why can’t I wear shorts to work?

A reader writes:

I recently hired an entry-level employee. This is her first office/full-time job ever, so part of my job is also making sure she understands office norms. Today during our weekly check-in, we were talking about the weather getting warmer and she made a comment about needing to buy more shorts for during the week. I explained that shorts aren’t appropriate work attire, even at our semi-casual office. She thanked me for letting her know, and asked if dresses and skirts are okay office wear. I said of course, as long as they are an appropriate length (knee or close to knee length).

However, all this got me thinking— why are dresses and skirts okay for the office when shorts are not? Is it just based on societal norms, or is there a reason we view shorts as unprofessional, but allow other clothes that do expose legs?

First, we need to stipulate here that we’re talking about offices that adhere to what’s generally considered a business dress code. There are offices where shorts are fine, just like there are offices where sweatpants are fine. But when we’re talking about what’s generally considered business wear, typically that excludes shorts (despite what fashion magazines would have you think).

As for why shorts aren’t typically considered business wear … I can only speculate.

You’re right that it doesn’t make logical sense that a skirt of the same length and material would be fine when shorts are not. But a lot of standards of professional dress are fairly arbitrary, and are conventions only because they’ve become conventions, not necessarily because there’s any inherent logic to them.

That said, a commenter here once speculated that the no-shorts rule stems from the fact that the rule used to be no bare skin below the waist. For pants, this meant no shorts. For skirts, this meant you’d have to wear pantyhose. When businesses started dropping the pantyhose requirement, we lost the consistency between the two.

But clothes in general, and the signals they send, are entirely constructs of culture. Think, for example, of the way a shirt might read as professional when it’s made out of silk, but the identical shirt in cotton would read as much more casual. There’s no inherently “right” reason for this; it’s just that we’ve evolved for all sorts of reasons (especially economic and classist ones) to see silk as nicer/more businessy and cotton as less so. Similarly, as a culture, we read shorts as more casual than skirts or pants. We see them as one step closer to beach wear.

Some of this, I think, is probably rooted in comfort. If you think about clothes that are traditionally considered business wear and clothes that aren’t, there’s often (not always) a comfort divide. Compare, for instance, the comfort level of a track suit versus a structured business suit. Surely you can do good work in either one — but as a society, we’ve always used clothes to communicate messages about who we are and what we’re doing. (And this thinking still really persists. Think of the common advice to dress in work clothes when you’re working from home, to get yourself into a work “mindset.”)

And I think that’s the practical take-away for work: as a society we’ve decided certain clothes send certain messages. That said, this stuff can be worth pushing back on if you’ve got capital to spend and are invested in changing it.

{ 597 comments… read them below }

  1. ENFP in Texas*

    In general, my guideline is “if you’d wear it to a bar or to a beach, you shouldn’t wear it to the office.”

    1. LawBee*

      you need to check out classier bars!

      (I kid, I kid – but really, I’d be underdressed in my work clothes at some bars here.)

      1. Allison*

        I get where ENFP is coming from though. There’s going to a nice bar after work in your work clothes, and there’s dressing specifically for a bar. I try to keep my work clothes separate from the rest of my clothes, so it’s more, if it’s an outfit I’d put it on to go swing dancing, meet friends for drinks, run errands, or knock around the house, I probably wouldn’t wear it to work.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          A lot of bars/clubs that don’t open til 8/9pm have dress codes for patrons (mostly men) such as no shorts, no flip flops, no jeans, no gym shoes, no sleeveless shirts, and you must have a collar. For me to get in that means I have to wear an outfit that I would wear to work slacks, button down or polo, and dress shoes.
          On casual Friday I sometime wear casual khaki pants, golf polo, and shoes in between sneaker and a dress shoe “boat shoe” I guess, and in that office outfit I would be under dressed for a club.

          I would suggest wearing skirts with shorts underneath. I know they make those for golfing but the skirts tend to be shorter and not office appropriate, and I don’t know if they make them as an everyday outfit. But I think you could pair a loose fitting black skirt with some black shorts underneath? Does a skirt over the shorts take away the benefits of shorts?

          I often hang out in a park in the area I work in after I’m done. During the summer I will bring a change of clothes like a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops so that I am not stuck in my long sleeve shirt and pants all night.

          1. That Work from Home Life*

            Personally, I’d find shorts under a skirt torturously uncomfortable. In general I prefer skirts/dresses over shorts as I find them to be cooler and more comfortable in the summer. My city reaches inner-circle-of-hell levels of sweltering humidity, so adding an extra layer would defeat the purpose imo. I suppose if I were a Team Shorts person though I’d change into them before leaving the office or try to find some fashionable/dressy ones that felt office appropriate–longer, floaty shorts made of more upscale fabrics seem to be in right now, so I don’t think it’s an impossible feat.

            1. Theal*

              Jockey has a slipshort that is lighter than bike shorts and moisture wicking. I live in humidity hell and they are great in a summer office environment under a skirt.

          2. Jaid*

            My skorts save me in the summer and Women Within has them at just above the knee in jersey and twill fabrics.

          3. Safetykats*

            I wear skorts all the time in the summer. A lot of higher end golf skirts come in multiple lengths, and in conservative colors and prints. I’m pretty sure most people at work have no idea they aren’t skirts.

          4. KoKoPuff*

            I’m wearing black running shorts under my black pencil skirt right now! My thighs chafe, so I have to have some sort of fabric between my legs. It’s super comfy. Highly recommend.

            1. Galloping Gargoyles*

              I wear short under my skirts for the same reason. Due to my hideous but necessary compression stockings most of my skirts/dresses are maxi’s but I still find the shorts comfy to wear underneath them.

        2. Emily K*

          Not me! My work wardrobe is pretty much the same as my weekend wardrobe: colorful, comfortable A-line dresses with short sleeves and hemlines just above the knee, often with a cropped cardigan or a button up shirt tied off at my waist so I can add and remove sleeves easily. It’s comfortable, the cuts are conservative enough and the fabric thick enough to be professional, but they still feel cute and stylish.

          For me the distinction would be out-of-the-house clothes (mostly dresses and leggings), vs lounging-at-home/gardening clothes (shorts, pajama pants, old t-shirts, rompers, scrubby/ripped jeans). The stuff I wouldn’t wear to work is the stuff I also wouldn’t wear to the grocery.

    2. Old Cynic*

      My business is located between Technology Gulch and the Design District (home furnishings) in San Francisco. These are rapidly comingling.

      The tech kids (of all ages) wear shorts, tees, hoodies, and flip-flops. They could have literally stepped off the beach. Even in cold, rainy weather, it’s unusual to see long pants.

      The design crowd dresses a little more “professional” to even “dressy”. Even the occasional suit. Jeans, too, but those are generally Chanel.

      It took me a long time to convince my partner that we didn’t need to wear ties to look professional. I’ve even managed to get us into Levi’s and Nike’s but with dress shirts. He lets me wear a golf shirt on casual Friday. but no shorts.

      1. sunshyne84*

        I had those crowds flip-flopped in my mind. lol Also didn’t know Chanel had jeans.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            Does no one here remember when “designer jeans” were the HUGE thing in the 80s? LOL

            I don’t follow high fashion closely anymore, but I’ve always been under the impression that most of the big design houses also do jeans and other casual wear. It’s not the runway stuff, it’s the ready-to-wear, which is where the bulk of their sales come from.

            1. Galloping Gargoyles*

              My first memorable purchase was my purple Gloria Vanderbilt jeans <3 :-)

    3. Noah*

      A bar? The existence of after work happy hours makes that mnemonic ineffective for most people.

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        Ha! Women’s fashion blogging industry would be bereft without the “from desk to drinks” suggestions!

        1. Anonya*

          I always want to scream, “Desk to drinks is not a thing! Just wear your work clothes to happy hour!” (That is, if you do happy hour at all. IME, that doesn’t happen that often after a certain stage of life.)

    4. anon today and tomorrow*

      Uh, this makes no sense. Plenty of people wear clothes to bars that they’d wear to work. A bar does not automatically mean dressing inappropriately. If that was the case, I couldn’t wear any of my outfits to work since I’ve worn them all to bars.

      1. Wendie*

        Yes absolutely. I wear my scrubs skirt to Christmas parties (Hanukkah bush trimmings) and to the bar with my sons. Sometimes even work ;). When I dress up I have a pair of fleuvogs that are fun and always get compliments – at work too. Not sure I would share this advice with my niece or the girls in church group, who are all nicely dressed btw.

        1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          I love Fleuvogs! Best shoes ever!

          My best friend & her husband are both Vog junkies- he wears his to work as a graphic designer. Even to important meetings where he is in a nice designer suit.

      2. LaDeeDa*

        I think they were talking about what we would do when were 21 on a Saturday night to go to a CLUB. I think back to what I wore during those days and yeah- that would not be ok to wear to work.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          Or the weekend bar and grill. That you would definitely not want to dress up for. I used to cocktail at a ‘singles bar’ in Long Beach a reeeeally long time ago, and it was also super casual. Could have been a LB thing though. But yes, there’s a definite difference between a bar and a club.

      3. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        I worked at a mall based retail chain where the dress code at corporate HQ included everything from suits to gothic/fetish clubwear.
        They were very dedicated to hiring people who actually knew the products and lived the lifestyle they were selling, and as such, were not requiring them to subscribe to arbitrary, pointless and outdated dress codes that don’t have any impact on people’s ability to do their jobs.
        They’ve been in business for 30+ years now, so obviously that philosophy hasn’t hurt them.

    5. MarsJenkar*

      Indeed. Shorts may be comfy and easy to wear, but they’re not business attire.

      1. PhyllisB*

        Are “city shorts” still a thing? Back in the 90’s I had a really nice outfit, fitted top (not quite a jacket, but not really a blouse, either.) with city shorts. Good quality heavy cotton and it was dressy enough for church.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s really the point of the post — there is no logical reason why, other than the many cultural constructs we’ve come up with around clothes.

          1. Topcat*

            There are tailored shorts that are more like culottes, often made of the same material as business suits, including with a matching jacket. I wonder if they might pass?

            I once saw a woman in the city wearing a business skirt and jacket, with a top underneath that I can only describe as a “business bikini” – two triangles of the same pinstripe fabric, that was it. Midriff totally bare. She didn’t appear to be a promo girl/model or anything, she was walking with two normally business-attired other people. To this day I’m still bewildered by it.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          I think one reason might be that many people wear their shorts too short so it seems like more of a flirting thing than a business thing.
          That could be addressed by making a dress code “shorts no shorter than 3 inches above the knee”, or whatever. They do that with skirts anyway.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Well…they used to be. For a brief period in the 90s, women’s suits with knee-length shorts were A Thing. I had a couple of them myself.

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          Ahhh the culotte suit! Like the linen one at the end of Pretty Woman! I’ll admit I kind of wish that was a thing.

        2. PhyllisB*

          That’s what I was trying to describe, SheLooksFamiliar. I wore mine to work and church and got tons of compliments. The only thing I ever saw that made me go ????????? was in San Francisco in the seventies. I saw men wearing business suits, but the pants were shorts!! Maybe they were comfortable, but looked really odd to me.

          1. Mhoops*

            In Bermuda all the men wear pastel Bermuda shorts with suits and dress socks. It was very funny looking at first like they were in boxers but I really liked it in the end.

    6. Skeeder Jones*

      Thank god for full time telecommuting! I wear whatever is comfortable for the day.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        My entire team is remote so our biggest wardrobe problem is “My webcam accidentally turned on when I still had my hair in a towel”. Webcam covers are my team’s new fad now.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’m here for that!

      That’s better than rompers/jumpsuits IMO.

      1. Rezia*

        Are jumpsuits work appropriate (say, for a business casual environment where dark jeans and a nice top would be okay)? They seem not as formal to me, but I can’t say why.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I don’t know? I personally dislike the because you have to completely disrobe to use the bathroom and (1) I pee too much for that and (2) I don’t wanna be hanging out mostly naked in my work restroom.

        2. Ophelia*

          I can see something with sleeves and wider legs, with heavier fabric in a conservative color (black, navy, gray) being appropriate if paired with businesslike accessories and such–but it would probably depend on the office. I think mine would be ok with it, as we lean towards “hip business casual,” but that wouldn’t fly everywhere.

        3. Overeducated*

          I had a coworker who would wear a black full-length jumpsuit with wide flowing legs, combined with nice jewelry, and it looked amazing. She did tend to wear it on Fridays, but those were also the only days you’d ever see someone in dark jeans.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think jumpsuits could be (with a lot of caveats), but if shorts are not ok in a particular office, rompers also should be off-limits.

          1. Artemesia*

            No one looks like a grownup in rompers. And only one in a thousand looks good in culotes and those are usually acceptable office wear. I think the problem with shorts is that most shorts are beachy — when it is okay to wear shorts you would have people in athletic shorts, daisy dukes and other very short shorts and a lot of stuff that looks anything but business casual. And no one wants to be the shorts adjudicator. Sure a nice pair of bermudas can look business casual but it is a slippery slope and no one wants to go back to middle school clothing rule enforcement . No shorts is easier.

            1. Tiny Soprano*

              Now that you mention bermudas I’ve definitely seen a couple of (female) PMs in summer wandering around in bermudas. Usually on casual Friday, with a blazer for the office air con.

            2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              My late aunt’s entire wardrobe consisted of rompers, jumpsuits, and pantsuits. Except for rare occasions (like dressing up for a wedding) it’s all I ever saw her wear. She was in her 30s when I was born and wore them all her life.
              She was lovely, casual and understated, and ALWAYS looked like a grownup.

        5. JJ Bittenbinder*

          I had a black jumpsuit that I would wear with a blazer to a business casual office . As Det. Amy said, the disrobing-to-pee thing is a PITA, but overall, it was a fine look. There’s nothing inherently + or – about jumpsuits but, as with most biz cas clothing, it depends not just on your office but on the garment’s fabric, cut, silhouette, etc.

        6. Ella*

          I feel like if you wouldn’t wear the top or bottom of a jumpsuit on its own to work, then you shouldn’t wear the jumpsuit, but if both the top and bottom would be work appropriate on their own, then you’re probably fine wearing the whole jumpsuit to work. So a romper would be out in any workplace where shorts aren’t appropriate, but something that’s basically a work appropriate shirt + work appropriate trousers combined into one garment is probably fine. (Unless your office requires super conservative dress, in which case probably better not to risk it.)

        7. You can call me flower, if you want to*

          I have a black jumpsuit from LOFT and wear it to my conservative business casual office all of the time. I always add a sweater or a blazer and cute jewelry. As another comment mentioned, it is a little weird that I have to get naked to pee, but I’m in a stall and my jumpsuit is cute so who cares. I’m team jumpsuit.

        8. AnnaBananna*

          I think as long as the cut doesn’t look like overalls and you pair it with a nicer top/long sleeves, it would be fine at my work on a Friday, for sure. Oh, and with heeled sandals or something.

        9. Letter Writer here!*

          People actually do wear jumpsuits to my office and I’ve never given them a second thought except that I could never pull them off! Rompers though seem for whatever reason to fall into the same category as shorts to me and if an employee of mine wore it to work I’d probably let them know it’s not appropriate for the future… although all these comments are making me reconsider that!

        10. Marion Ravenwood*

          Depends what you’re doing I think. In my old job one of my Big Bosses wore smart jumpsuits (black, long pants, sleeves, nice gold jewellery, red lipstick) a lot for presentations or events, but she was the type of cool, slightly edgy boss who was trendy enough to get away with it. And she wouldn’t have worn it on a regular day in the office.

        11. she was a fast machine*

          I’ve seen several coworkers wear jumpsuits that have full-length pants and no inappropriate cut-outs, and they all look perfectly fine and professional. I think the hardest part is that they need to have full-length pant bottoms and no weird cut-outs which has been a trend lately.

        12. Light37*

          I had a nice jumpsuit years ago. I believe it was tan, with a notched collar like a shirt. That would have worked for the office with a belt and boots or walking shoes. But again, it depends on the jumpsuit.

        13. SaffyTaffy*

          We’ve got medical students at my school wearing jumpsuits for formal events. I think it depends on the jumpsuit and the person wearing it. It’s not as obviously appropriate as a conservative dress.

      2. Ellex*

        A previous coworker would come to work sometimes in a velour catsuit. She was fully covered and even had the figure for it, but…personally, I thought it inappropriate.

        It was an extremely casual workplace, where jean and sweatshirts/t-shirts were pretty normal for anyone not management, although the young woman who came in a spaghetti-strap “blouse” that was more suitable for clubbing or the bedroom was informed “if it looks like lingerie, don’t wear it to work”.

        1. Wendie*

          Yes, a girl who sometimes files at the church wears those lacy trimmed tops that seem to be popular these days. Crinkly material but on purpose. Like what I wear for my husband! Stick with a blouse and you’ll always be safe.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            I wear lingerie to night clubs, and *nothing* for my husband, LOL.

    2. Archives Gremlin*

      I have a skort I work to work! I LOVE it because I don’t particularly like wear skirts. It’s a dark demin color and it goes to just above my knee and is super comfortable but looks professional. I bought it at Fred Meyers in case anybody is interested.

      I will say I don’t wear it too often because 68 degrees F is just a tad to cold for me for shorts/skirts. :)

        1. QueenB*

          I’ve heard of living to work and working to live, but never of working to work lol.

          1. Willis*

            Ha – that’s how I feel when I’m doing marketing. I’m just working to work more!

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Ahhh I miss Fred Meyer. I moved away. I also miss Value Village. Good times.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          They’re still around. I have two Fred Meyers and a Value Village within 5 mins of my house.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Skorts are the best invention in women’s fashion, yes. Designers got so, so much wrong, but they got that one right.

    3. Leishycat*

      I have multiple skorts I wear to work through the spring/summer/fall, especially when I need to do a lot of walking after work. The prevention of thigh rub when powerwalking through the city in 90-degree heat makes it a little less unbearable.

    4. Punk Ass Book Jockey*

      Ah, skorts. I got written up in elementary school for wearing a skort, because we weren’t allowed to wear shorts after a certain date. There wasn’t a similar rule for skirts….so if it hadn’t had leg holes I would have been fine!

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        You could have written this question back then, and get the same response years later. Some things never change!

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        That seems so stupid. If you were wearing a skort, the skirt part was over the shorts right? I think someone would have had to really be looking up the skirt of an elementary school aged child to notice they were actually wearing shorts underneath?

        1. J.*

          Some types of skorts have a fabric panel across the front but from the back it looks like regular shorts. It doesn’t have to be a fully gross/inappropriate situation to have noticed it.

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            Or they could’ve been hanging upside down from something on the playground. I mean, that’s the point of a skort, right? To do things you don’t feel “safe” doing in a skirt?

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              When I was in elementary school and girls *had to* wear dresses/skirts I always had shorts on underneath.

              1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                I wouldn’t have done well in that era. I hated skirts & dresses and flat out REFUSED to wear them. I even remember getting into a HUGE fight with my mom when I was in middle school because she wanted me to wear a dress to a neighbors wedding and I wanted to wear my dressy velour/velvet pants with a nice top. (She won, I was fuming the entire time.)

                In high school I loosened up, but that was only because the combination of vintage clothing, high fashion, and punk rock convinced me that dresses & skirts didn’t have to look all “girly” and UGH.

                1. wittyrepartee*

                  Lol, and when you don’t wear dresses and are forced to wear one, the dresses you do have are always humiliating.

                  I was required to wear dresses to church. So I chose a blue hawaiian print dress and wore only that dress to church. If it was cold it had a sweater with it. If it was hot I wore sandles. I wore it for about 3 years.

        2. Artemesia*

          They have skirts for little girls now that have shorts built in. My granddaughter prefers to wear dresses and these little skirts with shorts are perfect, like for when you are upside down on the monkey bars. Skorts are shorts in the back but look like skirts in the front and a different product.

          1. Safetykats*

            Nope, most women’s skorts are just a skirt with built in shorts. I haven’t seen one that isn’t a full skirt for a long time.

    5. Adalind*

      I would looove to find a decent skort. I had a nice black one that could pass at work, but alas it’s old and no longer around. Nice to change it up from jeans or dresses.

      1. barbatsea*

        Tail Activewear has great golf skorts that potentially could be used for work apparel. The outseam is 18″ so it does fall above the knee but they’re not as short as many of the other sport skorts out there. It’s really hard to find one any longer than that.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          I can’t seem to find golf skorts that are longer than midthigh. I blame that Russian golf chick and her perfect body. >.>

        2. Safetykats*

          Love the Tail skorts! Nike made really nice ones too for a while, but the past couple of years they are mostly too athletic looking to get away with wearing to work.

      2. Hallowflame*

        Betabrand (of Dress Pant Yoga Pant fame) has several styles of skorts that look office-appropriate. I haven’t ordered any myself, but by looking at the website, they look like they fall just above the knee. And have pockets!

    6. Mookie*

      For me, they never left, but this is exactly my initial response. There are many modes of shorts; some, in my mind, are so virtually indistinguishable from skirts that I’d consider it hair-splitting for less formal offices to balk at their presence.

    7. The New Wanderer*

      As long as it’s skirt + built in shorts (which are awesome but hard to find in lengths longer than tennis skirt), and not the awful thing I wore as a kid that was shorts with a wrap-around flap across the front, so only the front looked like a skirt.

      1. Zephy*

        Oh man, I had one of those. I figured they weren’t made anymore, but I just looked and Nasty Gal has one for sale. It’s ~asymmetrical~ and ~hi-fash~ and still just as inadvisable as ever, IMO.

      2. copier queen*

        Oh good grief, my mother did that to me too. I still think of the business-in-the-front-flap and party-in-the-back-shorts when I think of skorts.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I think mullet dresses/skirts are the mullets of summer garments. Short in the front long in the back.

      3. Choux*

        I had no idea there were skorts that WEREN’T the wrap-around style! I wear bike shorts under all my skirts and dresses to avoid the dreaded chub rub (and to protect my modesty from subway grate gusts). I had no idea there were skirts + shorts that came together!

        1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

          Betabrand makes some fantastic, work appropriate ones! Excellent for biking to work as well.

        2. Salamander*

          Eh. I’ve tried several varieties of skorts, and I get worse chub rub with them than skirts. Something about how they’re cut – there’s this fabric in the middle that just chafes my inner thighs like nobody’s business. I just stick with skirts and slip shorts.

      4. Parenthetically*

        My former school (and a LOT of schools around here, come to think of it) has that kind of flappy-front skort for their little girls’ (K-6) uniforms. 7-12th grade girls can wear pants or a (super duper cute) skirt but no longer have the skort option. They are not sad about it.

    8. SOAS (NA)*

      its already back!

      Signed — someone who accidentally bought a cute dress that turned out to be a skort. Er…

      1. AnnaBananna*

        You must be like me and don’t try things on before you buy. Always an adventure. ;)

    9. Nep*

      Not commenting on appropriateness for work, just relaying an amusing story.

      My mother and I went to Mackinac Island some years ago and were hanging out on the porch of the Grand Hotel. After 5pm, there is apparently a dress code for anyone on the property. Women must be in skirts. She was wearing a skort. They kicked us out (very politely). It amused us greatly.

      1. General Ginger*

        Nep, I looked it up, because I got curious, and it looks like “dress sweaters” and “dress slacks” are now acceptable for women, though I’m trying to figure out what precisely constitutes a dress sweater.

          1. General Ginger*

            Yeah, probably a same-color shell/cardigan combo. Back in the 80s, my mother had a white crochet sweater with lace sleeves and pearls, I wonder if that would qualify.

        1. Cordoba*

          I’m picturing a sweater with a tuxedo pattern knitted into it, similar to the T-shirts that just have a tux printed on the front.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            See and I thought it was one of those chunky sweaters that go to the knee and is worn with tights and boots in winter. Who knew?

            1. sam*

              confusing the “dress sweater” with the “sweater dress”. can’t see at all why that would happen [insert winking emoji]

          2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            My husband wore one of those tees when we got married. (I helped him find it.)

    10. Neosmom*

      Years ago I was chastised for wearing a twill skort (the same tasteful hem length as twill shorts) in a work culture where twill shorts were very acceptable. HR explained to me that my skort was not acceptable because it looked like a mini-skirt – even though I was more covered up than the men and women wearing shorts! I’m still a little chafed about that conversation, even though I have not worked for this particular employer for more than 6 years.

    11. Gymmie*

      This is specifically excluded in our company handbook. It has amused me and another coworker for years.

    12. I'd Rather Not Say*

      My favorite skort is the Cruiser from a company called Fresh Produce. Too casual for work, but a nice length and fabric.

    13. Vicky Austin*

      The skort went away? Guess I’m behind the times when it comes to fashion. Now that you mention it, I haven’t seen a skort in years.

  2. Dust Bunny*

    For me, shorts tend to fall into the same level of formality as not-your-best-jeans. I’ve never yet seen shorts, intended for men or women, that looked as professional as either slacks or a “business” skirt (pencil skirt, say).

    There is a lot of variation in skirts, so saying that “skirts are appropriate” doesn’t necessarily mean all skirts: A trim straight or A-line skirt would be appropriate but a long, blousy, boho-style maxi skirt. or a frayed denim mini, or some a lot of other styles of skirt, often wouldn’t be.

    1. Qwerty*

      There were some women’s suits with shorts about a decade ago that looked sleek and professional. I was living in a warm weather climate at the time, so I don’t know if those just never caught on or if I don’t see them because it is too cold where I live.

      A couple of my male coworkers have shorts that look almost as good as slacks. The main problem they run into is men’s shoes haven’t caught up so dress shoes look odd with shorts but sandals are too casual for the office.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I recall a salesclerk at Penny’s(?) who was sent home to change out of her shorts-suit, even though she argued that she had purchased the outfit in the store’s business-wear section.

        1. Talia*

          …I mean, I feel like if the store is selling it *as* business-wear the store should consider it acceptable for their employees to wear to work.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I agree but I’ve also seen the stuff stores put in their business-wear sections and YIKES. I was browsing a store website’s “wear to work” section looking for some blouses for a business trip and there were midriff-baring tops and stuff with a cutout back — apparently some of the people who organize that stuff need a refresher course on the typical business dress code.

      2. MK*

        I know the suits you mean and you can’t find them nowadays; it was one of those one-season trends. I don’t think bussiness-appropriate shorts would be easy to find; a skirt made of the material most shorts are made of would probably also be too casual for the same office.

        As an aside, I am always baffled by the assertion that shorts are comfortable; I find them one of the most inconvenient pieces of clothing, not to mention that they flatter very few body-types.

        1. Janie*

          “Flattering” is something I care about so little that it’s barely a ping on the radar. Not to mention how much “flattering” basically = “thinner”.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            In my book “flattering” is a totally subjective measurement based only on whether *I* like how something looks on me, not on anyone else’s opinion of how it looks, or if it makes my body look culturally acceptable, LOL.

        2. T3k*

          Around here where humidity can feel like you’re swimming in soup during the summers, nobody cares about looking “flattering”, we just want to feel cool. And shorts are extremely comfortable :) Just depends on the material/cut of them.

          1. MK*

            Actually, one of the reasons I find them inconvenient is that to me they are intorelable when it’s too hot.

              1. Parenthetically*

                Not when your thighs rub together! I’d love to spend the summer in breezy dresses but my thighs forbid it.

                1. sam*

                  time for the annual reminder about jockeys slip shorts! they’re like spanx but without any of the compression. Super lightweight, and basically designed for this specific purpose.

                  (more companies are making these types of things now too).

                2. Queen Anon*

                  Tried to reply to Sam below, but couldn’t. Another lifesaver when it comes to thigh rub is a pair of old-fasioned petty pants. I get mine from the various plus size catalogs (like Roamans) but someone must make them in straight sizes. They’re lightweight, like a slip, so more comfortable than shorts, plus the legs are loose-fitting rather than tight like bike shorts.

                3. Hodie-Hi*

                  Undersummers.com. I got a pair last summer to wear under a dress that turned out to be shorter than I expected. They are comfy and eliminate chafing discomfort. I’ll buy more so I can wear them under all my summer dresses.

                4. Mother of Cats*

                  Try Body Glide! I discovered it when I started running (short shorts = chafing nightmare), and don’t know how I lived without it for everyday skirt-wearing. :)

                5. Light37*

                  Dusting powder saves me each summer. Zeasorb Excess Moisture was recommended by my dermatologist and keeps me comfortable even in the humidity and heat.

                6. Gymmie*

                  im a body glide believer. Even in pants if I’m going to be hoofing it I use it because I get chafing…

                7. bonkerballs*

                  Body glide is great, but honestly just use a stick deodorant on your thighs.

        3. Stephanie*

          Yeah, I never really wore jean shorts when I lived in Phoenix! Material was usually too thick and confining in the dead of summer. Or they had to be loose fit and a very thin jean material (and then by that point, you might as well just wear linen).

        4. Wendie*

          Some of us carry weight a little different! I think if you are apple shaped they are very flattering. Not at work.

        5. jDC*

          Uh I hate shorts. I am thin and have tried every style. They are all horribly uncomfortable no matter what. I also could never see a girls butt hanging out of shorts again and be quite fine. I stick to dresses.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I’m also thin and I don’t like pants or shorts generally. They almost always ride up. It’s hard to find pants in a good length, and they also dig into my waist when I sit down. I have one pair of stretch jeans I wear for social when appropriate – and I have to wear a belt or they’ll sag.
            Dresses and skirts are so much more comfy and easier to wear! I wear stockings all the time because of veins but before I started doing that I wore shorts or dance pants underneath when necessary. :)

        6. Gymmie*

          Yes I hate them! I only want to wear them around the house or if it’s really hot because they are just not comfortable or nice looking on my fatter body.

        7. AnnaBananna*

          Nah, I still see the business shorts at discount places like TJ Maxx and Ross all the friggin’ time. They still exist, but I think they’re mostly worn by the high school management team of Claire’s Accessories or something because I don’t know who else would get away with them.

      3. German Girl*

        I’ve seen a woman’s suit with capri pants that looked really polished once at an opera house.

        I can’t find a picture at the moment but the cut was similar to this one http://wheretoget.it/look/2086482, only the pants ended just below the knee instead of mid calf and the color of the pants, vest and jacket was ivory, worn with ivory heels.

        That said, my boss’s boss has banned shorts, sandals and t-shirts with prints, but not said anything about skirts or even sleeveless summer dresses or sleeveless blouses. The skirts/dresses we’ve worn around him were all knee length or longer, and the sleeveless stuff was nice enough in my opinion, not at all sportswear-like. Meanwhile the men were really running around in cargo shorts, sandals, and t-shirts with beer advertisement on them, so he probably was focused on fixing the problems with the men’s dress code.

        1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

          I’m waiting for vests to come back as a business style for women

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Yes please! I still have a couple that are so ridiculously cute from the 90’s but don’t want to look totally off. I think if I was younger and my boobs were smaller I could wear them with jeans and a T, but otherwise, they’re probably classified as inappropriate. Sadface. My closet is a wish-fulfillment graveyard.

          2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            Why wait? Start scouring thrift stores for cute women’s vests!

          1. Marthooh*

            Mhhhhmmmm. The look doesn’t say “I’m a professional” so much as “My big brother is a professional, and I like to wear his outgrown prep school uniforms.”

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              What? This outfit looks really nice and I don’t see anything the least office or business inappropriate about it. Plaid is always a classic look.

              Well, I guess I do have one problem- in MY opinion, heels are ridiculous/inappropriate as mandatory office wear, so I think it should be worn with a plainer shoe, and the tie & vest might be too much for a less formal office, but other than those two small quibbles, this is a great office outfit.

      4. JJ Bittenbinder*

        I really hated those short suits, partially because it was a drag to go somewhere like Marshall’s to look through the suits, see something that appealed to me, pull it out, and…darn, shorts. Rinse and repeat.

    2. Big Bank*

      That’s interesting because I was actually thinking that skirts typically do end up on business casual by default. Always exceptions, but same for any article that would normally be ok (ie must be clean, no fraying, no holes.) I do think there are shorts that would be appropriate but to allow then into policy I think you’d need to be really specific (i.e. Bermuda shorts only, black, no patterns) because there are too many versions of shorts you’d need to exclude (i.e. shortie shorts, Jean shorts, gym shorts, cutoffs, etc etc). It’s easier for policy writers to just say no shorts and call it a day than police specifics.

    3. Sandman*

      On this note, I’m grateful to the OP for having this conversation with their employee – that some skirts were appropriate and others were not was completely lost on me when I started my career in a very conservative legislative office. I really need things spelled out for me sometimes and cringe when I think of what I used to wear…

    4. Ladylike*

      I actually think close-fitting, knee-length (bermuda) shorts in dressy fabrics would pass muster.

    5. Snowglobe*

      So a number of years ago (1990’s?) there was a fairly-high level executive at a Fortune 100 company who frequently wore dress Bermuda shorts with a suit jacket, knee socks and dress shoes. I think he was trying to start a trend, but it never caught on. (He was on the Board of Directors for my company and always showed up to meetings dressed like that).

      1. Parenthetically*

        I live in a fairly Southern U.S. city and honestly the casual shorts suit is still very much a thing here — accessorized with a trilby or a boater and Sperrys. I knew a guy in grad school who had TWO colors of seersucker shorts suit alone.

      2. Media Monkey*

        the shoes are a definite issue with men’s shorts suits. proper shoes look odd but what else do they wear?

  3. JT*

    I find shorts to be less casual than skirts or dresses, regardless of the skin factor. Shorts are meant for moving around/activity. You have to be careful in how you move in a skirt/dress.

    1. WellRed*

      To me, that makes shorts more casual, not less. No ladylike ankle crossing I guess : )

      1. JT*

        Sorry, I meant more! I shouldn’t try to type coherent thoughts while wondering through an airport.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I hate skirts for that reason!
      They hobble women, ride up, blow up and can be seen and looked up.

      Not so (knee length) shorts. Not a peep to be seen.

      1. Anax*

        I’m inclined to disagree on a personal level; shorts ride up for me, and a nice maxi skirt has never done me wrong. And you can spin around and make them flare out without showing anything. To each their own, right? :)

        Not gonna lie, I wish I could wear skirts to the office sometimes, but I don’t have the energy to navigate that social awkwardness as a dude. (Transgender, so everything is complicated.)

        1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*


          I also wear black or colored cotton Granny Panties, that cover more than the average swimsuit bottoms, so if I have some sort of wardrobe malfunction (very common, I’m a klutz), I don’t actually CARE if anybody sees them because I’m fully covered!

      2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        That’s me. Dresses and skirts just aren’t as freeing. I love to horseback ride (Haven’t for years :( ) and pants and shorts meant I could ride. (Sidesaddle not an option). Wearing skirts and dresses around most animals is just not as easy as pants.

        1. clockworklemon*

          I also love to horseback ride, and do so competitively, but even in my extremely laid-back corner of the sport, shorts would be iffy-at-best. The clothes I wear when I ride my horse are on the “casual” side of our dress code (denim breeches and lace-up boots instead of more conservative and traditional styles) but they’re definitely within the realm of “professional” for equestrian sports. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a rider or staff member in shorts–and the shorts-wearer was a heavily-pregnant trainer who was teaching daytime lessons in 90-degree heat.

      3. Anonny*

        Back in my skirt-wearing days, I acquired a skirt that had buttons all the way up. I also have a very… striding gait. Fortunately I was still at home when my skirt unbuttoned itself and fell off.

  4. I'd Rather Not Say*

    I remember a time in the 90s when dressy shorts were being worn with pantyhose. Never caught on, I guess -lol

    1. Vermonter*

      I used to (ahem) skirt around the “no shorts” issue by wearing dressier shorts with tights. It’s definitely a thing in Japan, but I’m guessing it’s not in the States.

      1. Emarellelle*

        That’s how we got around the dress code rule of “no shorts from Nov 1- April 15” at my middle school in the South. The boys raised a stink about the girls wearing shorts with thin tights on hot days that they *almost* banned skirts during those months as well. (Instead of, you know, rolling back an idiotic rule that made people miserable when it was 85 degrees the week before Thanksgiving and the heat was on in the building. Which obviously meant all hell would break loose it they turned it off or down…)

        1. Close Bracket*

          If I were principle and didn’t care if I lost my job, I would say that boys were welcome to wear shorts with tights, too.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            Well, while I do agree that men/boys can wear whatever they want, including skirts, dresses and tights, it would have been much better to just eliminate the stupid shorts rule entirely! It doesn’t even make any sense!
            Either you can wear shorts to school, or you can’t- PERIOD. Just what purpose is a shorts-wearing date range supposed to serve?

            Where I went to high school (So Cal in the early 80s), it would have been unthinkable to prohibit shorts at any time of the year. Hell, the jocks often wore their school athletic shorts all the time, and on game days the cheerleaders wore their short skirted uniforms without anyone batting an eye.

            They also didn’t clutch their pearls over girls wearing leggings & camisoles.

            Seriously- I was an EXTREMELY creative dresser in my HS years, and the only thing that I was ever warned about being against the dress code was spiked wristbands (and I knew better than to wear mine to school, ha!)

    2. Yarrow*

      Oh, that’s being going in and out of fashion in the last 10 years for people under 30. I liked the way it looked at one point, but couldn’t get over how I imagined it felt to wear extra layers in a humid climate.

      1. Catsaber*

        I rocked the shorts-over-tights look in elementary school…and was ridiculed for it. Now it’s fashion!

        1. Janie*

          I remember wearing a floral romper over black tights in the 90s and honestly that was kind of a Look.

        2. many bells down*

          All through high school I did this, because I lived in SoCal in the 80’s and I am incapable of tanning. Tights sidestepped most of the “omg ur so PALE!” commentary.

          1. Grace*

            I also did this all the way through my teens (aka, until fairly recently). A combination of being incapable of tanning and of being highly uncomfortable with my keratosis pilaris being visible. Actually, I just did my utmost to wear nothing but full-length trousers, but anything above mid-calf got tights under it. It was a bad time for self-esteem…

            (KP is a skin condition, a build-up of keratin in the hair follicles, also called ‘chicken skin’ (which I hate), and actually affects a lot of people but generally fades after the teenage years. Mine is genetic and here to stay.)

            1. Owler*

              Grace, thank you for mentioning this! My kiddo has bumps like this on her upper arms, and I’ve always wondered about it. It doesn’t bother her, so I try to let it go (and it always eases before a doctor physical). Thanks for giving a name to what I’m now google-diagnosing.

              1. Kat in VA*

                A relatively cheap at-home remedy for KP (my daughter has it, and I get bouts here and there) is Amlactin lotion, which is an exfoliating lotion with lactic acid that isn’t dangerous or damaging. Warning – it smells kinda like pee or spoiled milk, so best put on after an evening shower when you’ve exfoliated with a shower scrubby or loofah. Funky smell aside, it works very well for keeping the little knobblies down. It runs around $22.00 for a good sized bottle on Amazon.

              2. Hodie-Hi*

                I’ve found that a body wash with salicylic acid helps. Something like Neutrogena pink grapefruit body wash or store brand equivalent. I’ll second Amlactin lotion or Gold Bond rough and bumpy skin lotion.

          2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            Ha! I’ve been doing this since the 80s (SoCal too) because just thought it looked BETTER than bare legs (and while I may wear some eyebrow raising things, I have never been much of a skin shower.)

            I was also TRYING to stay as pale as possible- I did not (and still do not) like how white people look with tans (from burnt toast to burnt corpse – YECCCH! Fishbelly white for me, thanks!)

        3. Armchair Analyst*

          A lot of boys do it now – short wide athletic shorts over tight running leggings, I guess!

      2. Socks*

        The tights help with thigh chafing! And I actually feel cooler with tights on than with sticky, sweaty bare legs. I’ve never understood when people talked about tights like they counted as a real layer of clothing- they sure don’t cut it as a replacement for pants in the cold! Tights are great, I wish it weren’t weird for me to wear the super crazy colorful ones now, as an adult.

        1. IT Squirrel*

          Wear the super crazy colourful tights! Rock the super crazy colourful tights! (only maybe not at work…)

          I was very sad the other day when I couldn’t find my pair of tights that were all over flower print, and remembered they got a ladder in them and had to be thrown out. I need to replace them!

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            If I threw out my tights every time they got a run, I’d go broke, because it would mean I’d get max 3 wears out of any given pair before I had to toss them.

            I am just THAT clumsy.

            Luckily, ripped & torn tights fit my personal style, but it makes me laugh because I know people think it’s a choice I make on purpose and not something I’m forced into because I’m too janky not to fuck up all my clothes.

        2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          I’m 52, and while my go to is opaque black tights, I also love colorful ones that match a wide variety of wardrobe items (I don’t really own neutrals.)

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      It popped up again in the late 00s. A couple of my colleagues had short suits. They might have been just dressy shorts and blazers but they basically looked like suits. I have always detested them, but I am also not very fashionable.

      1. many bells down*

        I actually like the look of “dressy” shorts, but I don’t like them *on me*. I look like crap in most shorts.

    4. Cascadian*

      Common student wear on my campus workplace is black hot pants with black ripped/fishnet sheer tights underneath.

        1. Cascadian*

          The other big trend is an interpretation of 90s mom jeans. Looks like extras from the Come on Eileen video.

          1. An Elephant Never Baguettes*

            I have a pair of mom jeans that I wear to work (we’re very casual – as long as it’s not sweatpants, pretty much everything goes) and they’re the best. Super comfy and no stretch, which means they’ve survived the daily cycling commute a lot longer than other jeans.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            As long as we don’t bring back the freaking satellite dish hairstyles that killed the ozone layer.

            I am here for the 90s grunge look – jeans, t-shirt, flannel.

              1. Kat in VA*

                I kinda sorta a little ok definitely still love the thin-strap floaty dress over a short sleeve shirt look…with combat boots or work boots.

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              PLEASE bring them back! I am SO damn tired of seeing nothing but boring flatironed hair EVERYWHERE.

              The 80s was a FANTASTIC time for both men’s & women’s hair and fashion and I would LOVE to see that kind of diversity and creativity become widespread in everyday life again.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Is there a rockabilly or vintage style scene near you? You would love the vintage hairdos!
                And the clothes. :)

              2. wittyrepartee*

                Wait, are you commenting from the mid-aughts? Natural curls are IN. Not the perm look though.

                Joking of course, but I’m curious what city and industry you’re writing from.

        2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          That’s really more of a 90s look. Trust- I was pushing the fashion envelope in both those eras! In the 80s the only place you might have seen the shorts/ripped tights look were underground punk/deathrock/glamrock clubs or shows. It didn’t start seeping into more mainstream looks til the next decade.

          /pedantic fashion history

    5. The New Wanderer*

      I had two dressy shorts outfits that I wore with pantyhose to my retail job in the 90s. Those shorts were above the knee length, maybe 7″ inseam so not short shorts but not Bermuda (knee) length.

      The formal suit shorts that I saw in the mid-late 00’s had shorts that were Bermuda length and they generally looked like “Hi I’m new to business culture.”

    6. drogon's kitchen table*

      Yep, shorts with tights and Docs was my uniform in the early 90s (I was in highschool/college).

    7. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, I absolutely had “work shorts” in the 90s, both more of suiting material and a “split skirt” romper.

    8. Development diva*

      I was going to make this same comment. They were perfectly oka y for several years. Wore them myself.

    9. LuJessMin*

      One time I wore a nice pair of khaki shorts to work as a protest against those dressy shorts. I tried to argue that my shorts were clean and pressed and the same length as the dressy ones, but I lost that argument. I wasn’t sent home to change, but I was told not to wear them again.

    10. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      Unless I’m just bumming around the house in my Halloween boxers, or wearing something like long cutoff BDUs, I will *always* wear some kind of hosiery under shorts- black, colored, or patterned tights; fishnet, lace, or spiderwebs- SOMETHING rather than bare legs, which are just not my thing.

    11. Midge*

      Well now I’m having flashbacks to some very unfortunate junior high school band concert outfits. THANKS!

  5. LawBee*

    I also would be a little shocked at shorts in a business office, which is totally a weird thing to be shocked about! I wonder if part of it is that business-attire skirts tend to stop a couple of inches above the knee, whereas shorts can range from brushing the tops of the knees to those tacky ones where the pocket linings hang out the legs. (I hate those. Don’t @ me.)

    Anyone remember the suit shorts of a few years back? Long and skinny, just in women’s wear, and I didn’t have a single friend who worked in an office who was allowed to wear them.

    1. Jadelyn*

      I do remember them, but I don’t think I ever saw anyone wearing them in real life – only in the ads.

      1. Zephy*

        There was an article about a woman that worked at (IIRC) JCPenney – she bought them at the store where she worked, from the “workwear” section, and was told she couldn’t wear them to work. It was a whole thing.

        1. All monkeys are French*

          Ugh. I worked for them in college and the dress code was my nightmare. Women had to wear skirts or dresses, pantyhose, and closed-toe shoes. I had lots of clothes from working in a nice boutique in my hometown, but most of those were not acceptable there. A young coworker of mine came in one day looking very sharp in palazzo pants (that looked just like a skirt when she wasn’t walking) and a blazer, but got sent home to change. Meanwhile, an older woman associate was deemed just fine in her faded, pilled cotton dress.

    2. LadyByTheLake*

      I did have one fashion-forward colleague who wore them in a conservative (bank legal) environment. They were very tailored, down to the knee, with a very dressy fabric. She had a lot of political capital so she could get away with it, but they never caught on.

    3. Camellia*

      Came here to say the same thing about those suits with shorts. We had someone in our office wear one of these suits in. From the sides you couldn’t even tell it was not a skirt. But nope, not allowed.

      I did wonder, in our Midwest sort-of-bible-belt area, if it was a left-over attitude from the “women should not wear men’s clothing” era, where pants and shorts were classified as men’s wear. If women wanted a garment with ‘legs’ so to speak, it was wide-legged culottes or nothing.

      And yes, that meant pantyhose, always. I even had an HR woman state emphatically that she would NEVER hire a woman who wasn’t wearing pantyhose.

    4. HeyNonny*

      They were really in style for men in the 1770s, according to the back of the 2 dollar bill.

  6. Cheesecake2.0*

    I once hired a temp worker, a guy about 22 years old. We held a professional event and I told him to wear his department-branded polo and khakis since he was only going to be working the check-in desk and didn’t need something fancier. Day of the event, after everyone was checked in, I told him he could take a break and he stands up and steps out from behind the desk and is wearing… khaki colored cargo shorts. With muddy tennis shoes.

    1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      But if no one could see it, did it really matter?

    2. No Tribble At All*

      Crying with laughter. Had this exact conversation with my grad student friends — no, you can’t wear khaki shorts to an interview. Yes, I know your professor wears cargo shorts with Birkenstocks. No, he’s not a good example of business wear.

  7. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

    I know this doesn’t explain the original reason why we can’t wear shorts, but I would find it tough to find shorts that would be the same length of a work-appropriate skirt. It’s easier to find a knee-length skirt than knee-length shorts IME.

    1. WellRed*

      I think this is probably another reason, though. Shorts are often, well, shorter.

      1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

        True, I’m just not sure when that trend started. I was able to find longer shorts to fit the dress code of my middle school, but boy was that unflattering!

        1. Socks*

          Yeah I think the problem is that longer shorts tend to look terrible on just about everyone for some reason, so no one really… makes them. They’re more or less universally unflattering, so it makes sense that there wouldn’t be a ton of companies trying to make officewear out of them. The shorts that DO look good on people are generally too short for work wear.

          The real mystery to me is how shorts manage to look so terrible on so many people, what’s up with that?

          1. Allison*

            For real, I’m trying to picture knee-length shorts made from the same fabric as most slacks and pencil skirts and . . . it just doesn’t look good . . .

          2. LJay*

            I’ve found ones that are long enough, and khaki or black. But they’re made from “technical fabric” and are made for like hiking or fishing or something.

            I could get away with them for warehouse work, but now that I’m in management I feel like they’re too informal even though there’s no specific rule that would cover them being not allowed.

          3. Tiny Soprano*

            My theory is that knee-length shorts are like BEHOLD HERE ARE MY KNEES. And knees are one of the weirdest looking parts of a human when you think about them too hard. For me there’s a sweet spot for shorts (must be culottish, archaeologist-chic looking things) about five inches above the knee where you’re neither immediately confronted with the existence of knees, nor left wondering if they’re shorts or undies. Skirts don’t seem to suffer from the highlighting the knee conundrum as much, and I’m not sure why.

          4. wittyrepartee*

            There’s gazelle women they look good on, but the same women would look better in something else.

            I am a goat among gazelles. No shorts for me!

        2. Nobby Nobbs*

          I couldn’t. I had to resort to (ugh) capris, while most of my peers gave up and stuck to jeans year-round if they were too tall to wear shorts without showing off their slutty, slutty eleven-year-old legs. (Can you tell I’m still bitter?)

        3. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          I went to school in the 70s & 80s, before long shorts became fashionable. Nobody batted an eye at anyone from kindergarten to high school wearing cutoffs or jogging type shorts.
          Dolphin (brand) shorts were HUGE when I was in middle school, all the girls wore them and a lot of the guys too. My mom, was in her 50s & has conniption fits when I wanted to wear a (not at all sexy) halter top, had no problem with my having several pairs of them and wearing them to school.

          Oh, girls also commonly wore halter tops, tube tops, camisoles, and strapless dresses from grade 6 on up, and when leggings & miniskirts both came back into fashion during my HS years, no one had any problems with girls or women wearing them to school. Leggings were in fact, known as “stretch pants”, and were indeed considered PANTS all on their own by everyone. My mom, again in her 50s, traded in her tight polyester slacks for stretch pants and wore them til she died at 79.

          It astonishes and saddens me when I here about school dress codes getting more & more conservative and draconian (and almost ALWAYS revolving around what women wear) instead of freer and more open as time goes on. WTF is going wrong with our society?

      1. Zephy*

        I’m 5’3″, with a 26″ inseam. All I want, just once in my life, is a pair of capris that fit like capris. I have a pair of black pants that are supposed to be capris on people with normal-sized legs. They look like highwaters on me unless I do some strategic bunching . They’re black, and nobody’s looking at my knees, so at least it’s not obvious from 10 feet away, but it’s a bit of a hassle. My poor mom is 4’11”, with probably a 23″ inseam or so – capri pants are regular pants on her, except the knee is in the wrong place so she’s got a very subtle jodhpur vibe going on.

        1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          I also have a 26″ inseam! Old Navy has pants that come in size + length (for example, I am an 8 short), many of which come in “work fabrics.” Means you can avoid the problem I had as a kid, which was clothes companies assuming that bigger hips = longer legs. I have ankle-length pants that actually stop at the ankle now!

    2. Jadelyn*

      Ugh, yes. I’ve been trying to find women’s cargo shorts that hit mid-thigh or lower and just absolutely cannot.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I was actually wondering about that – if men’s pants can be tailored in the crotchal region to fit someone without external bits. I have a pair of men’s jeans I bought for working on my car or around the house, because men’s jeans are made of actual canvas denim that can stand up to some abuse, vs women’s jeans, which are made of hopes and dreams and spandex and tear if you sneeze in their general direction – but I don’t like the way they fit in the crotch, and always wondered if there was something I could do about that. Good to know!

          1. A tiny pastry builder called Neville*

            Yup, you totally can! It involves taking the waistband off, trimming the top of the fabric at an angle (so you’re removing probably about an inch from the center front, then tapering off to leave the side seams intact, if that makes sense), then putting the waistband back on, and it just pulls up that extra slackness in the, as you say, crotchal region. It’s a bit fiddly so I’ve been nervous to try my sewing skills at doing it myself, but I was getting a suit tailored a while back and they were able to. (I’m a trans man, so I’m wellll familiar with that particular fit problem.)

          2. InsufficentlySubordinate*

            Maybe check out Duluth Trading women’s jeans? Most of their stuff is designed for people that work outside/with their hands/etc.

          3. Michaela Westen*

            It’s been a long time since I bought jeans and you’ve probably already tried these, but back then Gap jeans were pretty good. Also Levi’s, Wrangler and other name brands… I remember wearing them for years and years.
            The women’s jeans you describe sound like “jeggings” – leggings made to look like jeans. I’ve never worn them myself.
            If there’s one near you, you could try a good thrift store or a Western store. I’ve bought old-time durable women’s jeans at thrift stores many times. A Western store should have some of the name brands, I think.

      1. Owler*

        Check at an outdoor clothing story like REI. If you want something knee length, I’d recommend the Columbia Saturday Trail II Knee Pants.

    3. Stephanie*

      Maaaaaybe Bermuda shorts. But they’d have to be the right material and tailored or cut to look professional.

    4. mlem*

      Probably a decade ago or more, I bought a bunch of men’s Prana shorts that are knee-length on me and deep-pocketed and just generally magical. They’re no longer making that style, last I checked; I can only hope these (wonderful, durable) shorts last until the style comes back around again ….

    5. Becky*

      My workplace doesn’t forbid shorts but I usually don’t like to wear them personally (though we have a few guys in the office who are the year-round-shorts-wearers) because I usually only find shorts that I think are too short on me. However last year I found some shorts that are technically I think pedal-pushers? They hit just below the knee (they could actually be knee length? or even bermuda? I’m super petite – many capri length pants actually are ankle length on me) and I really like wearing them in summer. They’re khaki color and look fairly professional in my view.

    6. sunshyne84*

      True! I stayed in in-school suspension because my shorts weren’t right at the knee in middle school, but I won’t derail on the female dress code…… Not much has changed though. Although, they were less strict when I moved to another school district.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        This makes me sad.

        When I was in middle school (1979-81), people wore regular cutoffs and jogging or athletic shorts and no one batted an eye- AS IT SHOULD BE.

        I’m so glad I never had kids because I’d be going THROUGH THE ROOF over the kind of pointless authoritarianism schools seem to love more and more these days.

    7. Indigo a la mode*

      That’s only true for women, though. I don’t bat an eye at men wearing shorts to work in the summer (casual tech office). I wear above-the-knee sundresses sometimes. But once, a woman wore a relatively modest pair of women’s shorts (that is to say: they hit mid-thigh) and I found it inappropriate.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        But why? That sounds like a triple standard to me.

    8. picklerick*

      I’m having flashbacks to the fingertip test in junior high. I have a 34 inch inseam–nothing hits just above my knee!

  8. Ms. Taylor Sailor*

    What I wouldn’t give to be able to wear shorts at work!

    The first thing that came to mind reading this was that dark salmon outfit Vivian wore at the end of Pretty Woman. I just googled pictures of her and they come just at the knee, but are also high-waisted and matched with a blazer. I think there’s an argument to be made that it would be appropriate spring/summertime business casual.

    1. curly sue*

      There was an attempt to popularize the Bermuda short suit for men in North America in the 1950s, but it didn’t catch on. I think they looked too similar to boys’ school uniforms with the shorts and high socks.

    2. Celeste*

      Strongly agree. That is the one and only shorts as fashion example I could think of, too.

    3. MindoverMoneyChick*

      Dressier shorts were briefly a thing in the 90s. They were long, a couple of inches above the knee and I wore them in my business casual office. I had a silk pair I once wore to a wedding. Oh and something that looked like a suit dress but had shorts on the bottom. And I think I wore hose underneath since pantyhose and tights were very much still a thing. Length material and structure were all more of a match for what we think of as business clothes.

      I’m not really eager for a return of that trend. I’m still celebrating flats with skirts becoming totally acceptable. That’s good enough for me!

      1. Mockingjay*

        I hear you about flats! I wear leather loafers year round with dresses and skirts. I found a brand that features bright colors (as well as the ubiquitous black, taupe, and brown). So much more comfortable. I am wearing coral shoes today.

      2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        I could never have worked in a place where flats weren’t acceptable. No way would I wear heels every day. I honestly have never owned a regular pair of ladies pumps in my entire life (and I’m over 50.)

    4. sunshyne84*

      The only time I wore shorts was when I worked outside at the airport. Kinda miss the jumpsuits. lol But yea I never got the no shorts thing, they have some that are decent looking for the office. I think.

    5. Marthooh*

      That’s okay for Julia Roberts, but take a look at “White Boys in Salmon Shorts” tumblr.

      1. Ms. Taylor Sailor*

        …Oh my.

        My alma mater was big on Greek like and I saw no shortages of variations of this (though to be fair, I saw plenty of it from non-Greek guys too). Chubbies shorts were (well, are) a huge thing here.

  9. Anonforthis*

    Thank goodness I work for a biotech company where pretty much anything goes as long as you’re not naked. However, this is definitely not the norm at most professional workplaces. Personally, I don’t really care what people wear unless they are in a customer facing position. (I’m in HR FWIW.) But if your workplace has a certain expectation of professional wear, then that’s what you need to follow, or find a job where you can wear shorts if you feel like it.

  10. LaDeeDa*

    Last summer we had an intern wear what I can only describe as a Hipster shorts suit for men, without socks and dress shoes. I don’t know how it was received in his department of much older IT guys. We don’t have an official dress code… Luckily, I have rarely seen anything that shocks me… I did do a double take the first time I saw the guy who , eery Friday, wears a kilt made from Wrangler jeans.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        It looks exactly like you have pictured in your head.. its like those “Utility kilt” , but made from Wrangler jeans… with the wrangler leather patch on the back and everything. He wears it with either a tshirt and cowboy boots, or a button down western shirt and cowboy boots. Every Friday.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I didn’t know kilts are a thing until now. Good for them!
          All my life whenever I talked to a man who had an opportunity to wear a kilt or skirt (for Halloween, a part in a play, a parade, etc.), they always said how comfortable it is and they wished they could wear them frequently.
          Solidarity for comfortable clothes!

    1. Catsaber*

      We have a few guys in my IT department that wear utili-kilts, but I have never seen a Wrangler denim kilt…that’s just a new level of kiltery!

      1. LaDeeDa*

        I don’t know him at all, but I have always wanted to ask him if he bought it or if someone made it. I have seen men in the Utility Kilts- but they are usually young lumberjack looking hipsters… this is a 60 yr old engineer with a beer belly. :)

          1. LaDeeDa*

            If you search denim kilts you can see some.. none are the same as the one he wears, which leads me to believe someone made it. Which brings up MORE questions!

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I’ve seen more older beer-bellied nerds in utilikilts than young lumberjack hipsters – but for most of the ones I’ve seen, their utilikilts are pretty close to older than the hipsters, and the gents in question have been wearing them to nerd conventions (and everywhere else they could) for a decade and change :)

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            Same, all the kilt wearing men I know are 40s-50s and up.

        2. Anonforthis*

          The only time I’ve seen a man actually wear a kilt (besides the movies) was at my cousin’s wedding. Someone on the groom’s side (the bride was my cousin) showed up to the wedding in full-on Highlander gear, including a kilt, one of those jackets you wear with the kilt, the socks with the little doo-dads on them, the little purse (I think it’s called a sporran?), a hat, and yes, BAGPIPES. I will note that no one else was dressed this way, including the groom, and that the groom’s family was not, in fact, Scottish. It was bizarre, to say the least.

          1. Catsaber*

            Purse = sporran
            Sock things = flashes
            Jacket = most of them are Prince Charlie style jacket

            My husband is Scottish descent and wears all his gear to weddings. :) Sadly no bagpipes but maybe one day!

          2. Environmental Compliance*

            At our wedding, my MOH made the mistake of telling me that her boyfriend-soon-to-be-fiance apparently owned a kilt, as he had just texted her to joke he should wear that so he wouldn’t die of heatstroke.

            He 100% showed up to the wedding in a kilt upon request, was fed much beer, and did not die of heatstroke. And none of us were Scottish at all.

          3. CMart*

            I have a Scottish friend who owns a tux/kilt outfit that he wears to formal affairs, regardless of the national origin of the affair. He looks incredibly dapper (little purse, sock doo-dads and all).

          4. Media Monkey*

            i’;m scottish and we had a scottish wedding with a ceilidh (scottish dancing – pronounced kay-lee). we had plenty of people wearing kilts, but the only person who carried bagpipes was there to play them. i have never heard of them being carried like a fashion accessory – aren’t they a bit ungainly?

        3. CMart*

          He might have made it himself! My husband made two utility-kilts for himself because he liked the style but did not like the price tags. I’m never sure which shocks people more: the wearing of the kilt or the fact that he sewed them himself.

          1. Queen Anon*

            I wish more men would wear kilts every day. I’ve been to (and worked at) lots of ren faires and one thing I can say with certainty is that I’ve never seen a man who looks bad in a kilt. Didn’t matter what size, shape, height, age – no one looked bad. Kilts seem to be universally flattering.

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            I’m super impressed that he made his own kilt! That’s not a trivial tailoring project.

        4. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          The more you describe him, the more awesome he sounds! :-)

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      I did not know Utility Kilts were a thing before today, and I love everything about them.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        I don’t know if you’re in the Pretreatment side of environmental compliance, but if you are, and will be in Tacoma for the NACWA workshop, you’ll see me in kilts.

        I am a 60-something male with too much belly, and I wear a Utilikilt anytime the temp is above 40. I wear it with an Aloha shirt (many of which I’ve sewn myself.) I’ve done so for going on two decades, when they first became readily available.

        Unfortunately, I have to play in traffic for work, so I have to wear long pants. No shorts, no kilts. If I ever get the promotion, I’ll start wearing a kilt and see where things fall with my bosses.

    3. LGC*

      I did do a double take the first time I saw the guy who , eery Friday, wears a kilt made from Wrangler jeans.

      I beg your pardon?!

      Also, does Wrangler Kilt Guy read AAM, and if so, can he post on the Friday thread? I have SO MANY QUESTIONS I need to ask him.

      Anyway. As someone who likes looking at Fashion For Dudes on occasion: I’ve actually seen Lewks like the intern wore. I admire his courage.

  11. WellRed*

    Let’s hope she doesn’t wear some sundresses that can be a bit casual. I have a coworker who wears a strappy one with a short full skirt. It’s cute, but always looks like she should be headed to a garden party. (I don’t think of it as totally inappropriate, more filed under, not the best choice for office wear).

    1. LawBee*

      At risk of citing a pop culture thing that not everyone knows, it sounds VERY Tahani Al-Jamil.

    2. anon today and tomorrow*

      Why? I see that type of outfit commonly at work and never thought twice about them being inappropriate, especially in the summer. I wear casual sundresses a lot during the summer. They’re my go-to office wear during July and August.

      1. Camellia*

        How do you not freeze to death in the air-conditioning? Every woman in every office in which I’ve ever worked has sweater or jacket draped over the back of their chair and puts it on as soon as they get in, if they haven’t already worn one in that day.

      2. Natatat*

        I would think it depends on how casual your office is and what it’s specific culture is. Could also depend on the region you in too – maybe it’s perfectly fine in California but not the norm in New York? Personally though, even though my office is super casual (people wear yoga pants sometimes), I wouldn’t wear a strappy sundress simply because it’s too much skin showing, but that’s a personal preference.

    3. SignalLost*

      I’m currently wearing a casual sundress in a Star Wars print with a suit jacket and leggings. :)

  12. If you remember, you weren't there.*

    My story: In the 90s I worked in desktop publishing, super casual office in the suburbs, populated by nobody over 29. One day my boss was overdue for laundry. She wore a short sleeved pink dress with a white collar and white cuffs. I walked into her office took one look at the Swiss Miss Chocolate girl manifest and busted laughing. I fell on the floor. She was pretty much like, “I know! I hate you.”
    So to make it up to her, I borrowed an outfit from my sister. Silk shorts and short sleeve blouse. Neon pinks, yellow, green, turquoise line/plaid whatever. My boss heard from another manager that I was inappropriately dressed. NO SHORTS! But they weren’t going to send me home.
    The next day I was back in proper attire, blue doc Martens with rainbow laces, jeans and a scar face t shirt.
    So yeah, rules are arbitrary!

  13. Spencer Hastings*

    That said, a commenter here once speculated that the no-shorts rule stems from the fact that the rule used to be no bare skin below the waist. For pants, this meant no shorts. For skirts, this meant you’d have to wear pantyhose.

    So what I’m hearing is, shorts over tights… /s

    (Which I actually do casually, but yeah, too quirky for a professional environment! :D)

    1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      You’re giving me flashbacks of the “professional” shorts-over-tights trend….thank the gods that’s over with!!

    2. iglwif*

      So what I’m hearing is, shorts over tights… /s

      That was, in fact, A Thing at some point in the 1990s.

      Let’s not go back there ::shudder::

      1. TiffanyAching*

        I’m having a vivid flashback of a ripped-tights/denim shorts/converse sneakers outfit I wore in middle school.

  14. Celeste*

    I always thought it was because shorts are considered to be too casual, that they are for keeping cool in outdoor recreation. Also many of them are shorter than a dress or skirt would be (I’m generalizing). So to me, they cross the line into not being appropriate for indoors for an office. I notice that in ads and catalogs, they’re styled for very casual seasonal wear. They don’t go with the shoes, jewelry, hosiery, etc. that you might choose to go with a dress, skirt, or suit. I think that capri pants (very long shorts, in essence) can be styled up and work in most offices, though probably not the most conservative ones such as banking and law.

    1. TychaBrahe*

      The Australian Navy has a service dress uniform with shirts option that looks quite professional.

      1. Not Australian*

        Men in all walks of life wear shorts in Australia; I’ve seen barristers wearing black robes with shorts underneath…

      2. SWOinRecovery*

        Ah tropical whites…when you have to wear socks up to your knees, you’re better off wearing the breathable pants.

      3. Tiny Soprano*

        Once you get above a certain rank they expect you to wear the trousers, however. Sometimes my dad used to wear the shorts to troll people though, because I don’t think there was an explicit rule, just an expectation.

    2. Bostonian*

      I think you’re on to something with the outdoor recreation part. So much of our current clothes evolved from former sportswear (e.g., sweats, polo shirts, and now athleisure wear), it would make sense that they are conventionally viewed as casual. I wonder if shorts is one of them. I read a great article about this recently, I’ll see if I can dig it up…

  15. everydaycrises*

    The short rule might also stem from a time when shorts were worn by (male) children. Boys would wear shorts until they were 10 ish (They wore dresses if you go further back), then move into full trousers and be ‘men’.

    It would follow when they entered the (mostly male at that time) workforce, they wouldn’t dream of being seen in children’s clothes. And then…convention.

    Just another thought on why.

    1. Scarlet Magnolias*

      My Aunt kept my cousin Tom in grey flannel shorts until he was 14. With a manly little red bow tie. Scarred him for life.

    2. Airy*

      Came here with the same speculation. For a really long time in the UK and Commonwealth the only reason a grown man would be seen in public in shorts would be for sports- and then only for some sports, like soccer/football and rugby. Long pants are still worn to play cricket.
      In New Zealand from about the 60s, I believe, we did have a semi-formal warm-weather shorts convention for men, knee-length “walk shorts” made of suit-like material worn with knee socks (so only a saucy peep of kneecap was actually exposed) and dress shoes. It hung around through the 80s and more or less died out in the 90s by which time it was only being worn by intermediate school principals. I don’t know what it was about those guys but they all had a pair. The hard core wore the socks with sandals.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, my friend from India (I forget which city) said similar–that you only really see American tourists or children wearing shorts outside recreational activity.

        1. Airy*

          Then in the 70s disturbingly short men’s casual shorts called stubbies came in and our long national nightmare began, but at least these days they wear proper trousers to the office.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            I like looking at men’s legs, so I am always wishing old school 70s/80s shorts will become popular for them again.

            I once heard it opined that long cargo shorts make men look like toddlers and I can’t say I disagree. They really are pretty butt ugly.

      2. Bulbasaur*

        I remember that. When you see them in photos and old TV shows now they look ridiculous, but that’s one of those chicken/egg questions (did it die out because they looked ridiculous, or do they look ridiculous because it died out?)

        1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          Answer B for the win!

          Nobody thinks the fashion of their current era looks ridiculous, but 10-20 years later many are cringing/laughing at “what they wore back then.” Or “how did we think that looked good?”

          I grew up in the 70s and believe me nobody thought a thing of great big sideburns or polyester doubleknit pantsuits. It was just…normal. Now it’s a costume.

          In 20 or more years people will be laughing/cringing at the fashion of today.

    3. Aveline*

      Shorts for adults originated as sportswear and hiking/outdoor wear only.

      I personally think it has more to do with that than the childhood thing.

      But you are totally correct that shorts were originally only for children.

    4. Some dude*

      My experience living in Italy some time ago was that it was very rare for adults to wear shorts, and it was frowned upon and seen as weird. That may have changed in the past decade or so.

      1. Tyche*

        It’s not so rare nowadays, and young people wear shorts a lot during the summer, but it’s still considered a very casual outfit not suitable for work or more fashionable / formal settings.

        1. Pipe Organ Guy*

          We were in Italy in July 1999. A whole lot of men were wearing shorts in the summer heat, unless they were at work. Oddly, the German tourists were really gung-ho about wearing shorts. But the churches we visited (in Milan, Florence, and Venice) all had strict rules. They would tolerate shorts on men if the shorts were long enough, but not if there were services going on. I don’t think they tolerated them for women. If men’s shorts were too short, or if women had to cover up, there were rent-some-trousers vendors outside St. Mark’s in Venice. And when we continued our trip to London and went to a Proms concert at Royal Albert Hall, we were wearing long-sleeved dress shirts and Dockers, and sweltering in a heat wave. When we got to the hall and joined the queue for the cheap tickets, we found Londoners dressed as super-casually as on any weekend here at home–shorts, T-shirts, tank tops.

    5. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Yep. “Shorts” is short for “short pants.” As in, “I haven’t seen a LaSalle Roadster like that since I was in short pants!” — which means, “Golly, that car is so old, I haven’t seen one like it since I was a pre-teen boy.”

      I’m not a shorts person in any event … personally I think they’re for underwear and athletics, not for grown people to be wearing outside of Bermuda or tropical military uniforms. I have a couple of pairs that I wear strictly around the house or as pajamas. But I know I’m an outlier.

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        You also may be in a cooler climate – here in Atlanta I broke out the shorts in early March. I’ll probably wear them well into October.

        1. Pipe Organ Guy*

          Here in southern Arizona, men and shorts are inseparable most of the year, even in the cooler months of December through February. They’re still not office wear, generally.

        2. Glomarization, Esq.*

          I definitely live north of Atlanta, yes. But even when I’ve spent time in Florida during the summer I’m a no-shorts-outside person. They make me feel very self-conscious and under-dressed, so I stick to trousers in lighter fabrics, and skirts. Just the way I was raised — I’m so old, we weren’t allowed to wear jeans, sneakers, or shorts to school when I was a kid, and we girls were discouraged from wearing trousers. (I got over the girls-only-wear-dresses part, though.)

    6. Someone Else*

      That’s my understanding of where the “shorts are not professional” thing originated, not about skin but about being “children’s clothes”.

  16. Default Font Size*

    There is also an age issue with shorts. Historically, shorts were worn by children and contribute to a ‘playtime’ feel, as they are usually worn by adults when playing a sport or working out, or during the leisure season (summer).
    Shorts are the opposite of ‘serious’ ‘adult’ clothing.

    1. Admin of Sys*

      I’ve always thought this was part of it. ‘Short pants’ is an implication of immaturity, even if the phrase itself has fallen out of common use.
      Though I do wonder about the suit shorts I saw in NYC a few years back – I don’t think they caught on, but I definitely felt that if you’re wearing a waistcoat and tie with your outfit, it should count as business casual. Mind you, those tended to be more capri cut than true shorts.

    2. Shelly*

      I always thought this had something to do with it. It is, of course, quite arbitrary.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        Study enough fashion history and you will realize that its ALL completely arbitrary. :-)

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I never liked fashion in the sense of you-have-to-wear-what’s-in-the-magazines, and I always took the attitude of wearing what I want.
          Now I see men going around in rolled-up pants with skin showing – a fashion trend – and I remember for most of my youth pants that didn’t come down to the tops of the shoes were dorky, “high waters” and made fun of.
          So completely arbitrary, the fashion rule of decades just thrown out the window.
          Not that any of it matters, except those men’s legs are probably cold!

    3. Grace*

      You can actually still see this in the British royal family, to an extent. Ever noticed that the young boys (George and Louis in particular) are always wearing shorts for official events? Obviously they do wear trousers in day-to-day life, but not for official appearances – the transition to trousers full-time is about aged 10 or so.

      If you want to be *really* historical, you would put all children under six in frilly dresses 24/7 no matter what their gender, but that died out a while ago and thankfully has never returned.

      1. Aveline*

        My father was Midwestern farming stock. His pictures till age 3 are all frilly white dresses.

        1. Iris Eyes*

          I don’t know about the frilly part but white dresses would be so practical for diaper changing/potty training. No buttons and waist bands to deal with and then you just bleach the whole thing regularly.

          1. Artemesia*

            Yeah — it was a big deal when young boys were put in pants. Until they were reliably potty trained — so 3 or 4 or so — they were dressed in dresses for easy diapering and then later to make it easy for a beginner to use the potty without dealing with buttons and suspenders etc. Clothes more fussy and less easy to get in and out of then. Of course women wore many layers and the pantaloons that were the base layer for underpants, usually had a split crotch so one could use the toilet. I saw a lot of my great grandmother and grandmothers clothes from the turn of the last century and they had those features. (the family never threw anything away)

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              Yep! I collect vintage clothing and have a couple pairs of split crotch bloomers.

    4. Aveline*

      If you google “history of shorts,” you learn that shorts were originally only worn by adults for sports and outdoor activities such as hiking.

      So I think it’s really that for adults, shorts are little more than a century old as mainstream wear and were originally just for highly informal activities where one might break a sweat.

  17. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    No love for the Bermuda shorts, short-sleeved dress shirt, and tie for men? That’s a look, right?

        1. Anonforthis*

          OMG LOL, I just snorted at that. My dad in 1984 was still sporting skin-tight polyester tennis shorts from the 70’s because he refused to throw anything away or acknowledge that time hadn’t stopped in 1975.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            I don’t see a problem with that. There’s nothing wrong with wearing old or out of style clothes.

      1. Vicky Austin*

        Bermuda shorts really ought to be a thing everywhere that it gets as hot and humid as Bermuda! That would include most of the US east of the Rockies during the summer months.

  18. Yarrow*

    I’m pretty open-minded about clothes, but I always laugh internally when a certain guy in my office comes in with 90’s dad jorts on. Meanwhile, some idiot made a snide comment about me wearing shorts in the lobby before work when I ride a bike to work.

  19. Mouse Princess*

    I feel like this is more about the spirit of the dress code than the exact rules of the code. For instance, there are plenty of dresses that may suit the length requirement but actually read as beachy or too casual as well. I was shocked when a coworker of mine (in academia) came in wearing basically a beach cover-up dress. It fit the “dress code” length but she looked like she was ready to sunbathe, not meet with students.

    1. WellRed*

      We have an otherwise impeccably dressed office manager who occassionally wears a maxi, halter dress in the summer. *Save it for the poolside cocktails.
      Also had a very pregnant coworker wear similar, but she gets a pass.

      1. Mouse Princess*

        The heat makes people go completely crazy. The kind of dress violates my personal style rules so I try to look the other way! Flip flops too.

        1. Mouse Princess*

          Pregnant ladies get a free pass for office clothing IMHO. There’s not a lot of “business” appropriate options out there and I don’t know anyone who would want to purchase a whole new work wardrobe for just a 6 month period.

    2. The Cleaner*

      I vividly remember the handful of times (over a long career) when I wore a new piece of clothing and only after I was in the office did it register that it was definitely more like beachwear, or otherwise a little off for the work environment. It’s amazing how sometimes clothing seems okay to me at home. Maybe it needs the clarity of fluorescent office lighting for evaluation.

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yeah, this is where I fall on this issue. Amount of skin shown isn’t the only factor when deciding formality, and a knee-length suit skirt is decidedly more formal than a pair of knee-length shorts, just as my button-up silky pajama top is in no way a substitute for my button-up silky work shirt.

  20. Rainy days*

    I live on the West Coast of the US, and shorts are…really, really normal at workplaces here.

    A close friend from the East Coast was interviewing for legal clerkships. Her law school instructed her always to wear skirts to interviews, because apparently some East Coast judges consider PANTS inappropriate work wear for women (!). She almost fainted when we went to interview in California and the judges were wearing shorts.

    1. triplehiccup*

      Yep, nice shorts are typical officewear in Texas and Florida too, during the hottest 3 months of the 6-month summer.

      1. Anonymeece*

        I’m in Texas and I’ve never seen shorts in an office! I would kill for the right to wear them to work. There should be an “over 90 degrees” exemption to most rules of business dress.

        1. Catsaber*

          I’ve never seen shorts in the office in Texas either, and I work at a state university in DFW, which is pretty casual on the whole. I’m also in IT, and we’re even more casual. But for my workplace, it could be an age thing – it is common to see student workers in shorts, or whatever students wear that day, so for the most part, non-student employees will not wear anything that might make them look like a student (especially those of us that look really young).

          The exception to this was when I was pregnant and I wore the same two pairs of black yoga pants and some maternity t-shirts during my last trimester, and dared anyone to chastise me.

        2. Camellia*

          But…don’t you have air conditioning in Texas? As I noted in a comment above, every woman in every office where I’ve worked has had to wear a sweater or jacket to keep from freezing to death. So I don’t understand wanting to wear shorts at work.

          1. Anonymeece*

            Well, my motto is that you can always put more clothes on, but you can’t always take more clothes off. I can throw on a jacket at the office, but that doesn’t help when I’m on the way to work and sweating through my clothes.

            (And honestly, I’ve always thought it’d be more environmentally friendly to allow cooler clothing so we can turn the A/C to something less than freezing cold in the middle of a heat spell.)

    2. KR*

      Also on California and also wear shorts on the daily … But I work in an office almost by myself, see no customers, and it’s 115-120° average during the summers here. Currently in yoga pants and a t shirt.

      1. MP*

        Whoa – 115-120 degrees on average? Where in Cali do you live – is that Death Valley?

    3. DMK*

      In my east coast law firm, one very senior partner has a habit of wearing madras shorts in the summer. It’s usually when he’s planning to leave early for a baseball game, but not always. That said, he is the ONLY person I have ever seen wearing shorts in the office.

    4. anon today and tomorrow*

      East coast here and no one’s ever batted an eye at shorts or sundresses in the office. They’re pretty normal in the summer. I kind of think the pearl clutching about casual sundresses or shorts on women harks back to the age old idea of expecting women to dress modestly and cover everything.

    5. Amethystmoon*

      When I interviewed to get my first permanent job at this company 10 years ago, it was summer and the HR person was wearing a low-cut tank top, something which was against the dress code. There I was, sitting in my interview suit. I was smiling a lot but mostly trying not to laugh at the irony of it. I got the job.

    6. lapgiraffe*

      1) northeast here and while I’m sure there’s some young hip offices, shorts definitely say “summering in the” insert overpriced island/coastline. BUT in winter we get away with snow boots that are hideous but necessary for even the shortest outdoor journeys, I’m sure some people in offices change when they get there, but even fine dining accepts business professional up top with winter tundra footwear

      2) I work in wine and when the west coast people arrive for market visits, especially winemakers, they’re basically wearing their farm clothes that have the least amount of stains, and even if we were in a situation where they were clearly very underdressed, they always get cut major slack and people are understanding that these are farmers and this is just them being “real” with us.

    7. Blunt Bunny*

      Yes women were often banned from wearing trousers. My friend went to a catholic high school in the 90s and she wasn’t allowed to wear trousers. So it’s not so much as why are skirts/dresses acceptable but more at one time they were they only thing women were allowed to wear. It is still a requirement in some companies and industries as are other sexist requirements like heels.

    8. No Tribble At All*

      DC area here. The JUDGES wear SHORTS?! Truly, the West Coast is a different country.

  21. Spouter of Gibberish*

    It could just be the framing of the clothing. The shorts may be the same length as a skirt, but may appear to expose more skin/expose differently.
    Like the way keyhole necklines can seem more revealing than v-necklines (even if the keyhole shows less skin) because of the peek-a-boo effect.

  22. Aveline*

    My theory is that shorts as widespread wear for adults* originated in sporting and outdoor activities. For the first several decades of their widespread use, that’s the ONLY place adults wore them. Whereas skirts were always worn by women in a variety of circumstances. It’s just the length that changed.

    So, from the get-go, the purpose was different. We’ve carried that over.

    *Short breeches for schoolboys have a much longer, and much more varied history.

  23. Washi*

    Hopefully this isn’t derailing, but are rompers with full-length pants work appropriate in the kind of office OP describes? I’ve worked in places that are very much on the casual side of business casual and have never seen one, even though they seem to cover the appropriate amount of skin.

    1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

      I’ve seen it done where people have dressed it up enough. Like a black romper with a blazer on top or the type of romper where there’s a different pattern on the “pants” part vs the “top” part so you can’t really tell they’re connected.

    2. nora*

      I think so. I work in a business casual government office and I’ve definitely seen a few people in jumpsuits. They’re all pretty modest, solid or nicely patterned, generally worn with a cardigan, etc. If they were dresses no one would bat an eye.

    3. LaDeeDa*

      The ones I have seen people wearing at work have been– they typically look like a pant with the same color shirt tucked in, and most of the women I have seen wearing them are wearing them with a blazer.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I think there are too many scarring tales of people who stood up from the toilet only to discover the sleeve of their romper had fallen in.

  24. NW Mossy*

    Some years back, my company did its annual “warming weather means reminders about the dress code!” post on the intranet, and keen observers noted that the code allowed for women to wear knee-length “city shorts” (which I am given to understand are shorts tailored in a similar fashion to dress pants) but made no such allowance for men. After the sexism was quite emphatically pointed out, the code now allows for both men and women to wear knee-length shorts.

    I’ve only ever seen one guy wear shorts, but he totally makes it work – think Bermudas with a crisp shirt, carefully color-matched. It’s definitely a “golf meeting in Palm Springs” vibe, but clearly curated and intentional, rather than haphazard or comfort-driven.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Where I live (US SwampEast), it is not uncommon to see men dining out in colorful, pressed Bermuda shorts with a quality madras or Oxford button-down shirt, tucked in and belted, with a bow tie. This outfit is generally not worn in the office, though. We have seersucker suits for that.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      We have similar shorts allowed on casual Fridays, and people do wear them, which I appreciate. It’s nice to give men some more summer options, and I have seen my female boss in shorts when she didn’t have anything else going on that day, which I feel like sends a great signal.

  25. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    I wonder if it has to do with the fabric. Shorts tend* to be constructed of denim, cargo, and other cloth that reads as casual, while (business-appropriate) skirts and dresses are often made of fabric that reads more professional. I don’t think a denim skirt would be any more business appropriate than denim shorts, and the same for cargo cloth.

    *Excluding the mercifully short-lived “business shorts” trend that haunted women’s clothing stores about five years ago

  26. Kyle*

    My current employer had a non-existent dress code until the newish CEO got sick of seeing people in hoodies, sweatpants and sandals show up at 9 and leave at 3. So a traditional business causal dress code has been enforced and it has helped the general discipline around the office. People are getting stuff done again and working more regular business hours. I think there is a thing as being too comfortable at work.

    1. Anonymeece*

      But the way to handle that is to just address the discipline issue, not the dress code. There are plenty of people who want to be comfortable and have no problem with work discipline when they are.

      I personally have never noticed any correlation between dress/work. It’s like people insisting that people can only do meaningful work in an office, even when there’s nothing that strictly requires it. For some people it may be true, but it’s unfair to say that everyone conforms better to rules like that.

      1. Chinookwind*

        “I personally have never noticed any correlation between dress/work.”

        I saw it first hand when I was in high school. I was at a summer camp focusing on government where we were required to wear “business clothes” (or as close as possible) for the entire week with the exception of one day, when we were scheduled to go the local zoo after a meeting with local politicians. For that day, we could dress like typical (90’s) teenagers. Every one of us participants noticed how much more unruly we were when dressed in jeans and t-shirts, especially compared to the day before when we were dressed our most business-like (for a trip to the floor of the legislature). Looking back, I often wonder if that day is planned in the middle of the week to reinforce why there are certain dress codes for certain occasion.

        On another occasion, my teachers took us to the theatre for the day, 2.5 hours away by bus and insisted we dressed up for it (again, to the best of our ability. If you only had jeans, they were to be clean and rip free). We noticed all the schools that didn’t dress up ran around and were obnoxiously loud whereas we, a group of kids not known for being on our best behavior, were well behaved.

      2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        I agree, I’ve never noticed any correlation either- because there isn’t one!

        I used to work for a mall based lifestyle retailer that had (and has) almost no dress code at corporate HQ. You can wear a suit, or you can wear vinyl/fishnet and go straight to the fetish club after work. They were more concerned with hiring people who knew the brand and the customers rather than forcing them to adhere to arbitrary, pointless, and outdated (and racist and classist and sexist) dress codes.

        I know people who have worked for that company (corporate and retail levels) for decades and they are all really happy because they can have a good career while being themselves, and it hasn’t hurt the company one bit to throw those staid attitudes out the window.

        When I was there, they were a FANTASTIC company to work for even if you were a part time seasonal- no retail horror stories at all. Breaks were mandatory, no working off the clock EVER, extremely flexible scheduling, nobody was overworked, we had plenty of associates, managers got excellent training, so on and so forth.

    2. Maya Elena*

      That is one of the arguments for school uniforms.
      I hated school uniforms as a child, but I think there’s definitely merit to the claim that uniforms, when part of a general environment of rules and cleanliness, help that environment perpetuate itself.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        As a child I went to schools both with and without uniforms.

        The private school WITH uniforms was FAR worse in every way- academic standards were lax, teachers were awful, the religious staff were total hypocrites, the kids were HORRIBLE. I had zero friends, and the kids that weren’t SUPER mean to me, treated me like I didn’t exist. (All of which were reasons

        In public school, I may have gotten made fun of for my thrift store clothes, but at least I had a few friends, the teachers were generally good, and I actually LEARNED stuff.

        These were schools 2 blocks away from each other in the same city.

  27. LaDeeDa*

    Remember how short out skirts were in the ’90s (Look up Ally McBeal if that was before your time or don’t remember.) I had a bunch of teeny tiny skirt suits just like Ally McBeal for my first ever grown-up job in a corporate office- and it is what we all wore. It just barely covered my butt, and sitting down and standing up were exact choreographed moves to make sure nothing was flashed.

    1. Camellia*

      And if the person in charge of setting the dress code was a man (gasp! hard to imagine, I know!) then there’s the advantage of ‘skirts and dresses, not shorts’ right there!

    2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      My best friend at the time worked in an office (in a high powered job I totally didn’t understand what she did LOL) and those were what she always wore. Even when we’d go thrift shopping and she’d pick up nice vintage ladies suits (she was very petite and always lucked out) when she’d get them tailored, she’d get the skirts shortened too.

      Granted, as petite as she is, anything longer really wouldn’t have looked flattering, but that kind of suit is what’s permanently engrained into my head when I think “office wear”.

    3. Vicky Austin*

      That was an awful show, but it had the best music ever! Vonda Shepard is one of my favorite singers to this day. My husband and I danced to her song “Rain or Shine” as our first dance at our wedding.

  28. Lady Jay*

    I am SO GLAD that pantyhose are not required any longer. For a time, I went to a conservative religious school where pantyhose were required during class hours; I consistently skirted the requirement buy purchasing knee-high socks in fun colors and hoping my skirt came down long enough to hide the fact that there were no hose under the socks.

    1. HeyAnonanonnie*

      I had to wear tights to my prep school on dress days as a kid. I also had a little terrier who liked to jump on my knees and could shred my tights. I switched to knee socks (acceptable alternative) after a while.

  29. YoungTen*

    My office is run by women. they allow capri pants but not shorts. I think this is because short (depending on length) can “ride up”. And instead of having to say “we allow this many inches with short”, its easier to just nix the shorts altogether. We tend to know when a skirt is too short but shorts could be somewhat debatable.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      And skirts don’t?
      Seriously I do not get this logic.
      Skirts ride up when you sit. Plus, they are OPEN and you can see up them.
      Pants or shorts are much safer.

  30. Missy*

    Wearing clothes for the purpose of making it difficult to move in is silly to me. Showing “I’m here to work in an office and not be moving around” makes me very comfortable. I don’t do well in business attire at all. Especially since I take the bus and walk a mile each way.

  31. ThatGirl*

    I work in a very casual office, the dress code is “no gym clothes, no club clothes, no shorts” basically. But I can wear knee-length capris in summer (more of a “skimmer” style as opposed to the ones that end three inches above your ankle). So yeah, it may seem inconsistent, but for whatever reason, shorts are considered unprofessional.

  32. Clementine*

    Is there a requirement that skirts be close to knee length? I always wear longish skirts, if I do, but I am under the impression that short skirts are quite acceptable in general corporate environments.

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      Generally, yes, though it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. A little above the knee is probably fine, but something that is basically a mini-skirt would look out of place to me. I think it’s part of not looking like club wear, as others have said.

      Not to mention that I hate the idea of having to be careful how I move to prevent flashing people, so around knee-length works for me (or longer of course).

  33. Rachel Green*

    I remember being confused by the “no shorts in the office” rule when I started a summer internship in college. I had a couple of knee length shorts in a khaki material that I was planning to wear but my dad told me, “You can’t wear shorts in an office!” I remember panicking, because I didn’t have any office-appropriate dress pants. It didn’t make sense to me at the time, but now I get it.

    The office I currently work in also has “no capris” in the dress code. But, cropped pants are such a thing now, that nobody gets in trouble for wearing pants that aren’t full-length.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      It is almost impossible to find full-length pants! I wanted a new summer weight suit and I had a heck of a time finding pants that weren’t super slim cut and cropped.

        1. SWOinRecovery*

          I’m vertically challenged and haven’t had to pay for hemming pants in years thanks to this trend!

          1. Margaret*

            Same! 7/8 or ankle length pants are perfect on me as regular pants at 5’0″!

        1. Artemesia*

          Not Your Daughter’s Jeans makes long pants — some of them are linen and tailored and would be suitable for an office. And the dark black ones pass pretty well as slacks rather than jeans. They also have them in knit fabrics that look dressier. Of course they are cut for us Olds i.e. higher waist than the jeans made for the Youngs.

      1. Zephy*

        I went on PantsQuest 2k19 a couple weeks ago. My mission: a pair of black, office-appropriate, long pants. Everything on offer was either (1) not my size, (2) not black, (3) yoga/workout leggings, (4) cropped, or (5) had some stupid embellishment at the bottom. (5) is okay – it wouldn’t violate any dress code or anything, I just…don’t want it. I relented and tried on a pair of gray work-appropriate, full-length pants that should have been my size. I can’t fathom who they were cut for – they were too loose at the hips but too tight at the calves, and I’m basically Carl Wheezer-shaped.

  34. Orange You Glad*

    I feel like most shorts (at least for women) are generally shorter than “business appropriate” skirts. I personally wouldn’t be comfortable showing off my legs in shorts at the office but I wear knee-length skirts/dresses all the time.

    My company experimented with laxing the dress code last summer for special events (meeting sales goals, day before holiday, etc) and specifically said we could wear shorts those days. Unfortunately it meant a number of people showed up in way too revealing/inappropriate shorts. One man just had on old ratty basketball shorts, one woman’s shorts were so short and tight I saw way too much of her personal area, many others showed up in what I would call “mowing the lawn” clothes. I personally didn’t wear shorts those days and didn’t think those folks mad good choices in choosing their outfits those days (seriously I don’t want to see any of my coworkers parts). Also our office is already cold enough when I’m wearing jeans/slacks.

    1. WellRed*

      Your company needed a dress code for dressing down. I think most companies do, otherwise this happens.

    2. BadWolf*

      I’m so glad that capris and long shorts came into style. For awhile, it seemed like women’s shorts only came in really short or baggy floral stretchy waistband. Now you can get all kinds of capris, boardshorts, below knee, above knee in nice cuts.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        You’re not the first person here I’ve seen calling capris and other below the knee women’s pants “shorts”, unless somethings changed, that’s really not the proper terminology.

        Capris, pedal pushers, cropped pants- all of those are actually pants, not shorts. Shorts don’t come past the knees.

        Cargo shorts are an abomination that should probably have just been called cargo capris but aren’t because of misogyny & homophobia. (Like why men’s purses are called messenger bags and other euphemistic names.)

  35. The Bermudian*

    Here in Bermuda, shorts ARE office wear, but are worn by men! Most men wear them all year round. Women typically don’t wear them at all. They’re worn with knee high socks to be office appropriate – only expats wear them without socks, lol.

    1. scattol*

      Oh I remember those from when I visited Bermuda. They were an odd sight inside an office but they are as well made as dress pants so makes perfect sense. And what blessed weather on that island….

  36. nnn*

    I’m always surprised that some people find shorts more comfortable than skirts, especially when you’re going to be sitting at a desk all day. Shorts have so many more ways they can fit uncomfortably (gapping in the back, digging into your belly, digging into your thighs) where skirts will accommodate your body!

    (That said, I think dress codes in general tend to be less necessary than people think they are, and I will stand up for anyone’s right to wear shorts or skirts or any other clothing as they prefer.)

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes! I am thinking of the one time at an OldJob when the AC broke down in the middle of a summer. That was in the olden days, before everyone had the ability to WFH, so we all got a mass email allowing us to wear shorts the next day. Next day, I was the only one in shorts. I was like “why are you guys not wearing shorts on the one day that you can?” and a woman who sat next to me said, “Our bodies are not conducive to shorts”. I was in my early 30s, and younger than almost everyone in the office by 10-15-20 years. Now I understand my old coworkers perfectly. My body isn’t conducive to shorts anymore, either.

    2. BadWolf*

      I’m a recent convert to casual dress/skirts (with some bike-like shorts underneath) for hot weather. I’ve been missing out.

    3. Snarktini*

      Mileage varies! I don’t have any of those problems with shorts if they fit properly. I deeply appreciate shorts when it’s hot, and don’t even regret the dress shorts of the 90s everyone keeps shuddering about.

      OTOH, I do find skirts challenging — they twist around, they ride up, I have to wear an underlayer of slip shorts to avoid chub rub, and I always have to be thinking about how I sit. The chub rub alone is a reason I wear very few skirts. That said, I always wear knee-length skirts, not long ones so maybe that is the difference? Flowy long skirts are generally pretty comfy, they are just not flattering on my short wide frame. (And long flowy skirts tend to feel social to me, not like business. That said I can wear pretty much anything to where I work so whatever!)

    4. Risha*

      I honestly don’t comprehend your list. Your average work appropriate, fitted but not tight, A-line shaped skirt has a waistband, button, etc., and basically fits exactly like a pair of structured shorts, except with a gap between your legs for the delicate skin of your inner thighs to rub together instead of having a layer of fabric as protection. Everything you said about shorts would still apply. A not tight pencil skirt is all that, but with even less give around your waist and thighs.

      (Looser or in a stretchy/knit fabric and most skirts want to move around, which is its own kind of uncomfortable for me but to each your own, but then a lot of those are then too casual to be considered workwear.)

      I’m not saying you’re required to like shorts or anything; I’m just baffled by your stated reasons why.

    5. Blunt Bunny*

      Depends on the material of the shorts, denim ones aren’t to comfortable. But cotton/polyester shorts should be just as comfortable as a skirt and there is less likely to have thigh job.

    6. MissDisplaced*

      No skirts DO NOT accommodate the body!
      They ride up, blow up, twist around, and can be seen up. Plus, hard to pee! Ugh!

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        How is it hard to pee in a skirt? You hike it up around your waist, pull your understuff down around your knees, sit, and go.

  37. I'm that person*

    Google “men’s dress shorts” and take a look at what pops up. I loled.

  38. Clawfoot*

    When I got my first office job, the HR person training me said, “We’re business casual here. What that means is that when you go home after work, if you don’t feel like you should change before relaxing on the couch to watch tv, you’re not dressed up enough.”
    I’ve found a lot of very comfortable business casual pants and tops since then, so I don’t think of it as a hard and fast rule, but for someone just starting out, it was useful.

    1. Not All*


      Someone who showed up in an outfit like that would never, ever live it down in any office I’ve been in.

    2. Snarktini*

      I work in a creative office and yes that’s a totally acceptable, normal outfit for the young’uns!

    3. baconeggandcheeseplz*

      I may or may not be looking for those shorts now to recreate that outfit…

  39. HeyAnonanonnie*

    I work in a casual dress environment and the rule is also an unofficial “no shorts, no flip flops/sandals”. Jeans, t shirts and sneakers are fine but must be well kept. I don’t know the psychological barrier there but OP’s office is not the only one.

  40. anon4this*

    Anyone else wondering where “capris” fall into business causal?
    Also…in Bermuda it is normal business wear to have on shorts (for men anyway, usually in bright colors and knee-high socks!) with your suit, so this maybe a regional/climate thing? I could’t imagine a cold state like Michigan or Alaska ever having shorts be part of business culture.

    1. MuseumChick*

      In my mind it would depend on the material the capris were would out of.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        If you look at Ann Taylor, The Loft, and White House Black Market under “suits” almost all of them are cropped – and they are suit material. They are fine in every office I have been in. WHBM even has some suit shorts!! LOL

        1. Pinky Lady*

          I have a boss who flat out told me ankle pants aren’t professional after an event (I was wearing an Ann Taylor blazer and heels with them)! I haven’t worn any since.

          1. Zephy*

            I would have asked your boss if they had any recommendations for where to buy pants, then, because that’s all I’ve seen on the racks lately.

    2. Chinookwind*

      “I could’t imagine a cold state like Michigan or Alaska ever having shorts be part of business culture.”

      You would be wrong. Up here in Alberta, where we believe that “hat head” is professionally acceptable once it drops to -30 (-40 matches in both C and F), shorts/capris can be acceptable in some offices because it also reaches +25 or more (which is 80 or 90?). And, in Ottawa, when it gets muggy and humid, dress codes stipulate whether or not shorts and/or capris are acceptable (and they often are). I also believe that there are uniform shorts for bicycle police in the summer.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        In Minnesota, it can (and often does) reach 80-90+ degrees F during the summer months.

  41. Oregano*

    The “business attire = less comfort” equation strikes me as inherently ableist– I know plenty of people with various health conditions that can’t wear business attire for various reasons.

    Break an ankle? Long pants can’t go over the cast.

    Got foot problems? Dress shoes aren’t as supportive as tennis shoes with orthotics.

    Have touch-related sensory issues? The narrow range of fabrics used for dress clothes may not work for you!

    Would that things would change.

    1. Grace*

      “Break an ankle? Long pants can’t go over the cast.”

      Also, prosthetics. I follow someone on YT who is currently going through the process of beginning to use a prosthetic leg (below-the-knee amputation) and she’s mentioned that her current daily uniform is stretchy shorts and stretchy leggings, to fit them over the non-flexible prosthetic foot. Maybe the occasional skirt, but she’s not a big fan of skirts. If her job requires business casual, though (once she stops working remote) she’s going to have to get used to them, because her only other options are leggings and shorts.

    2. WellRed*

      I doubt most employers would say “no, we can’t allow exceptions” in these cases.

      1. Janie*

        I wonder if legally several of those things wouldn’t be an ADA thing anyways.

    3. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      This is actually me! I have a bunch of disabilities that mean I can NEVER adhere to any kind of “nice” dress code. And while I’ve had the symptoms my entire life (some of which are bizarre & extreme), I did not know most of them even EXISTED (let alone that I had them) until 4 years ago when I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 48.

      I can’t wear heels, or really, any type of shoe that is not solid and supportive (I’m big on combat boots, docs, sneaker boots, and such like for this reason) The disability that causes this is not orthopedic in nature (this was thoroughly investigated when I was a child) so orthotics don’t help (but cushy pads do.)

      There are a lot of fabrics I can’t even stand to TOUCH, let alone WEAR (polyester is my lifelong nemesis!), and quite honestly, dyspraxia makes me so extremely clumsy that pretty much every piece of clothing I own is jacked up in some way- ripped, torn, stained, frayed, patched, whatever. It’s something I have no control over, it just happens (my balance, coordination, procioception, fine & gross motor skills etc are all completely out of whack.)

      I also tend to crash into things a lot and am constantly covered with bumps, scrapes, burns, scratches, cuts, bruises, and faded scars of all the above (which SHOULDN’T be an issue, but many people think it looks “unprofessional”.)

      My undiagnosed disabilities caused me other issues that meant office jobs wouldn’t have really worked for me (I can’t type properly, I have a math/numbers learning disability) but I am also extremely smart, learn quickly, work hard etc- who knows what I could have done with myself if jeans, tees, and boots had been acceptable dress in every workplace? I might have been able to find better paying jobs, with benefits, and insurance for my OTHER serious chronic health issues, and not have struggled so hard for so long.

  42. MuseumChick*

    Alison, can I suggest you write a book about all the weird issues surrounding “professional attire” It could be called “Arbitrary Dress: The Illogical World of Business Wear”.

  43. somebody blonde*

    If people don’t wear shorts to your workplace but it’s not explicitly against your dress code, one way to push the envelope is to get the most conservative shorts you can find and see if anyone says anything. I have a pair of navy pinstripe shorts that cut off just above the knee that I wear to work, and no one bats an eye.

    1. Catsaber*

      It’s all about introducing it slowly. I worked my way up to bright pink hair. :) But now I’m in a different department and am back to my natural brown. Working my way back to pink, though…

    2. Amber Rose*

      My husband successfully argued the shorts vs skirts rule and got the right to wear some professional shorts to the office once. Professional meaning, knee length and not jeans and either black or dark blue. Still.

    3. OyHiOh*

      So, I have a fun story about clothing that challenges the norms but which is not explicitly mentioned in the dress code.

      My late husband liked kilts. He worked in law enforcement, eventually took a LEO job in the office, and discovered there was quite a bit more leeway in the dress code for administrative personnel. He read the dress code carefully. There were stipulations about the number and type of pockets for bottoms. There were stipulations about colors. There was, however, no stipulation regarding length or bifurcate legs. So one day, he wore a kilt to work, that otherwise perfectly conformed to the dress code. He threw a pair of regulation pants in the car as well because he was pretty sure he knew what was going to happen.

      Sure enough, first officer who saw him said “Oy! You can’t wear a kilt!” “Read the regs, sir. There’s nothing that says I can’t.” And he went off to his office and got started on his day.

      Three hours later, the dress code that goes out to every DOD civilian police officer in the entire US had been updated to specify that bifurcate legs were required on men’s admin uniforms. Oy went and changed into pants and spent the rest of his shift marveling at how fast they made the dress code specific when properly motivated.

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        I admire your husband’s bravery and his wisdom to put a pair of pants in his car.

    1. Iris Eyes*

      IMO not office wear. Generally made of informal fabrics and the excess of fabric is inconsistent with general business silhouettes.

      1. JD S*

        I wear culottes. Most people don’t even notice they’re not a skirt.
        I have several pairs I’ve made myself, so they fit perfectly. Tailored, knee length, made from gabardine. Professional, comfortable, suitable for my work.

    2. Artemesia*

      Culottes, if they are longish skirt length, are fine for the office but they make almost everyone look dumpy. I remember a very sharp professional in our workplace who had a very nice figure and wore culottes one day and the look from behind was very unflattering. I figured if she looked that bad in them, I wouldn’t have a chance with my wider hips. I have never seen culottes on adults that were attractive.

  44. Elizabeth West*

    Can I just say that I’m impressed by the brand new entry-level employee’s reaction to the OP’s clarification about dress? Instead of arguing the point, she thanked the OP and asked what would be appropriate instead.

    It seems like you’ve hired a good one, OP!

    1. mlem*

      I’m actually here to give kudos to the OP for being all over covering that topic in the weekly check-ins. Good manager, good new employee, good vibes all around! (Which is a refreshing change from soooo many recent letters.)

  45. Policy Wonk*

    At least a decade ago tailored suits made up of shorts and blazer were fashionable and briefly popular to wear to work in the summer. After a number of senior women wore such suits to work, other employees took that to mean shorts were OK and a number of lower-level staff came to work in what I can only describe as playsuits. Bright colors, ties on the shoulders, the adult version of something a toddler would wear at the beach. Shorts were promptly banned in our workplace and the ban remains in place.

    1. Pinky Lady*

      Missed this comment before I made mine below. My boss talks about this all the time!!! She talked about wearing hose with her shorts suits.

    2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      Wow, that makes TOTAL SENSE, instead of just banning rompers, play suits, and beach wear.

      How do businesses stay afloat with brilliant decision makers like that in charge?

  46. SOAS (NA)*

    This is so funny,. This morning I saw an ad for Torrid on my FB page and this one person said leggings are not professional and for cheap people. That (rightfully IMO) rubbed a lot of us the wrong way haha.

    structured leggings for work are becoming a thing and I am HERE FOR IT.

    1. Catsaber*

      I’m totally rockin’ my work leggings right now. As I did Monday and Tuesday as well!

      I hate how regular pants feel, especially after having babies. My “uniform” is thick leggings + tunic top + cardigan or duster jacket + Doc Martens. I’m in IT at a big state university and we’re pretty casual, so as long as I keep my butt covered and look intentional (versus “just rolled out of bed, these were the nearest clothes”), then I’m good.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, we’re pretty informal at our end too, and leggings under a tunic would be fine. But then we also allow shorts :-).

    2. No Tribble At All*

      You can pry my Old Navy Stevie pants (basically thick leggings)… very easily off my legs because they are soft and comfy :D

    3. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      I was in high school the last time leggings came around (the 80s.) Back then they were simply known as “stretch pants”.
      Notice the PANTS part.
      Women and girls from toddlers to seniors wore them AS PANTS, not as tights. They were totally normal and completely ubiquitous. Schools didn’t bat an eye or have conniptions over them.
      My mom was in her 50s, she switched from figure hugging polyester slacks to stretch pants and wore them the rest of her life. And I have a LOT of friends my age (50s) who have never stopped wearing them as pants either.

      It’s really hard for me to understand all the hoopla around them today as being INNAPPROPRIATE! NOT PANTS! COVER YOUR ASS! They were pants 30 years ago, they are still pants today. And they are just as appropriate for young women to wear to school as they were when *I* was wearing them to school. (As were/are mini skirts and camisoles- never heard a peep about them.)

      I find this really depressing and just another symptom of how our society is moving BACKWARDS as regards to freedom and women’s rights.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        We wore leggings and stirrup pants in the 80’s… but never without a big shirt or tunic over them in public. Never knew anyone who wore them like pants as they do today.

  47. Stephanie*

    In all honesty, my office AC is too terrible to wear shorts to work, even if I wanted to…

  48. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    I am very tempted to wear a skirt to work one day (I am male).
    If I were of Scottish descent, I would definitely wear a kilt to work one day.

    1. Nep*

      I definitely encourage you. Skirts should be for everyone. They can be very comfy.

    2. coffee cup*

      I very much hope none of my male colleagues are tempted to do this (I’m Scottish)!

    3. Tau*

      I admit I’d be really weirded out to see someone at work in a kilt, for the same reason I’d be weirded out to see someone at work in a tuxedo or evening dress.

      Agreed that skirts should really be unisex, though.

    4. OyHiOh*

      Under somebody blond above, I posted an amusing anecdote about wearing a kilt to work.

    5. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      Back when I was a kid in the 70s, there was a segment on the shoe Real People about a guy who wore nothing but skirts. He worked in an office, his skirts were long & straight and matched his suit jackets, and they showed him walking in his skirt suit with his briefcase.
      I remember my mom raising an eyebrow, but it was paradigm changing for me. I realized there really wasn’t any reason at all that men couldn’t wear skirts, other than an arbitrary rule enforced by society. And being well aware of fashion history, I knew that that hadn’t even always been the case. Men had worn tunics, robes, long hair, cosmetics, and other now-female codes items all throughout history.

      Ever since then I’ve been a huge supporter of all clothing being unisex.

  49. wickedtongue*

    I work an office that seems to range from semi-casual to casual (mostly not client-facing), and admit…I wear linen shorts and sundresses (with an occasional nice romper or jumpsuit) come summer. I walk to work, and it’s too hot to do otherwise most days. I’ve always wondered if I was crossing the line, but I’ve never had my boss comment on it so ??? Everybody else has varying dress standards as well.

    1. coffee cup*

      If you’re not seeing clients and it’s hot and your office doesn’t mind, why not? Mine is really pretty casual when it comes to summer and people just tend to wear what’s comfy without being inappropriate. I don’t think a sundress is inappropriate!

  50. A. Ham*

    I have two pairs of Bermuda length shorts, tailored and in similar fabrics as dress pants would be (but, you know, shorter). on warmer days I have worn them with heels and a button up and no one has ever batted an eye (I’ve even gotten complimented on them). I think I bought them at New York and Co.
    I do work in a somewhat casual office, but not sweat pants casual (as in, if I had shorts a different length and made out of denim on, it would not be seen as appropriate).

  51. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Business attire is all rooted in and about the puffy chested classist mentality is where it all circles back to in my experience. Children and blue collar workers wear shorts and sneakers, so of course they are said to be unprofessional.

    1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      Business dress codes are classist, sexist, and racist. I’ll be SO glad when the world evolves past them. It can’t come too soon.

      1. Username Can't Be Blank*

        Ugh, yes. I really wish I could wear jeans and casual shoes to work.

        I work in a public library, and I’m willing to bet the overwhelming majority of our patrons do not care what we wear, as long as we help them with what they need. Plus, I’m not even in a patron-facing role. Why does it matter what I wear? Why can’t I just be comfortable? My jeans with some give in them are way more comfortable than dress slacks without, and at least my jeans have some semblance of pockets. Even khakis have their challenges (that’s mostly what I wear with plain, but reasonably nice, t-shirts. I fully admit I dress down as much as I can get away with.)

        I’m too curvy for men’s clothing; otherwise, I’d consider going that route.

  52. nonprofit writer*

    I feel like this is generally true that shorts are not office wear, but good to make exceptions when there is a heatwave. In NYC, there are some summer weeks that are just unbearable and if you are taking the subway to work and waiting in the non-air-conditioned stations, the idea of wearing pants is just brutal. I’m a woman who wears dresses/skirts so it’s not an issue for me but I do remember some male colleagues wearing very tailored & classy Bermuda shorts a number of years ago. HR said it was a no-no, and the CEO quickly overruled HR saying he was going to wear shorts himself on days like that. I mean, it’s not fair if women have an option for keeping marginally cooler and men don’t. And we were not a fancy office at all–jeans totally acceptable, etc.

  53. Ra94*

    They’re not quite shorts, but in the fairly formal law firms I interned at last summer, I saw a number of women wear culottes. In a luxe material and conservative color, paired with a silk blouse and closed-toe pumps, I think they read very professional and are almost capri-length. I think the fact that they’re so wide gives them almost a ‘mid-calf skirt’ look rather than a ‘shorts’ look.

  54. Amber Rose*

    How about skants? Can I wear skants? They’re basically like skirts… Sort of.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Nothing that well thought out, lol. Skants was the idea that if you turn a sweater upside down and put your legs through the arm holes, you get something that’s sort of like pants and sort of like a skirt.

        They’re atrocious. I encourage you to google them and laugh. Some fashion companies I guess later tried to turn them into something respectable though.

  55. Pinky Lady*

    My boss talks about when they used to wear shorts-suits (think bermudas and a blazer) and hose! Yikes!

  56. Overeducated*

    I’m not sure if this is a counterpoint or a supporting anecdote to the “no showing skin below the knee” theory, but I used to have a uniformed position, with uniform policy set at a national level and several variations for men, women, function, and season of the year. There are uniforms with long pants, shorts, and skirts. Pantyhose and pumps are still required if you wear the skirt, which is a bit ridiculous because the work generally involves standing and walking all day. In my workplace we were never, ever allowed to wear the shorts, no matter how hot it got, because our work site was “urban” and apparently shorts are not considered appropriate for urban settings. I found the location = formality thing a little strange but I guess it’s another factor.

    1. Overeducated*

      N.B. related to temperature: I should also specify that we also spent around half our time outdoors in said urban setting.

  57. HR Ninja*

    I wear skirts all of the time in the summer. I know I’ve gotten away with more casual shirts (basically logo-less t-shirts) because I’ve paired them with skirts. There’s something about skirts that dresses up an outfit.

    1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      Good for them!

      I honestly don’t have any problem with men wearing skirts- I think the idea that a piece of cloth can have a gender is ridiculous.

  58. Ophelia*

    Once upon a time, my beloved, charismatic boss (who was quite senior in the company) showed up in knee-length Bermuda shorts when he stopped into the office on his way somewhere casual. As a department, we plotted to all show up the following Friday in our own most-flashy shorts outfits. We did get a half-hearted talking-to from HR, but it was worth it for the fact that he doubled-over laughing when we all trooped into his office.

        1. No Tribble At All*

          I want this to work, but as a plus-sized lady, I feel like this would look like I’d hulk-raged out of a regular suit.

  59. VM*

    This is very timely because our big boss banned shorts this summer. I’ve been wearing Bermuda length shorts for the past few summers and they were made of a dress pant material. I have asked my boss if I got even longer shorts, to the knee or just below, whether he would call those capris. He said he would and so I ordered them last night. I just think it’s baloney. Our dress stretches from business casual to just plain casual (jeans every day, etc) and we are banning shorts? It’s not a modesty thing, we can still wear sleeveless shirts and sundresses. To date, no one who has worn shorts has worn anything inappropriate so I just don’t get it.

    1. Ladylike*

      To me, capris are just as casual as bermudas, if not more casual. I actually think bermudas are neater because they don’t get the weird behind-the-knee wrinkle. So silly!

  60. Anonya*

    Ah, you have to love the arbitrary nature of business dress codes. That said, I tend toward the conservative side for my age (late ’30s) because my office culture is more conservative in general. What flies in other departments just wouldn’t here.

    Here’s a question for other professional women: I used to have zero issues with wearing dresses and skirts with bare legs, but it’s starting to feel … I don’t know, exposed? Weird? Pretty sure this is a “me issue” and can’t believe I’m even considering wearing pantyhose, but I am. I’m also in management now and feel like I need to step it up a bit. Is this a workwear transition that people go through? And if so, what brands should I look for? I would want a very sheer, subtle look.

    1. coffee cup*

      You mentioned your age – do you somehow feel that not wearing tights is ‘too young’? I definitely don’t think so, but society can be weird about the messages it sends us as women about what we can and can’t wear at certain ages. I’m afraid ‘flesh’-coloured tights creep me out a bit, so I can’t help there (although black tights in winter don’t, for some reason, and I don’t know what it is!), but I wanted to reassure you that having bare legs with a skirt is totally fine. I don’t think it at all has anything to do with how professional you look. Especially if it’s warm! But then I’m one to talk. I’m in my mid-30s and backed out of buying dungarees recently because I thought I might be too old now. Even though I was rocking those in the 90s!

      1. Jerusha*

        Regarding the flesh-colored tights creeping one out (I feel it too, to a certain extent): For me, I think it’s something like the “uncanny valley”. Non-flesh-colored tights just read as “tights”. Flesh-colored tights read as “skin. Hey, wait a minute, something’s wrong with that skin!”

        For me, it’s pretty much only for smooth opaque tights – if they’re semi-sheer, or patterned, so I can definitely tell they’re not-skin, I don’t have a problem.

    2. LaDeeDa*

      You can certainly have bare legs and still be professional, think about what it is that is causing you to feel that way. For me, it is because my legs don’t look as nice as they used to! My skin isn’t as firm and my veins are more visible. During the winter I wear tights and/or boots, so it doesn’t matter. In the summer, I get the lightest possible color of spray-on tan- only on my legs, or I use a “liquid pantyhose” it evens out my skin tone and makes my veins less THERE.
      The thing with pantyhose is if they aren’t just right, they can make you look older than you are, and you can’t wear open-toed shoes with them.
      I used to work for a bank in their corporate offices, and their policy was no bare legs- the best pair of pantyhose I ever found were called Hipstick. They were sheer without shimmer- they aren’t cheap ($35ish) but they also don’t snag and run, and will last if you care for them right. Donna Karen also has an entire Nudes section- and they super sheer, they are about half the price of Hipstick, and really good quality. Sadly, I don’t think their nudes/sheers are inclusive of a wide variety of skin tones. Oh- I just looked it up, Beyonce wears a line called Nubian Skin.

      Good luck!!

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I think it depends on the condition of one’s legs!
      Mine are so pale now and dry, it’s just not a good look. Plus, varicose veins as we get older.

  61. Black Bellamy*

    I work for a giant corporation that has been around for more than a hundred years. I can come in with a t-shirt, a pair of shorts and some flip-flops and no one would even notice and I am over 50 so it’s not like oh those millenials.

    Different places have different cultures.

  62. Ladylike*

    When I worked one of my first office jobs in the mid-90’s, a female coworker of mine was mildly reprimanded for wearing shorts. She confided her shock to me (while she was still wearing them), and felt that because they were a flowy, A-line shape, not too short, and she was wearing pantyhose with them, they should be fine.

    They were a white knit (think T-shirt) material and had red cherries all over them. She was wearing them with a short sleeved, stiff cotton button-front shirt with green, red and white color blocking (to her credit, everything matched color-wide). She was right, she shouldn’t have been reprimanded for wearing shorts. She deserved the reprimand for the outfit just being…terrible.

  63. TotesMaGoats*

    I once had this great suit that was knee length shorts and a cropped sleeve jacket. Light weight summer fabric but the shorts were “dressy”. I loved that suit. It worked because of the fabric and tailoring. I wouldn’t wear it now given my role but it worked then. It’s crazy how that stuff changes.

  64. Blue Eagle*

    What about capri pants? Some of the benefits of shorts (i.e. not fully long pants) but they end below the knee. Shorts are definitely frowned on where I work but capri pants are OK (it’s a somewhat casual office).

  65. softcastle mccormick*

    I work in an office environment that is SUPER casual (to a fault sometimes), and I still would never wear shorts. Our basic dress codes dictate that nothing be shorter than two inches above the knee, and I’d probably side-eye any shorts choice no matter the length unless they were, like, ultra-structured, tailored, and pleated. I truly don’t know why it’s so ingrained in my brain, but it truly is. For reference, we’re so casual that a commonplace summer outfit of mine is booties, a Modcloth midi-skirt, a t-shirt with a chambray shirt layered over it, and jewelry–an outfit I’ve received numerous compliments on from senior management. Dunno why shorts in the workplace just “rub me the wrong way,” so to speak, but they do.

  66. RoadsLady*

    In the same vein, I’ve wondered what makes longer-than-knee-length skirts not as professional.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      I think material, cut, and the shoes worn with it. I have an A-line midi-skirt (it has pockets!) that is black suiting material and it is very professional. There is one woman in my office who wears maxi-skirts all the time, but they are always flowy pleated, thin material– she looks like a stereotypical hippy- which she is! We don’t have a dress code, she isn’t customer facing, and doesn’t work with business units outside her own very often. It suits her, but it doesn’t look professional at all. I have personally never seen a maxi-dress or a maxi-skirt that looked professional, I have seen formals, but not business. They might exist, but I haven’t seen them.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        That’s it. Personally, I think there may have been a cultural bias in that maxi skirts were often deemed more “ethnic” which we read now as bohemian or hippy.

      2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        One of my favorite types of skirts ever are those lightweight printed Indian cotton or rayon full skirts, often termed “hippie skirts”. I’ve been wearing them for nearly 40 years.
        My style is so far from “stereotypical hippie/boho” that absolutely NOBODY would mistake me for one.

        It’s not WHAT you wear, but how you wear it that counts.

  67. AnnieG*

    I’m just jealous they have an office warm enough that employees would be comfortable in shorts. Once the air conditioning season arrives, I’m in long pants/long sleeves and sitting under a blanket if I’m at my desk.

  68. Kimmybear*

    A bit off topic but to the point of shorts being a cultural construct: When I lived in Europe, I once wore shorts while walking into town to get ice cream on a really hot day. I got funny looks from the people in the horse drawn cart on the highway because I was wearing shorts.

  69. Fiddlesticks*

    I know this is sexist, but… I really, really do not want to see my male coworkers’ hairy naked legs at the office. So on this basis alone, I’ll vote “no shorts” in the workplace. (Yes, I know lots of women don’t remove their leg hair, but it’s not that common and women generally have less hair to begin with.)

    I also don’t want to see hairy shoulders and backs, so please guys, no sleeveless tees or wife-beaters either!

    1. Janie*

      Sexist and also kind of transphobic. You should work on that. Try making eye contact instead of staring at peoples’ legs if they bother you so much.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        Agreed on both counts.

        Also we can argue that it contributes to racism & misogyny by perpetuating false standards that women are hairless, which is not actually very true except for some very fair & blonde white people.

        Most women feel pressured to remove body hair to conform to those standards, POC even more so because their hair is often more visible.

        It’s so much better/easier to just NOT CARE about what other people’s bodies look like.

      2. Retail*

        I work in a job where shorts are encouraged and practically required so you don’t fall out from the heat.

        I don’t shave my legs and my mom told me to expect questions etc. If a guest said anything, that’s unfathomably rude. Of course sometimes we’re invisible to them anyway.

        And if a coworker or god forbid a higher up said something, you’re knocking on harassment and/or gender discrimination since I’m not performing femininity right.

  70. CivilianLinetti*

    There is probably a class and age element to the origins of the ‘no shorts’ thing.

    It’s the same reason Prince George and Prince Louis of Cambridge have to wear shorts and t-bar shoes when their contemporaries are in jeans and trainers. Shorts are for young boys, long trousers are for men.

    So shorts in a business setting would be completely out of the question because it would have looked like yourself and your employees were Just William-style schoolboys. Not quite the image most businesses would have wanted to project.

    And the same people who would balk at shorts in the workplace would be doubly flabbergasted by women in shorts in the workplace.

    1. LGC*

      That’s literally the first thing I thought of! Historically, little boys would wear short trousers, so I just imagined that shorts picked up an “young child” coding from that in general.

      Honestly, maybe it’s because I’m a guy myself, but I’d be more surprised by a man wearing business shorts than a woman. Mostly because it’s more unexpected to see a man’s legs in businesses wear than a woman’s.

  71. Meißner Porcellain Teapot*

    I will be forever grateful that I am working in a job (software testing) that still qualifies as office work, but where the bar is set so low in terms of dress code formality that we can wear basically whatever we want, so long as it covers the chest and everything between the navel and the thighs, doesn’t endanger us or our co-workers (no sharp protruding objects such as spiked collars/armbands and no flipflops/sandals to decrease the risk of tripping over cables), and doesn’t look like we’ve been sleeping under the nearest bridge.

    I think Alison is definitely right on the money that “business wear” is an artificial cultural construct born out of outdated ideas of modesty and the conscious desire to separate work from casual. Generally keeping dress codes as lax as reasonably possible (considering safety concerns, frequency of client interactions etc.) can be a really nice perk.

    1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      I totally agree with you.

      My idea of the perfect dress code is :

      Covers nipples/genitalia
      Does not interfere with performance of duties.
      No safety issues/conforms with all safety regulations

      Same standards apply to hair, shoes, accessories, jewelry, etc (well except the nipples/genitalia part)

      Anything specifically required must have a good reason (safety, work logo, etc)

      If uniforms/a uniform look is required or desired, EMPLOYER supplies/reimbursed/provides funds for it (as they would for almost other work related expenses.)
      I include places like retail stores that expect employees to wear the merchandise- they can provide deep employee discounts and/or clothing credits on top of better wages for associates.
      (I think it’s wrong to require employees to spend their wages on special things that are required for them to be able to work, and that INCLUDES work clothes.)

      This world would be a MUCH better place if people weren’t so hung up on people’s outsides and paid more attention to their insides.

  72. HomeSick*

    Many men in my old office (tech/media company; huge international corp) would wear shorts in summer. These were always “fancy” shorts, like chino shorts, although often in bright colours. They were often worn with shirts or t-shirts. In fact, the first shorts sighting was always a topic of conversation around this time of year; the men in the office would wait until one brave soul wore shorts, and then the rest of the office would follow suit.

    This is London, so perhaps that accounts for some difference.

    1. pleaset*

      There is a lot of stuff that can be done well, but I worry about people doing it badly.

      Dressy chino shorts: nice.

      Shlubby carbo shorts: why we can’t wear nice shorts at work.

  73. crimson41*

    I work in an office without air conditioning in London (many, many offices here do not have aircon)

    There is no legal upper limit to the temperature of offices; until recently summers were not that hot.

    Last summer, when it did not rain for 2 months and we had constant days over 30C, you better believe that all of my team, except for the boss, came to work in shorts.
    Funnily enough, the boss did not, ONLY because he has full leg tattoos!

    1. An Elephant Never Baguettes*

      Yeah that’s in part why I think my office is so casual about shorts/sandals in summer (well, and we’re in a casual industry), we’re in a listed aka very old building with no air con and outside temperatures of 30C mean we’re approaching 35-40C inside.

  74. Nedra*

    My casual (flip flops, t-shirts, yoga pants, etc) employer had a strict “no jeans” policy. I almost always wear skirts and dresses and so I never wore any of my denim skirts at that job. I figured it was pretty stupid that they had such an arbitrary objection to denim in such a casual environment, but those are the rules….

    Then one day on “jeans day” I wore a denim skirt and all of my supervisors said that I could have been wearing denim skirts all along. They seemed to think that it was obvious that “a denim skirt isn’t the same thing as a pair of jeans.”

    1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      That’s pretty much what all dress codes are.

  75. Tiger Snake*

    I know one of the factors that impact culture are things like whether there is a concept of ‘formal’ for that type of clothing, and how that clothing falls on the human body. Specifically, there’s a particular ‘look’ that’s seen as the business you need to conform to; I think of it as the ‘starched shirt’ look; all very straight, flat and ironed all over. Clothing needs to fall on the body in a way that emphasise that look to be considered business clothing. This is why, even though skirts are allowed, its actually only a very small selection of skirts and dresses that are actually deemed acceptable.

    To give a very simply example of what I mean; if you pay attention for a while, you’ll note that shorts are just inclined to try and ride up and bunch up high on the inner thighs. They don’t lie flat, straight and ironed. ‘Business’ skirts do, regardless of length. They stay pressed and give the body a particular straight, maybe ironed look.

    Why is the ‘starched look’ important? I think its because we used to use starch to keep our clothes straight and white, and old class systems; because you’re neither a child or a -gasp- blue collared worker. That’s why. /sarcasm
    (This classist thing is also why there’s an old, British joke that the Australian Army has shorts as part of their uniform, by the way)

    1. CanCan*

      My experience is entirely the opposite.

      Business-style shorts (knee-length) sit like pants: you don’t have to adjust them at all, “straight, flat and ironed”. (Yes, casual shorts that end at upper-thigh level ride up. But that length of skirt wouldn’t be appropriate either. Lower-thigh lever shorts shouldn’t bunch up either, no more than regular pants.)

      The reason I don’t wear skirts is that you always have to pull it down when you stand up, sit down or walk more than a few steps (and I am talking about business skirts – they look ironed, but they ride up on the body because nothing prevents them from doing it). Also skirts twist around the body when you walk, so much that I’ve sometimes attached a skirt to my pantyhose with paperclips (the strong black variety) on both sides of my body, with a blazer covering the set-up. Felt ridiculous, but I was walking to an interview and didn’t want to twist my skirt every half a block.

  76. Galahad*

    Last month, when visiting my engineering head office (I work from home now), I almost stopped a junior engineer to suggest that shorts were not work appropriate. But then I stopped.

    1. The shorts were linen, although pleated, full and fairly short (mid thigh).
    2. She paired them with opagque black tights.
    3. I could not figure out a reason why that was less appropriate than saggy jeans, or a miniskirt (without tights).

    Ah. I thought. If only I could get everyone who wore above the knee skirts (by more than an inch) to wear hose. That would be 100x better than giving advice / comments that a professional look as is important to junior up and coming engineers.

    Yep, I believe in pantyhose, for anything knee length or shorter. I be old school, I guess, but when you are one of the only women in your office, with a title like “engineer”, trying to be taken seriously, it it to your advantage to dress slightly more classically professional than slum casual others (IT / Techs) try to get away with.

    Further to that, the ideal office outfit for me turned out to be business slacks (not dressy) that I could crawl on the floor with, and would go with steel toe boots on short notice, when a client might surprise us with a request for a same day quote or an on-site review of their facility. Whenever I could get in front of a client, I did. Imagine a professional outfit that one would wear working in a lab.

    Hmmm… now as a college teacher, standing in front of a lecture hall, I could not EVER imagine trying to show bare legs (shorts or short skirt) in front of a room ful of students. Too many chances for wardrobe mishaps.

  77. Galahad*

    A Man and Shorts in the office story.
    My husband, a computer programmer / architect / manager of PhD’s, on the west coast (casual) was called to the Toronto office for a meeting (about making him the head of a new division based in Vancouver).
    Well, unknown to me, he chose to pack his “business shorts”. Imagine knee length,black, heavy weight bermuda shorts with a cuff, worn with kneehighs and black leather shoes, dress shirt, belt, no tie.

    It was hot as heck July, after all.

    It took the senior team a bit to warm up to him, as they were definitely put off by the shorts. They had never seen such a thing in their conservative downtown office before. DH had only been with the company for 6 months, and had always worked for start ups in the western provinces, that operated culturally more like silicon valley.

  78. Phil*

    I wore shorts all the time but I didn’t work in an office, I worked on a set or recording studio and as long as it sounded good I could dress in a Mr Peanut costume.

  79. RoKGirl*

    In South Korea, wearing shorts in a buisness setting is totally ok (of course they’re ‘fancier’ shorts and always wear panty hose underneath). Here, really short shorts and skirts are actually ok business wise. Just make sure the chest area is covered up. That is the inappropriate area here.

  80. Kitty*

    I have worked in many offices and never in my life seen anyone wearing a silk shirt. In my mind that would read as overly fancy and “extra”, almost like they were trying to be “sexy”. I feel like cotton would be more plain and therefore more businessy?

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      I think silk/rayon like blend – think Ann Taylor blouses for women that are priced so affordably low, obviously not real silk, but more drapey than cotton. Cotton is probably the standard for men’s dress shirts, for sure, for office attire.

  81. Kitty*

    But then some of my offices have been so casual that it was fine for guys to wear board shorts and flip flops to work

  82. Letter Writer here!*

    Thank you everyone for all your thoughtful comments today on why shorts aren’t allowed in many offices (and are in others!) and the history behind much of it! Our office is a jeans always ok, and some staff do wear t-shirts and flip flops (although not in my department which is a tad more formal); so I just also wanted a check that my expectations weren’t out of line (as like Jane earlier this week). We don’t have a formal dress code at my office, it’s really up to each department and with the idea that if something crosses the line, your supervisor will let you know for the future.

  83. Mystykyn*

    Tbh I really hate shorts. Other than on the beach or while actively participating in sport, I see them as being for the under fives only. Regardless of the gender, race, orientation or attractiveness of the individual wearer, for me personally they are an utter no-no as street or business wear.

    1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      You are definitely in the minority then. Shorts have been normal streetwear for a LONG time and they aren’t going anywhere.

  84. Ruth (UK)*

    During the heatwave here last summer, it became increasingly common to see school age boys attending school in skirts (with few exceptions, all schools have a uniform here which usually includes black trousers with a skirt option).

  85. Anon for this*

    I don’t know if anyone has said this (kinda gross) but in my office we outlawed shorts because you could see one man’s “thingy” if he sat or stood just right.

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      Oh that’s gross and so wrong.
      Thank you for sharing and I’m so sorry that was A Thing, so to speak.

  86. CountryLass*

    For men wearing shorts, I think it is also because (in the UK at least) only young boys wore them, so they still have the subconscious thought that if you are wearing shorts at work, you are young, therefore junior and not to be taken seriously, maybe?
    It’s like pretty pink dresses with bows, some of them look quite like something a small girl would be dressed in, and therefore the woman wearing it is taken less seriously?

  87. former magistra*

    I once worked at an extremely posh prep school with a strict dress code where Bermuda shorts were OK in season….but I think only because we had a sizable boarding student population from Bermuda, and we had imported that cultural norm along with them.

    Some of the male faculty sure did look forward to the day they were allowed to swap out their pants for shorts, though.

    1. blink14*

      Bermuda shorts are a staple to the “prep” wardrobe – I went to boarding school, and every guy, teachers included, wore them at some point in the spring and early fall. It’s a very acceptable dress code choice within the prep school world.

  88. Former call centre worker*

    Shorts are accepted in my office. There is one guy here who literally always wears them. We had a fairly fancy xmas party and when all the other men turned up in black tie or at least a suit, this guy wore shorts. In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t live in a warm climate. On the night of the Christmas party it was about -5C with ice on the ground.

  89. Oaktree*

    This is, as others have pointed out, very culturally-dependent; I have no doubt there are some places where even in more formal offices, shorts of some kind are acceptable. But in Canada, the US, and the UK, they either read as informal/for sports or the outdoors, childish, or both. I think in the case of Canada and the UK it’s a holdover from school uniforms, which often stipulate(d) short pants for boys (and which is itself a holdover from earlier dress norms where boys always wore short pants until a certain age). Anyway, all that means that wearing shorts to the office would read as off.

    I do think that in a business casual environment, khaki or chino shorts should be acceptable, so long as they’re not too short- maybe two inches above the knee at most- especially in places where it gets hot in the summer.

  90. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    At my last company, we weren’t allowed to wear shorts. And there were other specific rules concerning certain items of clothing like sleeveless shirts and dresses, because you always have a select few who push the boundaries of what’s acceptable attire at work, and it forces the company to be specific. One of my team members wore a suit once with shorts. It was professional IMO, but someone reported her and my boss had to send her home to change. She looked 150% better than the majority of the people in the building, but the rule said no shorts. And unlike dresses or skirts, shorts are generally more casual, so it’s probably just easier to say not to wear them, than to specify what type of shorts are acceptable.

  91. AliciaB*

    When I read this my first thought was the character Petra on Jane the Virgin. She is always in super cute, professional shorts. Granted, her character is a hotel manager in Miami so the dress code is a bit different, but I would love to see women rocking her outfits in an office!

  92. CanCan*

    I had two pairs of very nice business shorts once. Businessy-type fabric, fit, colour (one grey, one navy pinstripe). One ended just below the knee, the other an inch or so lower. Sort of like capris (totally business appropriate, IMHO), but a bit shorter. My thighs were never exposed, and knees could be barely seen in one pair, when I sat one leg over the other. I wore them with professional blouses and sometimes blazer, and my clients never blinked.

    The OP is right – if skirts (of a certain minimum length/coverage) are allowed, so should shorts.

    Context: lawyer in a small office, in a cold climate (so shorts can only be worn at most 3 months of a year).

  93. DaniCalifornia*

    I get why this is a question. In the summer our owner of our CPA firm wears shorts and a nicer polo and flip flops. On days he has no meetings. He’ll even apologize to clients if they catch him on one of those days for his casualness. But guys shorts usually go to their knees. Women’s shorts usually don’t unless you get bermuda shorts. (And I do not look good in those!) While I do have some “dressier” shorts for non work life (wear with a belt and has a nice hem, not too short) and would love to wear those in the office and stupid TX heat…it probably wouldn’t look right. It also probably wouldn’t feel business casual which is our office dress code. No matter what top or shoes I wore it with.

  94. Sunny Librarian*

    I’ve worn “dressy” shorts (think fabric and cut like dress trousers, but knee or calf length) in the summertime and I’ve seen others, and it looks polished and professional. Full disclosure, though: I work at a university (more casual in the summer!) in Arizona (my husband gets asked why he’s “dressed up” if he wears a suit anywhere!).

  95. Kimberly*

    I would guess in part it is a holdover from boys wear short pants until they were 8 or 9 years old -so they are a juvenile style of clothing.

  96. Adminx2*

    It is a bit sad- my partner can wear a long sleeve button up shirt and tie, but not a clean formal to the knee kilt, even if others can wear to the knee skirts.
    I just accept dress code irregularities part of the social weirdness we accept when choosing office work. But that doesn’t make them less irregular and inconsistent.

  97. Elizabeth Hare*

    I think that Bermuda shorts (i.e. just above the knees) and capris should be acceptable attire in today’s world. Back in 1970 I had to fight to wear pants to work and I know the dilemmas experienced in the workplace first hand. A secretary I had recommended to the government department I was working for at the time came to work in a bra dress. Needless to say, I had a few words with her about appropriate dress attire.

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