Each summer, as predictably as the movie blockbuster season begins and Kate Moss jets off to Ibiza, the fashion powers proclaim that grown women need to add shorts to their wardrobes – not just for weekends, but at work and on the red carpet, too.
This year, the assault has been particularly ferocious: go to www.style.com and search “spring 2010 and shorts”, and you get 655 options. They are leather and tailored at Hermès (which also has culottes and biking shorts); in patchwork and with eyelets at Kenzo; wraparound at Louis Vuitton; and super-short and neutral at Chloé. They come in romantic organza at Valentino, and casual luxe at Dries Van Noten. Even J. Crew, that bastion of American mail-order tastefulness, has been pushing suit-jackets with shorts. In American Vogue, English socialite author Plum Sykes quoted American designer Tory Burch as proclaiming: “Shorts have become part of our office uniform.”
But for women over 30, have so-called “dress shorts” truly, actually become realistic and acceptable alternatives to skirts and trousers?
Celebrities seem to think so. And this refers not just to Michelle Obama’s much-talked-about foray into khaki cut-offs while on holiday last summer in the Grand Canyon. Instead, see Gwyneth Paltrow, now 37, who, earlier this spring wore a Armani shorts suit with high-heeled gladiators to the US premiere of Iron Man 2.
Looking at the red carpet photos, it’s hard not to be reminded of Angus Young, the guitarist of heavy metal stalwart AC/DC, who despite being in his mid-50sstill styles himself as a naughty schoolboy complete with shrunken blazer and knee-skimming shorts. Not that he and Gwyneth would be mistaken for each other, even in a dark alley. But the actress’s look did seem ripped from the pages of the 19th-century English classic, Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
All of which raises the question: if Gwyneth Paltrow, she of the long blonde hair and long legs, looks awkward in shorts, who exactly is going to look good in them?
Emily Stubbs, a fortysomething partner at a corporate law firm, is point-blank on the subject: “Under no circumstances would I wear shorts to the office,” she says. “It’s not appropriate in my profession.”
“Shorts in the courtroom would seem distracting and too trendy,” agreed a fellow public interest lawyer – though she added: “Maybe if I worked in some media or intellectual property type of law, I’d feel differently.” But even those who work in new media seem wary. Juliana Jaoudi, vice president at an internet advertising sales company, offers: “Shorts are cool for a girl in her twenties and early thirties. Older than that, I think we look better in dresses.”
The main problem with shorts can be reduced to one word: thighs. No matter how pleated or flared, shorts have a way of calling attention to an area of the body that women tend to feel self-conscious about.
A further issue is that shorts tend to look sporty, even when the desired affect is spartan. Then there is the Martha’s Vineyard factor – namely, that wearers of attenuated khaki in particular always appear to have walked out The Official Preppie Handbook, even when there’s no golf course in sight. Try to avoid this with cut-off denim shorts, however, and you risk entering Daisy Duke territory.
“I don’t think shorts are easy to wear at any age,” says Hope Greenberg, fashion director of the fashion shopping magazine, Lucky. “It’s the equivalent of wearing an incredibly short skirt. But as far as a work- appropriate outfit, unless you work in a creative environment where anything goes, it’s going to be tough to figure it out.” If you risk it, Greenberg recommends pairing them with a blazer and flat sandals – or a cardigan, slouchy silk shirt, and good belt.
You can also decide only to wear shorts when running or hitting balls. Alternatively, you can pair them with black tights. But tights mean autumn, not summer. And that’s not only a whole other season – it’s a whole other story.
Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of ‘I’m So Happy For You’ (Back Bay Books)