Washingtonians have taken a shortcut to comfort this summer.

Shorts, once the mark of tourists in this town, are showing up on more people going places--to Georgetown bars and clubs, restaurants, dancing, even to the Kennedy Center. Shorts have become popular garb for travel on Amtrak and the shuttle.

Shorts, which have long been a way of dressing down for the weekend, have become another way of dressing up. Said Tracy Scott, a summer intern in the Old Executive Office Building, "I put as much effort into dressing up in shorts, carefully choosing belts and flat shoes, as I do with other things."

The current crop of shorts is hardly the same variety that proved so shocking as hot pants in the late 1960s. The popular versions this summer spin off from preppy khaki shorts or runners' shorts. Because shorts have been in view on runners or on weekends, the sight of men and women with bare knees is not as shocking as it was in the hot-pants era.

In some groups the uniform is khaki shorts and knitted shirts, the Polo variety a bit more popular than the Lacoste. Marlene Watson, a psychologist, who was wearing shorts with a matching striped jacket, dark hose and heels to the Opera House at the Kennedy Center one night recently, was attracted to shorts by the great variety of outfits. "I don't wear them to work," she said. "I have a lot of adolescent clients."

While some of the swankier restaurants in town discourage shorts altogether, others curb the wearing of shorts if they aren't neat, a rule that seems to apply to men more than women. In addition, at J. Paul's, the popular new bar and restaurant in Georgetown, where several young people were in shorts one night last week, men in shorts are turned away after 8 p.m., said manager Barry Silverman.

Alan Davis, a real estate developer with B.F. Saul, who had been kept from entering J. Paul's because of his shorts, was wearing a very businesslike white-collar shirt with his shorts and Top-Siders without socks as he waited for a table at Clyde's. Davis said he would never try to wear shorts to a posh restaurant, and he'd never consider wearing shorts to work. But Peter Lieberman, an intern in Sen. Charles Percy's office, who was also in shorts at Clyde's, thought he might try shorts at the office "just to see the reaction."

Near Dupont Circle at the disco Numbers, Ghazaleh (Gigi) Hafizih, who was celebrating her 22nd birthday, said, "I feel more free in shorts. I wear nice shorts that are made in France and they can go anywhere," she said as she headed back to the dance floor.

Robert Novel, one of the owners of Morgan's on Columbia Road, says he has noticed many more people wearing shorts this year than last. "It may be just the fact that it is hotter this summer," he observed. Sean Dawson, a waiter, was wearing shorts and sneakers on a Sunday night. So was chef Bob Scilacci, as well as many of the restaurant's patrons.

Mark Lechner, who "makes computers talk to each other," said he's comfortable wearing shorts almost anyplace in Washington this summer. "I wear them to the American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center, but not the Opera House," he laughed.

Richard Potter, who had come to Morgan's from the Kennedy Center and was wearing shorts, added, "I don't care if no one else is in shorts, I'll still wear them."

On the dance floor at Morgan's Terry Jarrett was one of many wearing shorts and sneakers. "I'm wearing far more shorts this summer than last," said Jarrett, who is a bartender. "I've put on weight and my legs look better."