By Gabrielle Johnson
Several months before her 38th birthday, Gwyneth Paltrow took a pair for a spin on the red carpet. Forty-four-year-old Jennifer Aniston practically lives in them. And at 53, Sharon Stone was snapped wearing hers with a slouchy sweater and knee-high boots. As fashion statements go, shorts aren’t new: Sexy, sporty hot pants will forever be associated with the 1970s, while countless girls who came of age in the ’80s emulated Baby’s Dirty Dancing denim cut-offs. In the ’90s, shorts teamed with tights were a seasonless staple—a look that has since become an off-duty model classic.
On the ready-to-wear runways, shorts are also a familiar sight. Miuccia Prada opened her Spring 2000 show with a body-hugging pair, and has been experimenting with variations on the theme ever since. Marni designer Consuelo Castiglioni has been peppering her collections with them for years, in every length, fabric and pattern imaginable. This spring, tailored shorts have taken the spotlight. Chloé, Prabal Gurung and Fendi showed them in lush leathers; Carolina Herrera and Cacharel favoured light, shiny fabrics; Dolce & Gabbana, Hermès and Chalayan experimented with trippy prints; and Emporio Armani femme’d them up with sweet ruffles. Clearly, fashion’s cyclicality is what makes this trend so right, right now.
“Everything old is new again,” says Barbara Atkin, vice-president of fashion direction at Holt Renfrew. “Designers keep bringing back shorts, over and over again, in different ways. It’s the right time. We’ve had so many short miniskirts—it was time to evolve from that.”
Canadian designer Arthur Mendonça, whose Spring 2013 collection included sequin-effect black tuxedo shorts and a raspberry-hued silk sheen version, agrees. “I’ve always liked [them] as a skirt substitute,” he says. “I like the whole sporty look of a tailored short, especially for spring and summer. It looks modern. The shorts we did were all high-waisted; they almost look like A-line skirts.”
At Cacharel, designers Ling Liu and Dawei Sun consider tailored shorts to be the new trousers. “They’ve become a basic, whether in winter or in summer,” says Sun. “They’re modern and easy to mix. Different lengths and materials allow you to create really diverse outfits.” Considering that spring’s new crop of longer shorts were trotted out on the runways paired with blazers, button-downs and (relatively) sensible heels, it seems these onetime vacation-wear must-haves have morphed into perfectly acceptable office attire. Depending on your office, that is. “What we in the fashion world see as office-appropriate is really much more of a fashion take on your office wardrobe,” says Atkin. “If you’re working for a traditional law firm on [Toronto’s] Bay Street, shorts of any kind are a no-no. It would be frowned upon, and you’d probably be asked to leave.”
For those with more 9-to-5 sartorial flexibility, shorts are a welcome alternative to the tried-and-true work wardrobe. “Today, many company dress codes have evolved into business casual all the time, especially in the summer,” says Atkin. “The way designers have been showing shorts, they’re not frayed, they’re not cut-offs, they’re not denim. They’re polished and tailored. [You’d wear them] the same way you’d wear a tailored pant.” Tommy Hilfiger, who showed preppy Bermudas paired with schoolboy blazers and smart court shoes in his spring collection, believes shorts suits are perfect for the modern working woman. “The key to making the transition from beach to city is to find styles in updated cuts and sophisticated fabrics,” he says. Think cotton twills and lightweight summer wools. But the most important factor to consider is length. “To the knee or just above the knee—that’s appropriate,” says Mendonça. Shorts that hit mid-thigh, are cuffed and have a fuller silhouette are among Atkin’s must-haves this season. “My favourite look would be a beautiful little jacket—it could be one of the new cropped jackets that hits the top of your hipbone—with a longer, softer tunic blouse that you layer over the shorts for that beautiful layered look,” she says.
Shorts for evening are also long on style this season. Sequins, intricate beadwork and sumptuous satins and leathers shift this trend into chic after-hours attire. Mendonça loves the look of a tux jacket paired with shorts. Or steal your style cues from Beyoncé, who rocked a black sequined Chanel jacket, matching shorts and towering Christian Louboutin heels at the 2011 Grammy Awards. “Celebrities love to wear [shorts as eveningwear],” says Atkin. “That’s where you can wear a really sexy shoe.” Of course, Blake Lively-calibre legs and a spray tan always help. But the real beauty of this trend is that it’s not just reserved for A-listers or the under-25 set. It’s more about choosing a length and shape that work for you. “What is age-appropriate today? It’s much more about body type,” says Atkin. “If you don’t have a great above-the-knee area, you need to lengthen your hemline, regardless of age.” They say the legs are the last to go, so if you’ve got them, ’tis the season to flaunt them.