Keep in mind while reading this column that it’s written by the person who, back in the day, was the first to wear Bermuda shorts in his middle-class New Jersey neighborhood.
Times have changed. Men in shorts as everyday wear is nothing new nowadays. That’s to say, men have been wearing shorts in warm weather for several decades.
What’s developed more recently is that men are increasingly wearing shorts during the colder months. Because this January has been unusually frigid across the country, men in shorts are even more noticeable. Who’da thunk it? But there they are-not in enormous numbers, mind you. But enough of them to make you think (and look) twice and perhaps feel the chill for them that they don’t seem to be experiencing themselves.
Many of them are barelegged between the knee and the tops of their shoes. Some concede to the below-freezing temperatures by wearing over-the-calf (“otc,” in the vernacular) socks. (One fearless fellow I saw striding along the street had on blaring yellow socks.) Some, but not as many as you might guess, wear their shorts over tights, usually black.
(Since I’m based in New York City, I should point out that I’m writing about my immediate vicinity and can’t speak for regions where temperatures, including the ominous wind-chill factor, are on the more numbing side of zero. Is this the case in Rochester or Chicago or Minneapolis or Fargo? I can’t comment. Maybe you can, wherever you are. I’d be glad to hear about any sightings of the shorts-adorned, or yourselves, in other provinces.)
So what does this indicate about men and their choices? Not having stopped any of the ones I’ve seen to ask why they’re going about as they are, I merely speculate. Perhaps it’s a way to tell the world (but tacitly) how macho they are at a time where metrosexual dressing is supposedly on the wane. “Who’s not a man?” the wearer appears to be signaling. “I’m wearing shorts in weather not fit for man nor beast, and you’re not.”
I’ve commented to friends about the new winter look. A couple of them have said the shorts-sporters are either on their way to the gym or leaving it. I agree in many instances that’s the right surmise, but maybe not in every case. And remember, it wasn’t so long ago that men on the way to or from the gym all wore trousers. It’s also likely that shorts have become a way of life for many men, certainly for joggers, at a time when the words “casual” and “cool” are rife.
As mentioned above, this wasn’t always the situation in the early to middle part of the 20th century. Although men wore shorts for the appropriate sports and when at the beach wore bathing suits that had been becoming trimmer since the 1920s and ’30s, they didn’t normally wear shorts in the broader public. Typically, women and children wore shorts, with the day a boy graduated to trousers being a big occasion.
That’s why I began this report by referring to my Bermuda shorts adventure. Bermuda shorts hit stateside in the ’50s, and the origins are obvious if you go by the name. They’re less obvious when you realize the British-many of the men having spent time in India-introduced the new look to Bermuda about a century ago.
As the post-World War II years melted into the Eisenhower era amid the growth of leisure time, Bermuda shorts made sense. Maybe not initially in my neck of the urban woods, where older dress codes continued to prevail. The first on their block, as I was, got funny looks, as I did, and worse, as I didn’t quite, from the long-pants holdouts.
The sign that things had taken a more accepting turn might be traced to the song “Bermuda Shorts,” recorded in the summer of 1957 by The Delroys and released on the Apollo label. The rock ‘n’ roll disk begins with a hook that goes “Bermuda Bermuda ‘muda shorts” and goes on to a lyric calling the apparel “wild” to off-rhyme with “smile.” It includes the sentiments “All the girls were admiring me” and “All the chicks started whistling at me.”
Right about that time, attitudes changed. Shortly (pun intended), shorts were so much in style that the just-above-the-knee Bermudas began to be superseded by shorts ending higher on the thigh. In particular, shorts for women inched up to the point where the Royal Teens’ 1958 chart climber was “Short Shorts.” At the Royal Teens piano in American Bandstand footage-but not wearing either Bermudas or shorter shorts-is Bob Gaudio, later of The Four Seasons.
What won’t be considered here is whether shorts of whatever length are flattering to all men as, for instance, formalwear is. (What certainly won’t be considered is at what point shorts that fall below the knee become more accurately described as cropped trousers.)
Shorts in or out of winter are, like many other styles, not for everyone, but that doesn’t mean those for whom shorts are questionable won’t go for it. I say more power to them. More power, too, if they need it, to men who think their legs are so great they need to show them off in winter as well as in spring, summer and fall. (Okay, men in shorts and T-shirts that ride up over their beer bellies don’t normally enhance the landscape, but to each his own.)
What about sales statistics on shorts? It’s no easy task to get specific figures. The best I could locate was an April 2011 article in London’s Telegraph that said Asos, the online fashion company, claimed shorts sales had recently increased 110 percent due to uncommonly torrid English summer. And for what it’s worth, the article also included this paragraph:
The sales figures come just a week after Tom Ford, the designer, declared that it was unacceptable for any men to leave the house in shorts, however hot the weather, unless it was to visit a beach or tennis court. He declared they were simply “never appropriate.”
Imagine what he’d say about shorts in winter.
By the way, there is another related type of winter shorts wearer: the hockey fan. Two of them, whom I took for a father-daughter team, walked past me the other day. Since I don’t live far from Madison Square Garden, I thought they might have been headed there. Wherever they were bound, they were both in full Rangers regalia. The only things missing were hockey sticks and pucks. Yup, fans, it looks as if the family that wears shorts together consorts together.