Shorts are a garment worn by both men and women over their pelvic area, circling the waist and splitting to cover the upper part of the legs, sometimes extending down to knee but not covering the entire length of the leg. They are called "shorts" because they are a shortened version of pants, which cover the entire leg. Shorts are typically worn in warm weather or in an environment where comfort and airflow are more important than the protection of the legs.
There are a variety of shorts, ranging from knee-length short pants that can be worn as formal clothes to beachwear and athletic shorts. Some types of shorts are typically worn by women, as in the case of culottes, which are a divided skirt resembling a pair of loose-cut shorts.
In British English the term "short trousers" has been used, but only for shorts that are a short version of real trousers (pants), e.g. tailored shorts, often lined, as typically worn as part of school uniform for boys up to their early-to-middle teens, and by servicemen and policemen posted in tropical climates. The American term "short pants" is probably the nearest equivalent in the US, there they might now be called "dress shorts", a term that has not gained much currency in Britain. A somewhat similar garment worn by men in Australia is called "stubbies". "Shorts" is used unqualified in British English to refer to sports shorts, athletic shorts, or casual shorts, the last nowadays being, in the UK itself, commonplace in warm weather.
The term "boxer shorts" was an American coinage for a particular kind of men's underwear, and is now common in Britain. However, boxer shorts are often referred to as "boxers" in the USA. The word "pants" refers to outerwear (trousers) in American usage (except when modified into "underpants") but when used unqualified in British English generally means underwear.
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Europe and America
In much of Europe and the Americas during the 19th and early 20th centuries shorts were worn as outerwear only by young boys until they reached a certain height or maturity. When boys got older, typically around puberty, they would receive their first pair of long trousers. This produced the perception that shorts were only for young boys. Because of this, men would not wear shorts to avoid looking immature. Women tended not to wear shorts in most cultures, due to social mores, because they were expected to wear dresses, or skirts and blouses.
In the 1890s, knee pants (an early type of short pants) became the standard wear for American boys. Many urban school portraits from the 1890s show all but the oldest boys wearing knee pants. North American boys normally wore knee pants with short stockings. This began to change after the 1900s when North American boys began wearing knickerbockers, while short pants became more popular in Europe. In the 1930s, shorts started to be worn for casual comfort (e.g. outdoor and athletic activities) by both men and women. However, it was still taboo to wear shorts outside certain activities.
Since about World War II, when soldiers often served in tropical locations, adult men have worn shorts more often, especially in summer weather, but the perception of shorts as being only for young boys took several decades to change and to some extent still exists in certain circles. By the late 20th century however it became common for men to wear shorts as casual wear in summer.
However, in many countries there are few formal settings where wearing shorts would be acceptable, as they are considered casual wear. Notable exceptions where men may wear short trousers to the office or at a formal gathering are South Africa, Bermuda, Australia and New Zealand.
Since the 1990s, casual office dress has grown in some UK and U.S. businesses, but by no means universally, to include formal shorts.
Adults are also commonly seen wearing shorts, however wearing shorts is less common among women in traditional eastern countries than in the West, although this varies widely by region - women more often wear shorts in large, cosmopolitan cities. In some countries adult women can be seen wearing loose-fitting shorts that end at or just below the knee, as these are seen as sufficiently modest.
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- Basic shorts may have no pockets, lining, or belt loops.
- Walking shorts are generally roomy and have both pockets and belt loops.
- Workout shorts are often made of moisture-wicking fabric.
- Flat front shorts are a more formal type of shorts.
- Swim shorts or swimming trunks are male swimwear.
- Compression shorts are designed for exercise.
- Loose-fitting shorts which reach the knees. These were the standard shorts worn by English football teams before World War II. West Bromwich Albion FC are nicknamed the Baggies because their team used to wear particularly baggy shorts. From about 1970 to 1990 football shorts were extremely short, but baggy shorts then came back into use worldwide.
- Approximately knee-length short trousers commonly worn in Bermuda (with long socks and a blazer and tie) for business attire and even at cocktail parties. The style has also been adopted as a casual style in other locales. Usually has pockets and waist loops for an optional belt.
- Swimming trunks that reach the knee or below. They are often used as ordinary shorts, but were originally intended as beachwear; the "board" refers to surfers' surfboards. Board shorts are manufactured by companies Billabong, Quiksilver, and Old Navy, among others. In the 1980s, board shorts were called "jams".
- Mainly used as male underwear. Some years ago, this term also related to a basic kind of men's shorts.
- In the US, similar to boxer briefs, but for females.
- Bun huggers
- Short, tight, athletic shorts also known as "racing briefs", commonly made from spandex and/or nylon. It is claimed that their tight fit and the fact that they barely go down past the buttocks give wearers an unhindered range of motion that is necessary in sports such as volleyball. However, the figure-hugging nature of these shorts makes some wearers feel uncomfortable, and making them compulsory for women athletes has been described as "venturing into the arena of athlete exploitation". Bun huggers for men also exist; these resemble boxer briefs.
- Cargo shorts
- Typically khaki shorts with cargo pockets. Similar to cargo pants, but a little below knee-length or very slightly above. Cargo shorts consist of a garment with more than four pockets, and/or pockets that are stitched to the outside of the fabric. Placement of pockets can vary but they are most often seen on the lower part or side part of the short. Cargo shorts are distinctive because the pockets are accompanied by an overlying flap.
- Chino shorts
- Chino cloth (/ˌtʃiːnoʊ/-chee-noh) is a twill fabric, originally made of cotton. The most common item made from it, trousers, are often known as chinos or khakis. Today it is also made in cotton-synthetic blends. Trousers of such a fabric gained popularity in the U.S. when Spanish-American War veterans returned from the Philippines with their twill military trousers.
- A divided skirt resembling a pair of loose-cut shorts, originally popularized as a practical horse and bicycle-riding garment by dress reform feminists at the turn of the 20th century. School uniforms have adopted culottes in more recent years as a more practical option than skirts.
- Cut-offs or Daisy Dukes
- Home-made by cutting the legs off trousers, typically jeans (known as "denim cut-offs"), above the knee. These were particularly popular in the early 1970s, and made a come-back in the early 21st century. The cut is not finished or hemmed and the fabric is left to fray. They became so popular that they were sold in stores as such. Originally a practical use for trousers with worn-through knees, they are now a type of shorts in their own right. The ultra-short version of jean cut-offs are also known as Daisy Dukes, in reference to Catherine Bach's character of that name from the American television show The Dukes of Hazzard. These are a form of hot-pants or short shorts.
- Skin-tight long shorts originally worn by cyclists to reduce chafing while cycling, but which have also been adapted and adopted as street wear and active wear. They are also often worn under skirts and dresses (mostly under school uniforms) for modesty reasons. Also known as "bike shorts".
- Denim shorts
- Denim shorts are worn by both genders. For males, they are generally looser and longer. Sometimes, they are confused with Daisy Dukes.
- An athletic style of shorts, notable for visible binding of an often contrasting color. The name may refer to a side-view of the binding of each leg's lower hem, resembling the shape of a dolphin tail. Like gym shorts, they often feature a cord to be tied around the waist at the front. These were a popular trend in the 1980s gym scene.
- Gym shorts are often worn in gym class or for participation in sports, hence the name, but they are worn as casual wear almost as much, especially by adolescents. They are usually not form-fitting when worn by men or female athletes, but are often form-fitting when worn by women as casual dress. Length is usually from just above the knee to just below the knee. In the 1970s and 1980s in the U.S. gym shorts were often form-fitting and only slightly longer than boxer shorts. Gym shorts are generally made of cotton, spandex, polyester, or another synthetic fiber with a cord sewn in that can be tied at the front to tighten the waist.
- Hot pants
- Categorized as "short shorts", they commonly have an inseam length of 2 inches (50 mm) or less. These are short, tight shorts, usually made of cotton, nylon, or some other common material. They are meant to emphasize the buttocks and the legs. They were launched by fashion designer Mary Quant during the "Swinging London" scene of the mid-1960s, and hot pants were very popular up to the early 1970s.
- From 'jean shorts', another name for denim shorts but typically cut longer than Daisy Dukes (mid-thigh for women and at the knee for men). Jorts refer to hemmed jean shorts, not cut-offs.
- Traditional German leather shorts.
- Leather shorts
- Some shorts are made of leather.
- Plaid shorts
- Usually made of Madras, fabricated woven of differently colored yarns in a crossbarred pattern. Popularized by "preppy" stores, but now becoming more "skater".
- Reach only the upper thigh; intended to provide maximum freedom of movement in sports activities. These are often made from Nylon, which has the advantage of being very hardwearing. After Adidas sponsored the 1980 Olympic Games, Adidas nylon track shorts were a fashion item for some years.
- Short shorts
- By the mid-1950s, post-WWII Americans were beginning to relax and enjoy both their new economic and baby booms as much as their offspring, who were just entering their teens. Television and rock'n'roll captured taste and fashion, including the new "short shorts" fad, since Bermuda shorts were considered old, dull, and "fuddy-duddy" although, as History of Costume author and FIT Professor Rachel Kemper noted, "Short shorts left a girl's ass hanging out." The Royal Teens wrote and sang the song "Short Shorts" (1957) (in which "short shorts" is mentioned 18 times). Short shorts also refers to the older style of tight basketball shorts which went upper-thigh worn by players until the 1990s, when looser shorts that went down to the knee became the norm. Many clothing vendors refer to 'short shorts' as having an inseam of four inches or less.
- Short trousers (British English) or school shorts
- These are fully tailored and usually lined shorts with full zip fly and belt loops, in former times of flannel, nowadays of a cotton/synthetic mixture, typically in grey, worn by male primary and secondary school students as part of a formal school uniform in Britain, Australia, Singapore, South Africa and New Zealand, and also by Cub scouts. These were typically worn with long socks, or stockings (as they were known till the 1960s) often also grey and often with coloured tops. They nowadays mostly reach down to the knee or just above the knee; from about 1960 until the 1980s they were generally much shorter, typically coming to about half way up the thigh when standing. In tailoring/menswear trade jargon (and colonial English) they are sometimes misleadingly called "knickers".
- Have a piece of fabric in front, creating the illusion of being a skirt from the front. The term is a portmanteau of "skirt" and "shorts".
- Zip-off Shorts or Convertible Shorts
- A pair of long pants that zip off at the knee, allowing the wearer to change from pants to shorts as the weather changes. Originally a hiking garment, these have become a more casual fashion item since the late 1990s.
- "Short trousers". Oxford Dictionary.
- "Short trousers for boys". BBC History.
- "People past and present". Durham County Council Archives.
- U.S. School Clothes: Individual Schools--The 1890s at Boys' Historical Clothing School Uniform Pages.
- North America Boys Garments: Pants--Knee Pants at Boys' Historical Clothing School Uniform Pages.
- Bermuda Shorts: Local spring to fall male business attire and female smart casuals at Bermuda-Online.
- "Bun Huggers: To Wear or Not to Wear", Women's Sports Foundation.
- Ros Horton, Sally Simmons, 2007. Women Who Changed the World
- Games of the XXII Olympiad, Moscow. 1980.
- Kemper, Rachel (December 1977). History of Costume. New York: W W Norton & Co. ISBN 978-0-88225-137-0.
- Kemper, Rachel H. (1977). Costume. New York: Newsweek Books. ISBN 0-88225-137-6.
- "Short shorts" at the Bad Fads Museum.
- Use of the word "knickers" serves as a reminder that "shorts" for boys descended from "knickerbockers" which were commonly worn up to the 1930a by boys in the US and UK until they were considered old enough to wear long pants. Knickerbockers fell below the knee and were attached by buttons to stockings. In the 1920s knickerbockers gradually became shorter and lost their attachment to the stockings leaving the knee bare. Eventually, in effect, the knickerbockers turned into shorts and the stockings turned into turn-over knee stockings with coloured tops, which, after the 1960s, were increasingly called knee-socks. Hence the new "shorts" were in the 1920s and 1930s and even later occasionally called "knickers" by old-fashioned outfitters. Some shorts even retained vestigial buttons as a reminder that knickerbockers had been "buttoned" to stockings. But this name, "knickers" was never used among the ordinary public and least of all among schoolboys themselves, since "knickers" in British English had gradually come to refer to a kind of women's and girls' underwear.
- Media related to Shorts at Wikimedia Commons