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Shorts: A shopping guide

Categories: bottoms


“I would like to find a decent pair of khaki shorts that are not 3 inches long and super low rise, nor 1940’s style. Just something classic and simple,” writes Susanna. “I live in south Georgia so it’s already in the 80s here this year and I’m trying to spruce up the wardrobe a little, but in a stay at home mom with little kids sort of way.”

Paillette short, $148 at J. Crew. Insert eye roll here.

I have also been on the lookout for great chino shorts this winter; February and March are the best time to buy, because if you wait until the kids are out of school and the pool is open — or, in most of the country, until the temperatures are really shorts-appropriate — there’s nothing left in the stores. Except, of course, the 3″ sequin shorts, which are only practical if you are Blake Lively. And even then I reserve the right to question your choice. And possibly mock it. Who knows.

7″ chino short, $45 at J. Crew. That’s better.

When you’re shopping for shorts, there are a few simple things to look for; let’s start with length. A 7″ inseam is almost universally flattering: long enough to cover your wobbly bits but short enough to make your legs look long and lean. Technically, this is not a Bermuda short — Bermudas fall all the way to the knee and, despite offering the fullest coverage of any shorts style, can make your legs look both shorter and wider. Ironically, a Bermuda short works best on a woman with slim thighs, because the longer hemline doesn’t disrupt the leg line. If you carry your weight in your hips and thighs, a slightly shorter inseam will be more flattering; look for shorts that fall from the widest part of your hip and hit just below the widest part of your leg. Most of the time, that will mean a 7″ inseam.

Bloomer shorts, $49.95 at the GAP. No.

Avoid tapered shorts, unless you have very very slim legs. Like tapered pants, tapered shorts can create an ice cream cone effect, particularly if you’re opting for a dark color. Also be wary of this season’s bloomer shorts, which are only cute on wee little waifs like Emma Watson, and only in carefully crafted photo spreads for fashion magazines. On a real mom, these shorts will make even the smallest derriere look like a sofa cushion. They are also meant to be worn with heels, and if you’re wearing heels to the park this summer, we really need to have a talk.

Roll-up shorts, $39.95 at the GAP. Yes.

A flat front is the most flattering; avoid pleats entirely, as they add weight and bulk where most women don’t want it. The same goes for flap pockets on the rear of your shorts; if you are looking to add shape to a flat bottom, then a flap pocket is your friend, but if you’re searching for shorts that will minimize the back view, skip them. I like these roll-up shorts from the GAP because they have a nice flat front, they’re not too low-waisted and you can customize the length a bit. They seem like the perfect blend of slouchy-yet-tailored, which is what Susanna is looking for.

Finally, look for shorts in a neutral color, one that is similar to your skin tone; this will also create a longer leg line and draw the eye up away from your shorts (and legs) and toward whatever you’re wearing on top. Which we will talk about next week!

Your turn: where do you buy shorts? Have you found any great classic styles this winter? Or are you finding yourself tempted by the “novelty” shorts that seem to be everywhere right now?

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19 comments so far...

  • Looked at the Gap roll up shorts online. There is a 20% on line only sale at their site today! These look like they may work for me. Thanks, Susan.

    StacyfrPgh  |  March 4th, 2011 at 8:13 am

  • Stacy, I have not seen those GAP shorts in person yet and I’m dying to get a first-person impression of them — report back, please! Thank you!

    Susan  |  March 4th, 2011 at 9:07 am

  • Shorts are my nemeses. I try to wear skirts or sundresses, but occassionally HAVE to wear them. I find that they are almost always ill-fitting. Last year, I found a pair from Ann Taylor that were long enough, but not too long and had a lower waistband that is really comfortable. They actually look similar to the GAP pair you profiled above.

    elz  |  March 4th, 2011 at 9:54 am

  • I was just wondering yesterday if I can still get away with wearing shorts this summer. Looks like the roll-up option might just work. Thanks much!

    el-e-e  |  March 4th, 2011 at 10:29 am

  • Report from the shorts front: Dashed to Gap this morning to see the shorts Susan featured. Full disclosure–I am 50 yo, 5′1″ , about 10 lbs. heavier than I should be, have a small waist and a bum. The fabric was nice, not too heavy, not too cheap. The colors were good and all could be used as neutrals. The waist was not too low, however it didn’t work for me. The length was good unrolled–perfect for those days when more cover is needed. Rolled– the shorts were a good length for every day. I would have purchased them had the fit been better for my particular body. Definitely worth checking out!

    StacyfrPgh  |  March 4th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

  • Additonal comment–In a size 2, these Gap shorts may be slouchy or baggy. In a 10 they weren’t on me. I don’t have pipestems for legs, nor giant sequoias.

    StacyfrPgh  |  March 4th, 2011 at 12:18 pm

  • Stacy, you are so awesome. Thank you!!!

    Susan  |  March 4th, 2011 at 12:42 pm

  • On the budget-friendly side of things, last early-spring I found a great pair of khaki shorts at Target–Merona label, very nice fabric, nice length, mid-rise waist, flat front, the whole nine yards. But by summer I’d accidentally lost 10 lbs and they are way too big–yet brand new. I even had a friend of a friend take in the waist but now they just don’t hang right. I feel like I wasted a brand-new item of clothing. Which, I guess, I did. At least they were inexpensive. :(

    Shannon  |  March 4th, 2011 at 1:11 pm

  • If those are the same Gap roll ups from last year, they are fabulous. They run big so you do have to try them on. I have several pairs, and while I am overweight they didn’t look too bad on me. They are sooo comfortable, too! Best of all, I got them on sale every time! Love them. Glad they’re back!

    Cincy  |  March 4th, 2011 at 1:34 pm

  • Shannon: How do you accidentally lose 10 pounds? Please hurry with your answer. I’ll be waiting.

    Cincy  |  March 4th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

  • Those J Crew chino shorts are fantastic. I have them in several colors. You can dress them up or down so easily.

    Sharon  |  March 4th, 2011 at 1:46 pm

  • Caroline  |  March 4th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is just what I needed! And the funnies didn’t hurt; love the sequined shorts and comment! Seriously, who wears sequined shorts? I think I may have to order the J Crew one’s right this minute! You’re the best!

    Susanna  |  March 4th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

  • Caroline, cuffed shorts are fine as long as the inseam is the right length; the cuff should hit just below the widest part of your thigh.

    But I would be wary of the ones you linked to — that 3″ inseam is very VERY short. Try them on before you commit, and be sure to sit down and bend over in them.

    I’m just saying. ;)

    Susan  |  March 4th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

  • This post has me thinking about the summer season and I’m wondering if you could help me out. I’m about to return to my office after being home with my baby for a year.

    Essentially, I have not bought office appropriate clothes in 2 years (having spent one year pregnant and one year at home)

    I’m doing my darndest to ’shop my cloest’ as per your sage advice, but frankly, I’m at a loss as to what is even still in style and to be perfectly honest, it all feels dumpy and dull. I have mixed feelings about going back to work and I know feeling and looking pulled together will go a long way to improve my outlook.

    My goal is to return to work looking fresh and up to date. My office enviornment is generally formal, but I can get away with fun accessories.

    Would you consider helping me out in a future post?

    Caroline  |  March 4th, 2011 at 5:42 pm

  • Cincy: You are too funny. Srsly, I went on some medication that took away my appetite as a side effect. Add some stressful stuff going on in my life to that, and voila! Lost 10 lbs. Luckily, I had gained 5 over the winter and the other 5 were, like, complacent 30something pounds. So, it’s all good. :)

    Shannon  |  March 5th, 2011 at 6:57 pm

  • I own 5 pairs of those Jcrew chino shorts in practically every color! They’re so comfortable and flattering. My “muscles” in my legs don’t allow for the rolled up look. ;)

    Iowamom  |  March 7th, 2011 at 10:40 am

  • I’ve had great luck with Banana Republic’s shorts, as well. They’re a classic cut and fit. The ones I bought 2 years ago are even in a dressy enough fabric that I wear them with flats and jackets to work (though admittedly I have a more casual environment than some!)

    This season they have one they call a Bermuda short, with inseams from 9″ (petite) to 11″ (regular) and 12″ (long/tall):

    Heidi/The Closet Coach  |  March 9th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

  • I am on the shorter side - 5′4 and still losing some baby weight from baby #4 but I got a pair of shorts from lands end canvas for my birthday and I love them. they are these:

    they have a 5in inseam which works for my short legs.

    shannon  |  March 24th, 2011 at 12:41 pm