The history of shorts

Paulina Kulczycki

Men's shorts have evolved over the past few decades from a mainstream fashion faux pas to a stylish must-have in any fashionable closet. What used to be a cringe dad look is now in style. But the history of shorts is much older: the earliest known example of shorts can be found as early as the 1800s in the uniforms of the Nepalese military. However, the concept of men's shorts as we know them today was born in a tea house on Bermuda Island during World War I. Pretty random, right? Learn all about the history of shorts and how they made their way from a small tea house in Bermuda, to all over the world.

The history of shorts: World War I

You're probably wondering about the seemingly random fact that shorts were invented in a small tea house in Bermuda. The reason for that was that British soldiers set up their North American headquarters in Bermuda during World War 1 and made daily visits to the only tea store on the entire island. Because of the tropical heat and steaming teapots though, the temperature in the small, crowded tea house often got unbearable to work in. Owner Nathaniel Coxton didn't want to spend money on new, more breathable uniforms, so he took all of his staff's pants to a local tailor, who cut them off just above the knee. And so the shorts were born! 

A short time later, Admiral Mason Berridge, who sipped his daily tea in the tea store along many other soldiers, adopted the concept of shortened khakis for his fellow officers and gave them the infamous name: Bermuda Shorts. As the British Navy established yacht clubs, officers serving elsewhere in the British Army, adopted the elegant summer version of the khaki military uniform. Soon, the men in London who made uniform decisions on behalf of the military declared that all British soldiers serving anywhere in the subtropics of the old British Empire should be dressed in khaki Bermuda shorts as a uniform standard.

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The history of shorts: From Bermuda to the world

As locals in Bermuda noticed the dapperly dressed British officers who hung out at the yacht clubs, tailors began to copy the style and adapted it for more civilian use. This contributed to establishing the style of Bermuda shorts as the standard apparel for the islanders in the 1920s. And since Bermuda Island was a popular destination for steamships at that time, the tourists who spent their holidays there helped making the Bermuda shorts popular in the U.S. and around the world.

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The history of shorts: from taboo to everyday wear

But the popularization of Bermuda shorts was not as easy as it may seem. The history of shorts illustrates how many controversies the shorts encountered and how long they were frowned upon and labeled as vulgar. Especially in the United States, until the 1950s, there was an unwritten rule of etiquette that an adult male could not show himself in public wearing shorts.

Some communities considered this a matter of decency and even went so far as to ban the wearing of shorts! The town of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, for example, banned shorts in 1938, with the newspaper stating, "Honesdale is a modest town, not a bathing beach." After World War II, however, Western civil society gradually began to break away from the required conformity. Society began to dress more casually and questioned authority and the bourgeoisie.

After the rock 'n' roll of the '50s and Marlon Brando making shorts and the white T-shirt smarter than ever, the '60s brought hippies, emancipation, festivals and self-cut jean shorts. The '70s and '80s, thanks to disco, birth control and divorce rights, led to a newfound openness in the U.S. and the Western world that sought to be expressed through fashion as well. Thus, the cuts of shorts also became shorter, tighter and more revealing.

In the 90s, styles became longer again and more casual and baggier because of the hip hop scene. And after (cargo) shorts got a bad reputation in the 2000s because of awkward dad looks, shorts are now hotter than ever. Besides, let's face it, everything in the 2000s was pretty embarrassing – not only in fashion.

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Shorts today

Today, shorts come in a variety of designs, cuts, fabrics, patterns, lengths and styles, making them an ever-popular summertime essential. Whether it's cargo, jeans, khaki, Bermuda, sweatshorts or chino shorts, it's hard to imagine men's fashion without shorts. And if you're still wondering how to style your shorts properly, check out our style guide for tips and stylish outfit ideas.

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The Perfect Shorts from SANVT

If you have not yet ventured into shorts and are still undecided which model is right for you, then we advise you to go for timeless chino shorts! They're smart, functional and extremely versatile – whether you're pairing them with a blazer at a family party, or an oversized t-shirt and Chucks to hang out with friends. And since we are experts in designing flawless, sustainable and fairly produced essentials at SANVT, we have also perfected shorts.  

SANVT's chino shorts are made from a classy mix of organic cotton (97%) and elastane (3%), and thanks to their breathability, they have a pleasantly cooling effect on the skin. Hand-tailored in Portugal, the lightweight fabric of our chino shorts ensures a comfortable fit and increased freedom of movement, while the smart, minimalist design adds timeless sophistication. You can read more about what else makes the chino shorts so special here. But one thing is for sure: with this basic, the history of shorts is being rewritten.