How to Pick Out the Perfect Vintage Military Shorts

Short and wide, just how we like them

July 21, 2020 9:02 am
army navy store shorts
The ideal military short is built to be worn and worn-out

A month or so ago, as the temperature started to climb, I started rifling through my under-bed storage looking for one of the linchpins of my summertime wardrobe: my favorite pair of shorts. They were my dad’s before mine; I nicked them from his closet a few years back. Made from heavy cotton, they have two small pleats, a high rise, wide opening and short inseam. To the best of my deduction, they are vintage French military shorts, or European military of some sort — the internal markings and sizing point that direction.

Military-style shorts have been a popular staple of menswear for at least the past decade. I am not talking about cargo shorts, but the style of short most associated with the British Military and dubbed a Gurkha short. Wide-legged, pleated and with a complicated adjustable waistband, these shorts started as a piece of kit for the Royal Gurkha Rifles of the British Army and then soon spread to the rest of the British military. Other military shorts existed alongside the Gurkha short, mostly the same save for the signature waist adjusters. 

 Today, you are more likely to see this style of short on a menswear blog than on a battlefield. Everyone from Uniqlo to Kaptain Sunshine to Engineered Garments and Ralph Lauren has made military-“style” shorts. But why not get the real deal? You can still find plenty of the real deal military shorts on eBay if you know how to look for them.

The recipe for the perfect military short is pretty simple. Like I listed off about my dad’s old shorts, they need to be nice and roomy in the leg, not too long, have a pleat or two, and preferably be done in a tan or green heavy cotton fabric. The more you dig, you’ll find that there are more colors than you would’ve expected. This style of short is much more associated with European militaries than vintage U.S. military issue, which are usually shortened fatigue trousers from the Vietnam era.  

When searching on eBay, keep your terms as general as possible, select “militaria” for your category, and lastly I would recommend ticking off only “used/pre-owned” as the condition — this helps keep out awful camouflage cargo shorts and the like. I’ve been collecting and hunting for vintage on eBay since I was a kid, and here are some of the best looking military shorts I’ve come across. 

Cold War Canadian Forces Men’s Tropical Tan Shorts 1978 Dated

The Canadian military takes a lot more design cues from the British than their southern neighbor for good reason. These are the tamest of the lot, with a flat front and a pretty subdued look overall. You’ll notice sizing can be a bit tricky with different types of military issue; this pair is made for someone 67 inches tall with a 34-inch waist, but on eBay, you can always reach out to the seller to request measurements if you aren’t sure. 

British troops in their stellar shorts, 1940 (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Italian Army Shorts

The Italians and the French militaries made the best shorts in my book. This Italian pair has amazing back pockets and looks to be plenty wide in the leg without any added length. A good tip when hunting on eBay: if you find something that piques your interest, look at the sellers’ other items. This seller has a large variety of surplus shorts from different countries and sizes. There is also another pair from a different seller here

French Army / Foreign Legion shorts 

These are the closest to the pair of shorts I swiped from my dad’s closet. Even the size label is the same. The only thing different is the double pockets in the back. I would say these are the platonic ideal for what you’re looking for: not too complicated or overly military in vibe, with simple pleats that don’t make you look like a dad on vacation in the ’80s or something atrocious. These seem to be referred to as “M46” shorts, which can help when searching out a pair. 

French Marine Nationale White Cotton and Linen shorts 

I am a huge fan of white shorts. While most military shorts fall somewhere between khaki and light dirt in color, if you gear your searches towards Navy shorts, you will be in better luck. Again, the French Navy knows how to make a good pair of shorts, with their “Marine Nationale” white linen-cotton mix shorts looking very good. The British Royal Navy also has a variety of white shorts that you can easily find on eBay from bulk surplus sellers. 

Gotta Go Gurkha

If you want to stick to a Gurkha-style adjustable waistband, there are also a few of those around as well. This seller from Australia has rare large sizes of the shorts in new old-stock condition from the early 1950s. You can find similar vintage pairs, but they can be a bit tricky to find. I would suggest not searching for “Gurkha shorts” but rather focus on your searches on Commonwealth country army shorts, like “Australian army shorts” or “British Army shorts,” etc. This will lead to more under the radar and authentic finds.

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