Closet Constructor: How Short Can Your Shorts Be, Realistically?

Not so long ago, a 5" inseam was impossibly short. What about today?

May 24, 2024 12:36 pm
Closet Constructor
How short can men's shorts be nowadays?

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Welcome to Closet Constructor, a weekly series where I (a style editor) help you (a well-meaning person who likes clothes) discover new, interesting and affordable ways to really start dressin’.

Few topics are as hotly debated as inseams at InsideHook HQ. (Hot dogs, maybe.) Seemingly everyone in the office has thoughts on the ideal length for shorts — the range from pasted-on booty shorts to chaste below-the-knee chinos — and, given summer’s imminent arrival, conversation around the topic has only intensified.

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This should come as no surprise. Short length has been a divisive topic for decades, long hamster-wheeling the vicious trend cycle and leaving strong feelings about appropriate looks in its wake. Oldies will surely remember the whiplash from teeny-tiny jorts in the ‘80s to the Melo-esque basketball knee-lengths of the aughts, before oscillating right back around to Harry Style-approved leg-huggers in the year of our lord 2024. 

More of a shock, perhaps, is the fact that, even if the rapidly quickening sequence of cool-not cool, the 5” inseams — solidly mid-thigh for most men, barring hobbit status — have exercised some serious staying power for nearly a half-decade now. You have our previous advice to thank, naturally. 

Perhaps it’s thanks to an ideal ratio of freedom to security, or recently considered standards for what’s an appropriate amount of thigh tattoos to show (#slutboysummer), but while the Bushwick microcosm of knee-length jorts that saw a flair-up last year seems to have already flamed out, shorter shorts have remained a staple style in both high-fashion and mass-market for some time now. With public opinion and consumer habits more or less aligned, the foggy answer to length seems at once clear —  5 inches is, yet again, this summer’s official inseam.

But in a brave new world of thigh-forward summerwear, the question has to be asked — just how short can shorts get, exactly? With a reconfigured normal, what does pushing the envelope, should that be your prerogative, look like? Surely, there’s a limit to the amount of leg one can display. Is a 3” split short crossing the line? What would a 1” inseam even look like? How much bulge is too much bulge? 

These hypotheticals are contingent on a host of factors — size and shape, pastiness levels, comfort level with being objectified — and, for the most part, men will have to answer for themselves. However, there’s room to use some anecdotal evidence to benchmark general cultural sentiment. 

Chris Pine is onboard for a shorts short summer.
Variety via Getty Images

Unabashed thirstiness over Paul Mescal, Normal People star and patron saint of “thick thighs save lives”, would suggest that even dinkier inseams are more than viable, should you be so inclined. (Mescal’s go-to shorts, from Gaelic Football supplier O’Neills, are constructed with a 3” inseam.) Chris Pine has similarly embraced what looks to be a 4” inseam in some high-waisted corduroy shorts as part of his press looks for the forthcoming film Pool Man, a further go-ahead for “old guys rule” types everywhere.

Although I’m a 3” inseam guy myself, I will happily admit that short shorts are not for everyone, and anything under my chosen length can get dicey. If your legs aren’t one of your strengths, there is no shame in even a 7” inseam, although I strongly encourage you to give 5 inches a shot. (Dipping below the knee is hearsay, though.)

However, should you want to test the short-short waters for yourself, start with a modest 4” inseam — I’ve found that Tracksmith’s Van Cortland Grand Shorts offer a healthy combination of coverage and length. Pairing with a long-sleeve top (a rugby, or better yet, footy jersey is decidedly the move this summer) or lightweight jacket adds the right amount of proportional intrigue, and, when finished with a breezy pair of loafers, makes for a summer ‘fit to remember. 

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There it is. Your official permission to put the quads on display this summer, within. Thank us later, and enjoy the long weekend. Oh, and shop the look.

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