short shorts

A short history of short shorts

From poolside and tennis court to the silver screen, let us guide you through the style annals of this most divisive of garments...

Over at Gentleman’s Journal HQ (which, as we speak, happens to be a hotel pontoon moored unconvincingly in an Umbrian lake) we’re long on short shorts. And the long and short of it is this: there is no garment with quite as debonair a history as the old thigh-revealer. Don’t believe me? Pull up a deck chair, grab a Gauloise jaune and help yourself to a Cinzano — we’ve got a history lesson to get through.

If they were good enough for Bond…

Say ‘Bond’ and ‘shorts’ to a chap, and he’ll likely tell you all about Daniel Craig and those of waterlogged blue trunks back in the noughties at some point. Fine. But really, the happy alliance between the shorter-short trouser and 007 goes back a lot further than that. Sean Connery’s Bond, for example, was always a huge advocate: his mission may have been a secret, but he was damned if his thighs would be. The shorter trunk also allowed 007 the range of flexibility necessary to stride around various tropical locations defeating various tropical foes. (I’m sure Ursula Andress didn’t mind them either.)

In fact, so at home was Connery in his short shorts that he happily sported them on the cover of various international versions of Tom Jones’ Thunderball theme song. Get the look with Orlebar Brown’s namesake swim shorts.

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Orlebar Brown Thunderball swim shorts

£195

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Cote d’Azur — need we say more?

Is there any garment more louchely jet set than the short short? Sure, the Tod’s loafer has a pretty good look in, as does the white jean, the cuban-collar shirt, the linen everything and the Persol sunglasses. But it’s the shorts that take the biscuit every time. These garments strut on their own. There’s something gloriously playboy and provocative in all that thigh and low-slung waist – perhaps that’s why the shorter short was adored by every man-about-the-Riviera from Porfirio Rubirosa to Dado Ruspoli to Aly Khan.

Here, Errol Flynn sports an almost vanishingly short pair while on board a yacht with his wife Lili Damita in 1940. For your own superyacht cruise choose classic tailoring in pastel shades and, to complete the look, fill the pockets with the keys to a Jensen Interceptor or 40,000 Francs.

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Polo Ralph Lauren shorts

£75

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Get on the swim team

Surely the short short is the only acceptable and practical length for a dip in the drink? We’ve left the board short in the noughties, blessedly, and the Speedo hammock is much too intimate.

And if there is anyone who has effectively demonstrated just how potent these little numbers could be it’s Slim Aarons. His relentless photographing of poolsides from the Cote d’Azur to California provides an illuminating timeline of the swim short and few look more glamorous than those resting neatly at mid-thigh. Let’s face it, it’s unlikely these scenes would have been quite so punchy had everyone been in over-the-knee Quiksilvers. Pair with a glistening torso and a trail of broken hearts in your wake. Gucci’s vintage-inspired numbers will have you primed for some summer loving.

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Gucci short-length swim shorts

£320

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Anyone for tennis?

Björn Borg and John McEnroe this time, demonstrating at the 1979 Rotterdam Open final that the short short need not be constrained by nationality — or indeed by a five set seat-edger being televised internationally. Rafa Nadal is a lovely chap, and a fine player, but one wonders if he’d have beaten Roger Federer a little more in his younger years had he not opted, so oikishly, for that three-quarter-length pirate look. No — the only thing you should be pairing with your Babolat and your intra-set snifter of Dubonnet on the rocks is a short short. Adidas’ on-going collaboration with Stella McCartney offers a fine selection. Game, set, match, as I believe they say.

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Adidas x Stella McCartney tennis shorts

£43

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After more style inspiration? Here’s how to dress like James Bond this summer

Further Reading