Men’s Guide to the Lengths and Styles of Shorts

Men’s Guide to the Lengths and Styles of Shorts

There are several different categories of men’s shorts you will run into when you are shopping. There are men’s athletic shorts like running shorts and swim trunks. These are specially made for their respective purposes. Swim trunks are made to get wet and dry quickly while running shorts are loose enough to allow full range of motion and often include an inner lining so you don’t accidentally show the world too much. Running shorts pair well with workout shirts, tank tops, and sweats, and swim trunks work well on their own...because you are swimming. Other similar athletic shorts are board shorts and bicycling compression shorts.

After these, you have the most casual shorts like jean shorts and cargo shorts. Cargo shorts tend to be khaki-colored and made of sturdy cotton with a bunch of pockets while jean shorts are made of, you guessed it, denim. T-shirts and hoodies are nice matches for these shorts.

Then you have the slightly more formal shorts like pleated shorts and flat-front shorts. These are the shorts we will be focusing on. They are great for waterside activities such as boating, beach resort vacations, and boardwalk strolling.

Fit and Length

Well-fitting shorts follow the line of your legs without being too baggy. You can find specific cuts of shorts called fitted or slim-fitted that do this. Another tip is to find shorts that taper. Tapered shorts means the bottom cuffs are cut to narrow in instead of flare out, which keeps with the line of your legs. Both of these factors demonstrate that you know how your shorts should fit and that you choose your clothes well—which makes you feel and look good.

As far as length, shorts usually come with inseams of three, five, seven, and nine inches. The inseam is the distance from your crotch to the bottom of your shorts. The general rule of thumb with shorts is they shouldn’t go beyond your knee. Shorter shorts are more casual and tend to be reserved for athletic activities. Longer shorts, like those ending two or three inches above your knee, are a little more formal. What length you choose will depend on the length of your legs. Also, keep in mind if you have shorter legs, longer shorts might make your legs look even shorter, so pay extra attention to the length when you are trying on a potential pair.


The basic choices for materials for daily wear shorts are cotton and linen. Synthetic fabrics are for your athletic shorts. Lightweight wool is a good material for shorts in terms of moisture absorption and enhancing your level of formality, but it is rare and you have to work to maintain them the same way you would take care of a wool suit. Linen is slightly less formal but more breathable and works just fine as a material for your shorts. Cotton is a step below linen but is also cooling, and you don’t have to worry about wrinkles as you do with linen.


The best colors for shorts tend to be darker and neutral for maximum adaptability. As such, charcoal, navy, and dark brown tend to be popular shorts colors. If you want some variety, taking any of these colors a shade or two lighter could be a good way to lighten up your wardrobe for summer. If you want to bring in some color, shorts are casual anyway! Have fun with some greens or a nice salmon. If you are in the bright colors mindset, consider patterned shorts like Madras shorts. Those brightly colored patterns will definitely add something eye-catching flair to an outfit.

Pleated Shorts

Pleated Shorts have an intentional vertical crease running down the front of each of the legs of your shorts. They look like they were just unfolded. These work best as more formal shorts, with tucked-in shirts and maybe even a belt. All manner of men’s polo shirts and long-sleeved collared men’s dress shirts match well with these shorts along with loafers, driving mocs, and boat shoes.

Flat-Front Shorts

Flat-front shorts are the same as pleated shorts but without the crease (they are “flat in the front,” hence their name). These, especially in the lighter colors, are a little more casual, pairing well with short-sleeved collared shirts, nice T-shirts, and short-sleeve polos. Throw on some boating shoes, espadrilles, or flip-flops and you are ready to go!


Related Articles