Men's office attire needs to change.
It doesn't need to be more casual, or to be more formal. But it does need to be more flexible. Men typically wear the same business clothes all year round. The average guy in your office probably wears the exact same clothes in August and December -- a dress shirt over an undershirt, tucked in to full-length slacks. Add a tie or sport-coat as needed. Lather, rinse and repeat.
If you're a man, you probably know how stifling and uncomfortable this outfit is. Particularly in the summer, when the mercury tops 90 degrees. And because modern office thermostats are set to accommodate male attire it means that women -- wearing seasonally-appropriate clothes like skirts and dresses in the summer -- are bringing blankets and snuggies to work to fight the cold.
Men are sweltering, women are freezing and everybody's miserable. And in the midst of it, men, we're waking up every day putting on the same khaki pants and tucking in the same long-sleeved shirts and dutifully trudging to work in quiet sweaty desperation, waiting for October to come.
It was glorious.
The hot swampy constricting morass of my morning commute was gone, in its place nothing but the transgressive thrill of a warm breeze ruffling my leg hair as I glided down L Street. At my desk, I was more comfortable than I've been in ages -- no fidgeting with shirts coming untucked or socks falling down. Just airy, breezy well-ventilated bliss.
Now to be clear, I didn't dress like a schlub by any means. It's not just the shorts -- you need the right ensemble to go with them. To wit:
I wore a lightweight linen button-down, sleeves rolled up. I wore it over an undershirt, because men's dress shirts are sometimes transparent and reveal more than people want to see at the morning staff meeting.
Crucially, I wore it untucked -- better airflow and you can get away with this while wearing shorts.
The right shorts are important. I wore some lightweight cotton chinos. Nothing fancy -- I'm pretty sure my wife picked these up at Costco. But no board shorts. No running shorts. And absolutely, positively no cargo shorts.
Finally, loafers for my feet. They're the same shoes I normally wear to the office, except for this experiment I wore them without socks.
This isn't the best way to do Office Shorts. It's probably not even a particularly good one. But I wore it, I was comfortable, and I didn't get fired. One of my editors called it "shorts with dignity." It's a start.
So: see? Even if you're a man it's possible to put together a summer outfit that's reasonably comfortable and not hideous-looking. You probably even have all of the elements of this outfit already!
Now, granted: some workplaces will be more amenable to this type of thing than others. But there's a strong case to be made that dressing appropriately for the season is more professional than blindly adhering to the bland year-round style book.
The typical male office outfit -- those long sleeved shirts tucked into dress pants, or what we know as "business casual" -- is by definition incomplete. The idea behind business casual is a noble one -- that men's workwear should reflect the less-formal society we live in today. So we ditched the suit jacket, and eventually we ditched the tie too. But then we just stopped, when we should have kept going. Today's business casual should be a step in the evolution of men's office wear -- not the endpoint.
This is all the more true when you consider that men's business casual is stiflingly uncomfortable for a significant portion of the year. Proper office attire doesn't just look good, it also needs to be suited to the environment. Which is more off-putting: an uncomfortable sweaty dude in pleated-front khakis, or a cool and comfortable one in shorts?
Of course, you don't have to wear shorts if that's not your thing. Swap out for more formal wear as dictated by the occasion or the impression you want to make. And if you've got a set of summer clothes that work for you and keep you cool, great! But the rest of us, the sweaty unkempt masses, need to take more drastic measures.
There is a certain very vocal contingent of Men On The Internet who maintain that wearing shorts in public at any time of the year is an abomination. Confession: I used to be one of them! But look, it's time to get past all that. We need to get over our squeamishness about our own legs. And we need to realize that "wearing shorts in public" doesn't have to be synonymous with "dressing like a bro from the Shore."
Thermal discomfort is neither stylish nor professional. This is true of the guy sweating bullets in his Brooks Brothers shirt as much as the woman swaddling herself in a snuggie. It doesn't have to be this way. We can raise the thermostat a few degrees, be more comfortable, and even save a few billion dollars to boot (for real). Everybody wins!
For more shorts coverage, check out the #FreeTheKnee hashtag on Twitter.
Want to wear shorts but don't know wear to start? A few tips follow. Disclosure: I have all the style sense of your average 35-year-old Dad, because I am your average 35-year-old Dad. So feel free to tailor and amend and discard as needed. Most rules aren't ironclad -- but you need to understand the conventions if you want to break them.
1. Wear the right shorts.
No cargo shorts. No Bermuda shorts. No jogging shorts. And as much as it pains me to say it, no jorts – especially not the cut-off kind. But seriously: no cargo shorts. A flowchart:
Instead wear some nice, non-pleated chino or linen shorts. Stick with the same colors and patterns that you'd normally have on your work pants. Easy!
2. Wear the right shirt.
No t-shirts. No performance polo shorts. Avoid short-sleeved dress shirts unless you want to look like a camp counselor. Polo shirts are probably okay?
Instead, wear a lightweight cotton (or linen!) button-down shirt and roll up the sleeves. Just as airy as a polo shirt, and 10 times as classy. Again, same colors and patterns you'd normally wear-- think this, or this, or this.
3. Don't tuck it in.
Half the reason men's office wear is so stifling is that we wear our shirts tucked in, which cuts off all sorts of sweet, precious, life-sustaining airflow. Untuck it! You can get away with it with shorts. Untuck your undershirt too, if you wear one -- but make sure your undershirt doesn't hang down below the bottom of your real shirt.
4. Wear good shoes.
Wear some sort of dressy loafer-type things, like what you see on this page, which I found by Googling "shoes to wear with shorts." Don't wear flip-flops -- you're going to the office, not the dorm bathroom. Probably avoid sandals unless your workplace is really laid back or you're okay with your coworkers silently judging the condition of your toenails.
5. Nobody cares.
The most important rule! Most of your co-workers won't even notice, and if they do they won't care. The only people who notice will probably be the ones who sit right next to you. And I guarantee the other men will be super-jealous, like Thad the Intern was when I wore shorts yesterday.