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Ever since shorts made the leap from nineteenth century little boy's breeches to modern summer staple, detractors have been building a list of complaints: Too boxy, too casual, too short. There are legions of otherwise reasonable people who wouldn't be caught dead wearing them, never mind the fact that skirts — the far less controversial cousin of abbreviated pants — show just as much leg, and shorts come in a diverse range of cuts, colors, and fabrics. These prejudices remain strong and unshakable, nearly impossible to reverse.
That changes here. We’ve come up with a four-prong rehabilitation plan to make even the staunchest of haters reconsider their stance, complete with suggestions for 12 of the most flattering — and least shorts-like — pairs out there this season. (And if you’re already on the band wagon, feel free to ignore our pointed arguments and get straight to the shopping.)
1. Lean into the pleat.
Have you tried disguising your shorts in a little extra draped fabric? Exhibit A: These graphic striped culottes by Milly essentially look and act like a midi skirt without limiting your sitting options to daintily crossed ankles. If you're not a fan of patterns, Zara’s flowing, lace-trim Bermudas — available in solid black or white — offer a quieter way to approach this trick.
2. An even easier fix? Put a bow on it.
Whereas a flat front silhouette can be severe and unforgiving, a flouncy tie softens the look. Rachel Comey’s black Arroyo short is ideal if you’re thinking about day-to-night dressing; simply start with a sleeveless sweater or poplin blouse for work, and switch to a cropped going out top before heading to happy hour. If the only thing you hate more than shorts is bows, there's a similar vibe happening in this plaid Madewell piece, but with a tomboyish twist.
3. Now let’s talk about silhouette — you've got three key ways to go.
Full on fit-and-flare.
Good news! The curve-enhancing wizardry of this universally flattering shape doesn't just work with dresses and skirts. The sale selection over at Opening Ceremony has a perfect example of the shape at the moment, available in both black and a playful blue print.
Opening Ceremony Twill Penn shorts, $237 (from $395); Opening Ceremony Parking Lot Jacquard Godet shorts, $158 (from $395)
Volume on volume.
As we learned from the pleated shorts in tip number one, the more material you’ve got going on, the less your look is going to feel like the stereotypical idea of shorts. Better yet, if one of your biggest concerns with above-the-knee pants is the magnifying glass it takes to your legs, note that a wide, slouchy fit makes everything seem longer and leaner by comparison. To stretch your proportions even more, go for vertical stripes.
Add a little asymmetry.
Surprising visual contrast throws the standard shorts equation off kilter. Instead of something you've avoided for years, suddenly you've got an interesting new way to cover your lower half. C/MEO's HR-friendly take on this concept is well-suited to the complicated world of summer office style; over at Moda Operandi, there's an elegant salmon-colored Ginger & Smart design worth pre-ordering for fall.
4. If all else fails, just fall back on the skort.
This cheat worked when you were in the Girls Scouts, and it still works now — although you may want to branch beyond summer camp khaki. These beauties from Agnona and J.W. Anderson prove there's nothing juvenile about the childhood staple. Add your choice of top (T-shirts, camisoles, and button-downs are all fantastic ways to go), and welcome back to the glorious world of shorts! We missed you.