The short answer on office shorts: No (2024)

Dylan Viner couldn’t believe he had never done this before. It was September, but scorching temperatures in New York were refusing to wane. On the way to the Tribeca brand studio he runs, he was congratulating himself: Shorts on a work day! A cool breeze across my thighs while everyone else is suffering! What a concept!

Then, Viner, 38, got to his office, and the euphoria quickly dissipated. No one gave him a hard time; no one did a spit take when the elevator doors opened. Maybe it was just the immediate realization that he was showing quite a lot more skin than normal. Or maybe it was his childhood in Britain haunting him: “The last time I did something serious in a pair of shorts, I was, like, a school kid, with the high socks and little shorts,” he says.

He realized all at once — and too late — that he much, much preferred to have his legs swaddled in his usual lightweight slacks.

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“You know, you wear some things, and it changes the way you feel. Like, ‘I feel good,’ or ‘I feel powerful,’ or ‘I feel like I’ve got this.’ I felt none of those things,” he says. And with a rueful laugh, Viner adds, “I felt like a Boy Scout.”

Viner’s office, like many around the United States, generally doesn’t enforce a strict dress code, even as our pandemic work-from-home attire has crept into our office life. He’s even seen some colleagues wear shorts to the office and look put-together and stylish. And yet.

Perhaps it’s a vestige of a bygone time of suits and pumps, but there’s just something a little risky about going to your desk job with your whole legs out — or even some of your legs out. As summers on planet Earth get hotter (and handsome young actors continue to popularize the three-inch inseam), the question will only get more relevant: Do shorts belong at the office?

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The short answer on office shorts: No (3)

Can you wear shorts

to the office?

A helpful flow chart

START HERE:

Are your shorts the bottom half of a shorts suit?

Yes

No

Wear with dress shoes

and panache, but be

prepared to field some

comments and questions

(unless you’re an English prince under 8 years old).

Do you own the company?

No

Yes

Wear whatever you want,

whenever you want.

How formally do other,

more senior employees dress?

In polo shirts and chic

sneakers

Have you ever worn a skirt of knee-length or shorter to work?

Yes

No

Wear with dress shoes and panache, but

be prepared to field some

comments and questions

(unless you’re an English prince under

8 years old).

In suits

and high

heels

Are you Sen. John Fetterman

of Pennsylvania?

No

Yes

Wear whatever

you want, whenever

you want.

Don’t wear shorts.

Do, however, wear linens, tropical wool and roomy

silhouettes to

keep cool.

In

T-shirts and flip-flops

The short answer on office shorts: No (4)

Can you wear shorts

to the office?

A helpful flow chart

START HERE:

Are your shorts the bottom half of a shorts suit?

Yes

No

Wear with dress shoes

and panache, but be

prepared to field some

comments and questions

(unless you’re an English prince under 8 years old).

Do you own the company?

No

Yes

Wear whatever you want,

whenever you want.

How formally do other,

more senior employees dress?

In polo shirts and chic

sneakers

Have you ever worn a skirt of knee-length or shorter to work?

No

Yes

Wear with dress shoes and panache, but

be prepared to field some

comments and questions

(unless you’re an English prince under

8 years old).

It's easier

not to take the risk.

If you do, consider

proportion, length and stylishness.

In suits

and high

heels

Are you Sen. John Fetterman

of Pennsylvania?

No

Yes

Wear whatever

you want, whenever

you want.

Don’t wear shorts.

Do, however, wear linens, tropical wool and roomy

silhouettes to

keep cool.

In

T-shirts and flip-flops

The short answer on office shorts: No (5)

Can you wear shorts to the office?

A helpful flow chart

START HERE:

Are your shorts the

bottom half of a shorts suit?

Yes

No

Yes

In

T-shirts

and

flip-flops

Wear whatever

you want, whenever you want.

Do you own the company?

How formally do other, more senior employees dress?

No

In suits

and high

heels

In polo

shirts

and chic sneakers

No

Are you Sen. John Fetterman

of Pennsylvania?

Have you ever worn a skirt of knee-length or shorter to work?

Don’t wear shorts.

Do, however, wear linens, tropical wool and roomy

silhouettes to keep cool.

No

Yes

Wear whatever

you want, whenever you want.

Yes

No

Wear with

dress shoes and panache, but be

prepared to field some comments and questions

(unless you’re an English prince under

8 years old).

It's easier not to take the risk.

If you do, consider proportion, length and stylishness.

The short answer on office shorts: No (6)

Can you wear shorts to the office?

A helpful flow chart

START HERE:

Are your shorts the

bottom half of a shorts suit?

Yes

No

Yes

Wear whatever

you want, whenever you want.

In T-shirts

and flip flops

Do you own the company?

How formally do other, more senior employees dress?

No

In suits

and high

heels

In polo shirts and chic sneakers

Yes

Are you Sen. John Fetterman

of Pennsylvania?

Don’t wear shorts.

Do, however, wear linens, tropical wool and roomy silhouettes to keep cool.

Have you ever worn

a skirt of knee-length or shorter

to work?

No

Yes

Wear with dress shoes and panache, but be prepared to field some comments and questions (unless you’re an English prince under 8 years old).

No

Wear whatever

you want, whenever you want.

Yes

It's easier not to take the risk. If you do, consider proportion, length and stylishness.

The conventional wisdom, perhaps obviously, says no. Sharron J. Lennon, co-author of the book “The Social Psychology of Dress” and a professor emeritus at Indiana University, is fairly adamant: Don’t do it.

Research shows that “generic casual clothing in the office conveys impressions of job incompetence and disrespect for the office context,” Lennon says. In studies, children have said that they perceive formally dressed people as more knowledgeable than people in casual clothes; Lennon notes that they also tend to gravitate toward the former in situations where they needed to ask an adult for information.

Plus, shorts at the office can (unfairly) work against perceptions of women. “Body-revealing clothing when worn by women conveys sexual intent,” Lennon says.

(Of course, try telling that to any “Hart of Dixie” fan: On the mid-2010s CW series, Rachel Bilson’s New York City-to-rural-Alabama transplant Dr. Zoe Hart frequently sported chic dress shorts at work in her medical office.)

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The debate has gone as far as Congress recently: Sen. John Fetterman’s (D-Pa.) entire tenure in Congress has been punctuated by controversies over his chosen uniform of a hoodie and gym shorts — perhaps obviously, a surprising choice for a setting in which most men have historically worn suits. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) decision in September to abandon enforcement of the Senate’s unwritten business-attire dress code was widely assumed to be aimed at accommodating his preferred attire at work. Days later, though, the Senate reversed Schumer’s decision by voting to institute a formal dress code.

The not-so-long answer

Like Lennon, Rachel Tashjian, fashion reporter for The Washington Post, is a “no” on shorts at the office.

“I just cannot picture an office-appropriate ensemble with shorts,” she says. “Even if you think it makes you feel more comfortable, you’ll get so many glances and raised eyebrows from colleagues.”

Plus, she adds, “This is not a simple issue of casualness; it’s about proportion. You’ll have to do so much to make them look suitable that you’ll look unbalanced.”

So if you would like to sidestep complicated feelings about your work wardrobe, the short(s) answer here is just to skip them altogether — or, as Tashjian suggests, wear shorts to work but change when you arrive.

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Or, as Derek Guy, the Twitter-famous “Menswear Guy” who writes the blog Die, Workwear, points out, there are alternatives to feel more ventilated in the summer without wearing shorts. Linen, for example, can be more breathable than traditional dress fabrics. “Linen wicks moisture away from your skin and brings it to the other side of the fabric, and it quickly dissipates,” he said. (But beware: Linen can easily wrinkle — so if that’s a worry, Guy recommends a linen blend.)

Pants made from tropical wool — a worsted-wool fabric with a lower thread count — can also offer a less stifling alternative to most slacks. “The wool itself is lighter than most other formal fabrics, so it’s not going to retain as much heat, and an open weave allows body heat to escape and every breeze to blow through.”

And if all else feels unattainable or inadvisable, “just wear slightly looser clothing” in the summer, Guy says. “On a hot day, you’re not going to feel comfortable when the clothes are, like, sticking and clinging to you.”

But if you remain shorts-curious …

That said, Guy isn’t against the idea of wearing shorts at the office, especially in offices where employees dress casually otherwise. There’s just a lot to consider before you do.

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What other employees wear, for example, matters. Because many offices have phased out official dress codes, “We’re in this unfortunate world where you often have to figure out the dress norms [yourself], and it takes a bit of social aptitude, essentially,” Guy says. For those who don’t naturally pick up on dress norms, though, or those just starting out at a new workplace, Guy says, there’s nothing wrong with simply asking a manager or peer what’s appropriate and not.

Gender, unfairly as it may be, can be a factor, too: While women’s professional dress is, overall, a lot more fraught, women and people who wear womenswear have more options when it comes to ways to wear shorts in professional settings: Shorts suits, for example, are a dressed-up version of shorts more commonly available within womenswear, and the historical ubiquity of skirts and dresses in offices sets a precedent for women’s legs being exposed.

“Generally speaking, women traverse a much greater minefield when it comes to dress, and they face harsher punishments when they transgress,” Guy says. Still,people have less of an issue of women showing skin below the knee than men.”

Like Guy, Robin Givhan, The Post’s senior critic at large and a Pulitzer winner for her fashion criticism, says that shorts — tasteful ones — can sometimes be appropriate for work. Swampy summer climates might justify them. “But my most urgent questions are: What do these shorts look like? Are they short enough to reveal tush cleavage? Or tight enough to showcase the family jewels?”

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Before freeing your knees, consider your position at work. If you’re the boss, maybe you have some more leeway; Bill Gates, for example, is notorious for his casual dress. It works, Guy says, largely because his power is so well-known it doesn’t need to be communicated through his clothes. “But if you’re a young lawyer, and you just got hired at a big firm, it’s probably not a good idea to wear shorts to the office,” he adds. “You probably want to signal that you take your job very seriously.”

Of course, that isn’t the case at every law firm. In fact, Quinn Emanuel, a law firm headquartered in Southern California with 35 offices across 12 countries, has gained a reputation for its relaxed approach to work attire.

Quinn Emanuel attorneys wear suits in court, but they’re known in the legal community for frequently showing up to depositions, and their own offices, in jeans and tees. At the firm’s D.C. office, employees of all genders have been wearing shorts this summer, says Meghan McCaffrey, co-managing partner of Quinn Emanuel’s Washington office.

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McCaffrey said the firm’s belief is “if you’ve got a long day ahead of you in the office, we don’t think you should have to be in formal attire. Wear what you’re going to be most comfortable in, that enables you to do your job in the best way possible.”

In other words: Ultimately, at work, you aren’t what you wear. McCaffrey says productivity is high, even when knees and ankles are (gasp!) on display in conference rooms. “You can 100 percent still do your work,” she says, “in shorts.”

Quinn Emanuel’s only enforced dress policy is that, for legal reasons, everyone must wear shoes.

The short answer on office shorts: No (2024)

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