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Shorts: Can men in the real world ever carry off exposed knees?

Designers love them, but can we really take a man in shorts seriously? Fashion editor Alexander Fury says yes, but chief political commentator John Rentoul – a habitual suit-wearer – begs to differ

Can we really take a man in shorts seriously? Well, in fact, shorts are fine – they’re standard sporting garb. You always take David Beckham seriously – except in a sarong. But there’s something about the shorts suit that strikes an odd note.

Designers love them – Sarah Burton showed them for spring 2014 in lace or jacquard for Alexander McQueen; Jil Sander’s were fluoro pink; Christopher Kane offered them in houndstooth, Donatella Versace’s were pinstriped. Length-wise they varied from mid-calf to mid-thigh. That’s a mighty big gap.

The shorts suit isn’t new: in the 1920s, men’s dress reformers railed against the tyranny of the suit, proposing knickerbockers and plus-fours as trouser alternatives. It didn’t take off. Its modern-day exponent is the American designer Thom Browne, known for putting men in point d’esprit tulle, tutus and fur. The usual attention-grabbing high-fashion hijinks, then. But since establishing his label in 2001 he’s also been packing men into shrunken suiting with hemlines sliced anywhere from just above the ankle to just below the crotch.

It’s an interesting challenge to the proportions, and to our suspension of disbelief. Although I’m personally unsure if most men are willing to button themselves into outfits that end up resembling overgrown school uniforms.

Nevertheless, Browne’s experimentations have had a seismic effect on masculine attire. Rolled-up hems on chino bottoms? A bum-freezer jacket buttoned tightly across the chest? Both can be traced to Thom. And Browne himself designs a line for Brooks Brothers. You can’t get more mass-appeal than that.

So the shorts suit is influential. But is it really worn? Fashionable men – or, rather, men who work in fashion – fall into them with glee. They’re the outfit of choice for high-octane, highly-visible celebrity stylist Brad Goreski. He’s hardly everyman. A suit chopped above the knee probably scares most blokes to death. It’s a hybrid, halfway between the formality of office garb and holiday attire. Plus it necessitates manscaping of leg-hair, and the eternal question of to sock or not to sock.

Maybe that’s the issue: it might be a hybrid between city suiting and weekend casual, but a shorts suit is a look that requires a lot of work.

The politics of short trousers

This is why I say “no” to shorts. Obviously they are more comfortable in the heat, although these ones weren’t – they were too tight and too woollen. But, love my colleagues as I do, I can’t expect them to take me seriously in shorts. This is no moral failing on their part – decades of social conditioning can be changed only slowly, and much as I admire the courage of pioneers, I am not cut out to be a Rosa Parks of men’s couture.

Yes, I have turned up to the office in flip-flops when it is really hot. I’m sure I read somewhere that women take their shoes off after an hour and four minutes on average, and I find it hard to keep mine on that long. They are usually off under the desk, but I don’t approve of clegging around the office in socks (the Deputy Prime Minister admitted last week that he “was padding around in my office without my shoes”).

The flip-flops were an emergency measure on a Saturday when the Tube was an underground heating duct. I wouldn’t wear them to the Palace of Westminster. Indeed, men are not allowed in the Commons Chamber or Members’ Lobby except in a suit and tie. That’s a bit fusty, but I’m a Fabian gradualist in all things: I’d rather see a slow transition to smart-casual than some of those ghastly cream suits. And, as long as most people think there is such a thing as the dignity of the office, and that it would be wrong for the Prime Minister to make statements in the House in shorts, I’ll keep the long trousers on.

The one thing I don’t understand about this shorts suit business is the jacket. If it’s hot enough for shorts, why would you wear a jacket as well?

John Rentoul

Summer scruffs

Women are often criticised for summer garb that is too revealing, or scruffy. But what of men? Yesterday, in central London, such unwise looks as socks with sandals, toddleresque cropped trousers, and skimpy trunks only fit for the beach, were deemed acceptable. What’s wrong with seersucker shorts, deck shoes  and a plain shirt, chaps?