Micro shorts for men: how short is too short?

Priya Elan Deputy fashion editor
·3 min read

As the weather gets hotter, public spaces open up and people prepare to make the most of the Covid lockdown easing, it is the fashion question that has sparked debate online – just how short should shorts be?

Last week, the This is Us actor Milo Ventimiglia was photographed leaving the gym wearing a pair of tiny shorts and it reignited a debate about how much leg was appropriate to reveal.

On TikTok, under the hashtag #5inchseam, users expressed their love for shorts that have an inseam measurement of 5.5in. The hashtag has 28.4m views, while Google searches for short shorts have surged.

The baring of more male leg is not new: last year the actor Paul Mescal, of the BBC series Normal People, went viral after he was photographed in short shorts. And the singer Harry Styles was spotted in a tiny pair in Italy last summer.

But after a year of working from home and only showing our top halves on Zoom conference calls, the reveal of our legs from beneath the darkness of our desks seems significant.

It begs the question: post-vaccine, does part of the return to fashion’s Roaring 20s include a reveal of more flesh? Is it a case of “sky’s out, thighs out”?

Thigh’s the limit for John Travolta.
Thigh’s the limit for John Travolta. Photograph: AF archive/Alamy

“Men are exposing their legs in public as a reaction to our public behaviour being so tightly policed in public for the last year,” said Prof Andrew Groves, the director of the Westminster Menswear Archive at the University of Westminster. “They want to feel the wind’s tactile caress on their skin.”

Teo van den Broeke, British GQ’s styling and grooming director, agreed: “We’re more au fait with wearing sport shorts right now, given how much exercising we’ve all been doing, we feel more comfortable going a little short.”

Others think micro is not the way to go. “In most urban contexts, it would be more acceptable for men to wear knee-grazing shorts,” said Elizabeth Wyse, at the etiquette experts Debrett’s.

Shane C Kurup, Men’s Health’s deputy style editor, said: “The late Savile Row designer Sir Hardy Amies famously advised a man to ‘Never wear shorts except when actually on the beach or on a walking tour’.”

The designer Tom Ford famously told Another Magazine in 2011: “A man should never wear shorts in the city … they should only be worn on the tennis court or the beach.”

Tom Selleck in teeny shorts.
Tom Selleck in teeny shorts. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

Wyse thinks most people “associate short shorts with beaches, sailing, sports and swimming – they look out of context, over-casual and over-revealing when worn elsewhere”.

But Kurup believes times have changed and an increased casualisation of dress codes has meant male hemlines have inched upwards. “In the past decade, we’ve seen men wear shorts to the office and the creation of the ‘short suit’ and of course the male micro short,” he said.

Like skinny jeans and low-risers before them, generation Z is pro short shorts in a way that millennials may not be.

“They are the most socially aware, health-conscious generation we’ve ever seen,” Kurup said. “There’s a strong emphasis among this generation of being comfortable in your own skin and not blindly conforming to a prescribed body type.”