I’m going to miss this fleeting moment in fashion where I could safely browse my favorite shopping sites without coming across a single pair of shorts. On MatchesFashion.com, where the Resort collections are just trickling in, women’s trousers outnumber shorts by about 85%. Nordstrom offers a selection of more than 3,000 women’s pants and leggings (they’re grouped together on the site, though the leggings-as-pants debate rages on), and that doesn’t even include jeans, of which Nordstrom has 3,200 pairs. It adds up to upwards of 6,000 full-length styles. As for shorts? There are just 538.
That’s all about to change, of course. Shorts were one of the biggest trends of Spring 2020, and also the most straightforward. They were an uncomplicated, easy-to-digest counter to the season’s more abstract and politically-charged themes, like “hot ghoul summer” and pannier skirts. We could spend days—weeks!—thinking about Simone Rocha’s dark, witchy response to the bad news swirling around us, or the feminist undertones of Loewe’s unwieldy hoop skirts (they emphasized the hips, the center of female reproduction).
As Vogue Runway editors, we’re conditioned to dig deeper into those concepts, to consider their cultural implications, to find the story. We enjoy it more than we fantasize about actually wearing the clothes. Which brings me to shorts: They don’t require much in the way of interpretation. They’re just…abbreviated pants? Until now, shorts weren’t even part of the fashion conversation; most of us regarded them as nothing more than a last-ditch effort to stay cool in the summer. The Spring 2020 runways, meanwhile, offered every variation on length, style, and fabric: up-to-there and sparkly shorts at Saint Laurent, baggy shorts at Etro, tailored culottes at Celine. There’s not really a unifying message behind shorts, making them a surprisingly “trendy” trend at a time when fashion is moving away from that model.
Of course, if you went down the fashion history rabbit hole, you’d discover that women didn’t start wearing shorts until the 1930s, though they were still considered risqué. Even in the ’40s and ’50s, women were banned from wearing shorts in a few cities. Unsurprisingly, shorts became a subtle feminist symbol, but never had the impact of, say, a pantsuit. Shorts don’t stand out in our memory the way a suffragette’s all-white outfit does, probably because they didn’t remain a taboo; shorts were commonplace for men and women by the ’60s. That said, if you’re inspired to wear a ’30s-inspired short in homage to those early rule-breakers, be my guest! But I don’t think the designers who put shorts on their Spring runways—among them Michael Kors, Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent, and Natacha Ramsay-Levi at Chloé—had that story in mind. It’s more likely that shorts simply looked fresh to their eye, and after seasons of miniskirts creeping back into fashion, it was only a matter of time before shorts emerged as a kicky alternative.
Still, fashion on the whole is looking increasingly polished and cleaned-up, which makes the abundance of shorts—widely considered a garment you retire after childhood—all the more confusing. The question isn’t whether or not a grown-up can wear shorts, because of course she can; it’s does she want to? I’m going to guess the answer for many of us is no. It’s not just about showing a lot of leg; it’s the trendiness and the styling conundrums. What shoes do you wear with shorts? (Dries Van Noten says platform boots; Alexander Wang says pointy pumps; Kors says studded creepers.) Should you wear tights underneath? (Vaccarello says yes.) Are they appropriate for work? (Who’s to say?
This writer hasn’t enjoyed wearing shorts since the first grade, when I was sent home from my rigid Catholic school in tears for wearing them on October 1, the day the dress code officially switched to pants (never mind the lingering heat). I didn’t even like those navy pleated shorts, but perhaps they kicked off my lifelong anti-shorts stance. As I grew older, I never felt like I was missing anything by not having shorts in my wardrobe, save for a pair of cut-off Levi’s to wear on the beach. It’s worked out that my personal tastes have aligned with what’s happening in fashion: hemlines got longer, dresses got breezier, trousers got looser, and no one paid shorts any mind. It’s hard enough to find a great pair of pants, despite the literally thousands of options; we’re constantly getting them taken in, tapered, hemmed. Shorts seem like an even greater headache. My alternative is no less divisive, of course: bubble skirts. Yes, they’re a little trendy, but it’s my opinion that they’re actually easier to wear—and show just as much leg.