Shorts on the Dolce & Gabbana catwalk, spring/summer 12

From thigh-high to daringly skimpy, shorts are this season's must-have staple. Or are they? Our fashion writers get to the bottom of a short story...

FOR: Shorts offer the easy breeziness of a skirt, but won't expose your knickers in a brisk wind

Rebecca Gonsalves

As is its wont, fashion can provoke the most extreme reactions in people, with garments eliciting gasps of desire and fright at once and it seems that nothing causes quite as much controversy as shorts. Sitting on the fence about shorts on anyone over pigtail-wearing age, apparently just won't do.

I can understand why some people would find a pair of shorts a frightening prospect and of course sympathise with all of those whose wardrobes are blighted by this shortsophobia. "Those things aren't for the likes of me," they say as if on some lo-fi Public Service Announcement, pointing to thighs they deem too chunky or scrawny, bumpy or lumpy. "Pish posh," say I.

Admittedly, by the late Nineties shorts seemed to have passed the point of redemption. Whether that was thanks to the proliferation of All-American high-waisted stonewashed denim or its rave-addled friend, the day-glo Lycra cycling short, is up for debate. Regardless, shorts were acceptable attire for holidays and heatwaves only (remember those?) and scorn would be poured on any who diverged from that righteous path. But we're all far more enlightened now.

For many, when the mercury rises, so too must hemlines and thus skirts enter a period of heavy rotation in summer wardrobes. But for every type of skirt there is a style of shorts that would work just as well, if not better. In the same way a skirt can be form-fitting, frumpy or somewhere in between so too can a pair of shorts. For those of us who get through as many months of the year as possible with legs firmly shrouded in trousers, the idea of relinquishing our security blanket in favour of a skirt is a terrifying one. To a true shorts aficionado, culottes are an interloper; neither one thing nor the other. To those less militant about these things, however, they are the best of both worlds, providing the easy breeziness or formality of a skirt, as well as promising not to expose your pants should a brisk wind pick up.

Take if you will, the tailored short suit – go on take it and try it on with a loose jersey T-shirt tucked in just so and a pair of heels as high as your ankles can handle. Choose a pair where the hem hits your mid-thigh at just the most flattering point and marvel at the way a high waist and a turn-up provide the structure necessary to balance that extra few inches of flesh. If it was a skirt this would be an inappropriate length, but thanks to that handy in-built modesty-preserver this ensemble is acceptable to wear to the most formal events. Just ask aficionados Kate Moss, Alexa Chung and Olivia Palermo, who aren't afraid to wear shorts of every creed and cut and can be credited with helping bring the garment back from the brink. The catwalks this season are further proof that there are myriad styles of shorts from which to select the best pair to boost your assets. Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace and Jason Wu all sent the shortest of shorts down the catwalk... and why not?

If you have the courage to reveal such an expanse of leg, the reward will be an optical illusion of the lengthening variety. This is one look to experiment with on holiday, when a suntan and daily swims work together to boost your confidence – and muscle tone. But upon your return don't consign those knickerbockers to the back of the wardrobe – they make an edgy substitute for a miniskirt when the dress code calls for something glamorous or girly.

Of course, I'm not advocating the half-moon denim hotpants immortalised by Daisy Duke as office-appropriate wear even when teamed with a pair of black opaques (NB these will not make your bottom invisible to Dave from accounts – indeed quite the opposite).

But as demonstrated by Rihanna, Rita Ora et al, if you've got it, why not flaunt it, whatsoever that "it" may be.

AGAINST: I believe only a chosen few can get away with wearing them, and most of them live on the Continent

Harriet Walker

I agree, shorts may not immediately seem an obvious target for fashionable contempt. But just look around you. Their every variant, from boardies to hot pants, via combat styles (nobody needs that many pockets) and even tailoring, is wrong. Am I right, or am I right?

They may be comfortable. They might feel nice. They might be one easy concession to the fact it's warmer outside than it has been all year and probably won't stay that way for very long. But really, what are shorts if not just another way to make yourself look daft?

And before you cry: "They're practical, bog off!", let's just reconsider for a moment: when was the last time you had sweaty legs?

Shorts are based on a misguided premise: there are plenty of other body parts you could expose to greater effect if all you're after from is a certain degree of cool breeze.

Let me explain right now that this is not the opinion of a body fascist; far be it from me to tell you to hide your pasty/wobbly/Twiglet (delete as applicable) legs away all summer. No, it's simply that any sort of leg, when encased in a short, will simply not look its best. I just feel duty-bound to let you know. If the shorts are baggy, you'll look unkempt and a bit pantomime. And if they are tight… Well, there's a reason why Daisy Dukes got their name, and that's because only one woman ever looked good in them. If they are short shorts, you run the risk of offending old women and teenage girls. And if they are long, you might be mistaken for a Blink 182 fan, in which you'll offend the rest of us.

Every summer for men, there comes the exhortation to trying wearing a "city short" to work, presumably so that cash-strapped employers can cut down on their air-con bills. This breed is a smart, streamlined and tailored affair and can be worn with a blazer or jacket as if part of a suit. The sort of suit that Just William might wear to school, for instance. Is he really one of your style icons? I didn't think so. Of course, you could just pair them with a polo shirt or nautical T-shirt, if you'd rather emulate the pool boys at a high-end country club. Just don't forget to pull your socks right up too. Worryingly, women are also encouraged to work a "city short" sometimes: shoots in classy magazines often show tanned and efficient-looking specimens wearing smart, to-the-knee shorts, usually clutching a Filofax and a Frappucino, hailing cabs in the sunshine or striding down a boulevard on her mobile phone.

But just transpose this to Britain. We'd all look like Wee Jimmy Krankie.

It's my firm belief that only a chosen few can really get away with wearing shorts, and most of them live on the Continent. The others are sports stars – and this is a shorts rule to abide by: if your heartrate isn't up, take them off and put your trousers back on.

And if you are a woman in search of ventilation, wear a skirt. There is a style to suit every shape and the options are infinite. With a pair of shorts, your only choice is between making your bum look enormous or having your knees resemble a pair of lumpy, grumpy medieval woodcuts poking out the bottom of two drainpipes.

There is however an exception to the rule: the "high-fashion short" shouldn't be overlooked, but it's definitely an acquired taste. Wrapped and layered "skorts" by the likes of Rick Owens, Damir Doma and Comme des Garçons are avant-garde in the extreme, but proof enough that shorts plus a bit of drapery equals something really rather interesting.

And don't dismiss shorts of the drop-crotch, dhoti variety, which can also look brilliant thanks to that swatch of extra material between the thighs.

But be warned, these you must buy in a boutique rather than on your gap year.

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