts to work—could help save the world. TIME magazine has made the case for shorts as a way to reduce the wildly wasteful chilled air blasting all summer in offices and other public buildings. Citing research from the Fashion Law Institute, TIME wrote: “ … American companies pay to keep their workplaces cooler than necessary—at least in part to allow their male staff to maintain a traditionally ‘mature’ business aesthetic.” Ditching business duds that scoff at the natural laws of summer and instead embracing shorts would partially stem the spewing of “pollutive coolants that raze the ozone.”
More guy gams on display, less global warming.
But wait, guardians of traditional garb will say, men already have hot-weather options that, not incidentally, keep their stems tastefully covered. Seersucker, for example. Or lightweight suits in pale colors. But wearing pastel-striped seersucker every workday simply doesn’t suit everyone. Besides, these are just workarounds to the obvious: bare legs, as professional women well know, offer a sensible way to ventilate when summer becomes a furnace.
I’m not advocating for dudes in Daisy Dukes—those itsy-bitsy shorts a la ’70s Hollywood. Men’s shorts come in a variety of lengths, from the micro to the modest. As inspiration, let’s look to a British trend last year. During the sweltering summer of 2017, one U.K. company bowed to pressure and announced that “…gentlemen in the office are permitted to wear ¾ length shorts.” This breakthrough occurred after a male employee protested a ban on shorts…by wearing a skirt.
Sadly, having achieved token success in merry ol’ England, the shorts-at-work revolution did not exactly catch on with gusto here across the pond. Still, it should, and it’s not too late. Consider: When we today look at a fading photo from the early 1900s of beachgoers in overly conservative cover-up bathing suits, we see yards of extraneous fabric pulled over shoulders and thighs. It seems overmuch, practically speaking. But metaphorically, perhaps, we see people who are not free to show themselves, who are not free to be themselves.
In the interest of showing mercy to us excessively swaddled males—or at least giving men room to breathe during the dog days—here are some suggestions for wearing shorts professionally. These outfits styled by local clothiers demonstrate that shorts at work, far from being the end of the world, might just be be a leggy leap forward.