Men's Shorts at Work - A Long Answer to a Short Question

I put a short question out there, in an attempt to crowd-source a definitive answer to a timely and relevant debate that I’ve been hearing a lot lately, especially after a long hot summer…

…is it ok for men to wear shorts to work?

I put that short question out there and got a long list of responses that shed a lot of light onto the topic. In short, it should be ok for men to wear shorts to work provided that it is industry appropriate. Although admittedly the list of appropriate industries is quite long…like maybe none or maybe one or maybe two. Like banking?

Admittedly, I entered the debate myself with a definitive “no.” I don’t like men’s shorts in the workplace. And many people echoed my in-coming bias, stating emphatically that they don’t want to see a guy’s legs in the office. It’s just unprofessional, many said, and I would have typically agreed.

Interestingly and honestly, the answers were somewhat dependent on age, with older respondents tending to be more conservative about shorts in the workplace than their younger colleagues. This makes sense to me given that many of us grew up in suits and ties as a mandatory. Business casual on Fridays was a real treat back in the day, and we often had to donate a dollar to charity for the privilege. As it got more common, the notion of wearing jeans to work was something that really took us getting used to. So the idea of men’s shorts is really extreme to many of us. The younger folks have been more casual their entire careers so shorts aren’t as much of a shift.

But the rationale I got back for men’s shorts was pretty compelling, so I’ll attempt to sort it out here as you make your own decision for you and for your organization.

Sexism. The most common argument for men being able to wear shorts centered around the fact that women can show their legs so there’s no reason why men can’t show theirs. I find this to be a truly compelling point. If skirts and dresses are acceptable, then so too should be men’s shorts. We probably need some guidelines around the type of shorts (nothing from the gym) and the shortness of them (no Daisy Dukes), but that’s a given in women’s fashion so it shouldn’t be a problem with men’s fashion either. A nice pair of tailored shorts looks great on a guy and is every bit as appropriate as a pair of nice tailored pants, or a woman’s stylish dress. I buy it.

Self-expression. Many argued that fashion is a form of self-expression that should be given as broad a range as is appropriate and men’s shorts is within that range. As someone who keeps an extensive wardrobe of “creative” shirts, I too can relate to this argument. My shirts are part of my brand and a part of my professional look. While I probably won’t personally add shorts to my work wardrobe, I can see why others might and why others should have the right to do so. I buy it.

Personal choice. As part of the self-expression argument, a lot of folks said that wearing shorts should be a personal choice, again assuming that the shorts are appropriate for work. True enough, personal choice currently includes jeans or dress pants, suits or sports coats, dress or casual shoes…so why not add shorts to the list? A lot of guys were honest in saying that they don’t “have the legs for shorts” but insisted that if they did then they would want the choice to wear them. Self-awareness is a good trait, so yes, I buy it.

Global warming. Although I know it seems as if we are blaming global warming for virtually everything these days, the guys who answered my question mostly blamed the heat for wanting to wear shorts to work. As someone who rides the New York City subways in July and August, I can attest to the kind of heat that makes your stomach swirl, your pits leak, and your hair curl. Literally. We get to work and we need to take another shower. Being able to skip the khakis and jeans would be a nice respite. I buy it.

So net net, I reversed my thinking. As long as the shorts are good shorts (as in any pair of jeans or pants), then I’m ok with men wearing dress shorts to work. I think. And I definitely reserve the right to skip them for myself. Not because of my legs personally (years of tennis and running put them in pretty good shape, if I do say so myself), but because I just think I’m too old for the look.

But that certainly doesn’t mean that other guys can’t wear shorts as a personal choice of self-expression, to show their legs, and to beat the heat. Go for it.

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