As a foreword, this is an opinion piece and I recognize that there may be some generalizations that may rattle a cage or two. If you happen to fall into this category by the time you finish reading, I would recommend ingesting a grain of salt and gently reminding yourself that this is fashion… nothing should be taken too seriously.
If you, like me, are a man who generally enjoys clothing, has a connection to the interweb, and is frequently bored, you have probably come across an article or two on how a well-dressed chap should appropriately wear shorts. Most of these pieces are aimed at the average guy and begin with a paragraph to assuage men into the fact that they can, in fact, wear shorts in public without fear of social alienation or being struck by lightning or whatever. There are plenty of reasons for this rooted in menswear history, not least of which include the fact that shorts were historically only worn by young boys and only gained popular prominence among adults following the second World War.
Either way, once these longstanding anxieties have been quelled, next comes the doling out of more-or-less the same cafeteria-style sartorial advice of “not too high above the knee,” “not too far below the knee,” and “just at or slightly above the knee is perfect,” all the while subtly, and sometimes actively, shunning anything to the contrary or too far into left field. And while I’m sure some find these Goldilocks-esque recommendations helpful, personally, I find the reading of said articles a little problematic and reinforcing of heteronormative values in fashion. These values already limit pretty much everything men wear with unspoken and spoken rules, actively mobilizing regulatory norms in social situations oft in the form of public, inter-male judgement. Evidence: Marc Jacobs and the Scottish can wear a kilt (AKA a skirt) but any man on the street doing the same will get stared at like a car crash and most definitely verbally harassed.
But back to shorts. Advice on how to wear them appears posited on the idea of men being afraid of wearing them in the first place and only by following a strict set of “rules” that subscribe to previously mentioned heteronormative masculine values will guys be able to pass unnoticed through the general public or be considered fashionable. The mere fact that there are so many “how-to guides” floating around cyberspace is proof of this. In the length-driven world that males live in (interpret that as you will), it seems that one’s masculinity and, if it applies to you, heterosexuality are often measured visually by the length of one’s shorts. Perhaps I spent too much time in Montreal, where Quebecois men seem to have less hang-ups about these sorts of things, but I do not equate manliness with the height of a hem. And yes, while I realize these pieces are written as general guidelines that nobody has to actually follow (I most certainly do not), my issue revolves around the prevalence of a certain, singular viewpoint: the underlying tone of fear, and the constant maintenance the status quo.
Admittedly, I am a bit of an advocate for the short short so I am biased. However, I am also not saying there is a right or wrong way for everyone to wear shorts. Instead, I believe that men’s fashion should be allowed to be fun and whimsical, as is often portrayed for womenswear, and that fashion writers, as a collective, should consider these ideals. Otherwise, they are just playing into the underlying negative beliefs that keep limitations on all people in place.