The Great Shorts Debate

Jul 17 2013 @ 12:29pm

As the raging heat wave rekindles the debate over whether it’s proper for men to wear shorts when not exercising or going to the beach, Ryan O’Hanlon looks to Professor Susan Kaiser, an expert in the psychology of clothing, for some historical perspective:

Within Western culture, the history of shorts becomes intertwined with those of breeches or 3735401277_04a529131a_zculottes (worn prior to the French Revolution in 1789), and thereby linked with issues of class as well as masculinity. Long trousers had been worn by the working classes, whereas aristocratic and bourgeois men wore breeches/knickers/culottes. This changed after the revolution, and long pants began to be worn by men of all classes in the 19th century.

Shorts per se were for little boys, who “evolved” into their manhood by switching from long white dresses (infants) to shorter white dresses (toddlers) to shorts (little boy) to breeches (middle childhood or so) to long trousers (probably teens). This progression—associated with the 19th and early 20th centuries—was associated not only with age grades but also with a kind of “flight from femininity” and toward manhood. (The implication, of course, is that femininity did not have the same trajectory; it was infantilized to a much greater extent.)

Alex Balk, who has written about shorts on at least 20 occasions over the past three years (including the classic “Iran Cracks Down On Men In Shorts, And Good For Them”) responded to O’Hanlon’s post with one entitled “Men Wear Pants Because That’s What Men Do.” On the other hand, native Floridian Hamilton Nolan insists that forgoing shorts “is nothing more than a declaration that you enjoy walking around with a serious case of sweat-soaked swampass for a large portion of the year.”

I’m for them if Jon Hamm joins in.

(Photo from Jasper Gregory)