Men's pants are shrinking. It is as though they had been carelessly tossed into a dryer where they tumbled endlessly on "shrivel." The pants have not gotten leaner, but rather shorter, soaring up the leg. These high-water trousers stand ready to help a man remain dry during a flood of apocalyptic proportions.

Truncated trousers should not be confused with elongated shorts like the ubiquitous baggy Bermudas that hang a few inches below the knee. No, these are quite specifically meant to be long pants that have been lopped off at points ranging from mid-calf to the ankle bone.

Designers are touting them as garments the fashionable man should consider for spring 2000. And when designers showed these short long pants during menswear week in New York, it was clear from the exquisite fabric and the formal presentation that these garments are not only intended for beachcombing or lounging about on a weekend afternoon. Instead, some of these ankle-grazers, such as the ones in designer Donna Karan's signature collection, have coordinating jackets. They are masquerading as one half of a suit, which leads one to reconsider precisely what a suit is assumed to be. A suit connotes professionalism, authority and tradition all woven together in a few yards of high-twist wool. A suit is maturity, or at least the facade of it.

Short pants are pure schoolyard paraphernalia. They evoke a carefree youth filled with joyous indolence. So a suit with cropped pants sends a contradictory but enticing message: professional laziness.

Designers so often seem to be working at cross purposes. Their travails are a sign of desperation as they struggle to bring newness to stubborn consumers who tend to find anything surprising, attention-grabbing or unique to be suspect. Cropped pants in a dusty shade of rose, like the ones by Jason Bunin . . . good heavens! They might cause folks to give the wearer a second glance.

Designers present these stunted pants with such earnest enthusiasm that it is heartbreaking at best, irritating at worse. They really believe that men will wear these abbreviated britches. From a distance, there's no clear reason why they shouldn't; after all, it's not as if designers are suggesting that men wear grass skirts to the office.

And the reality is that the pants aren't all that unusual. The trousers are cut from cheerfully colored and patterned fabric. They often have unfinished hems or a wrinkled texture. They look profoundly comfortable.

Indigo jeans are cuffed a little high on the leg; overalls are clipped short to give them a more down-home appeal; a pair of rough-hewn trousers are cropped for the convenience of a man who's walking along a beach as the tide rushes in. And those suit trousers reveal just enough ankle to make it clear that a man really shouldn't be wearing socks with these pants.

But there is just a little too much boyish silliness in them for the average man to embrace. Unlike in womenswear, where designers regularly suggest styles that make an adult woman look as though she were trying to relive her grade-school days, successful menswear designers rarely stray from making men look important, sexy or masculine.

Women will indulge in a little whimsical regression with their clothes. In the past, they have bought white-eyelet baby-doll dresses even as they fretted about not being good feminists. But while men may indulge in boyish, immature behavior at happy hour, they don't like matching their dress to their demeanor.

It may be true that actions speak louder than words, but appearances can distort, clarify or completely transform the message. To wit, the most juvenile behavior often comes from the guy wearing the snazziest suit. He knows that a bit of well-tailored tropical-weight wool can--for better or for worse--win him the benefit of the doubt.