When it comes to shopping for clothing, one confusing decision men face is the proper length for shorts. How much leg is too much? How much is too little? Unlike pants, where the right length is determined by the actual length of your legs, shorts length is based more around what kind of look you’re aiming for, with a little bit of your height factored in.
As you might expect, taller guys should go for slightly longer shorts while shorter guys should lean toward the shorter side. But what if you want a little more insight? How do you know which length is right for your situation? Here’s what you need to know when wearing shorts.
Understanding Shorts Length
Like pants, shorts length is determined by the inseam (the length from the crotch to the hem of the shorts). But unlike pants, shorts come in much smaller lengths!
Generally, the most popular length for shorts are 5 inches, 7 inches, 9 inches, and 11 inches. Some places may carry other sizes, such as 6 inches or 10 inches, but the four listed above are the standard shorts lengths that are available pretty much anywhere.
Choosing the Proper Shorts Length
There are two main things to think about when choosing a length for shorts.
The first thing to think about is your height. If you’re on the shorter side, you’re going to want to avoid the longer 11-inch inseam (in fact, most guys should avoid 11-inch shorts, which I’ll touch on later in the article). If you’re well over 6′ tall, you might want to pass on the 5-inch shorts unless you’re supremely confident in your legs.
The second thing to think about is your confidence level. If you feel confident showing off your thighs, then go ahead and rock some shorts with a 5-inch inseam. If you don’t have the confidence, then don’t. Nothing looks worse than a guy who isn’t comfortable in his own attire, and people will know if you’re feeling self-conscious about your shorts length. For those who are lacking in confidence, it’s best to avoid either extreme (too short and too long).
However, no matter how confident or lacking in confidence you are, shorts should never extend beyond the knee. The absolute longest you should go is right around the top the kneecap, with the ideal shorts length being around one inch above the kneecap.
These are the shortest shorts you’ll find for men. They are best worn by guys who under 5′ 7″, although men who are supremely confident in their legs can opt to wear 5-inch shorts regardless of height. An important note for tall guys who have thin legs: wearing short shorts will create a beanstalk effect, which will only make your legs look even thinner.
This is the sweet spot for most men, as this length falls just a few inches above the kneecap but still leaves more to the imagination than 5-inch shorts. Most men can comfortably wear a pair of 7-inch shorts of any type — chinos, athletic shorts, or swim trunks — without looking out of place.
While 7-inch is the sweet spot for most average-height men, if you’re close to 6′ tall or taller, they might be too short and you might be more comfortable in a pair of shorts with a 9-inch inseam. Average-height and shorter men should avoid wearing 9-inch shorts because they will create the illusion of having shorter legs than you really do. However, if you’re uncomfortable showing skin, a pair of 9-inch shorts can be a good gateway to building shorts confidence.
Longer 11-inch shorts are best reserved for really tall guys. Remember, you never want your shorts to fall below the kneecap no matter how casual the situation, so you should always keep that in mind when shopping for and trying on a pair of shorts. Most men should avoid 11-inch shorts altogether — even most taller guys will look better in 9-inch shorts.
Since these are more rare, we’re putting this length last. Another length for shorts that’s becoming more common now than in the past is 4-inch shorts. All but the shortest men should avoid these in most situations. In fact, these are best suited as swim trunks, active wear for sports, or exercising. Often, men’s swim trunks run shorter and slightly tighter than regular men’s shorts so they stay in place better when swimming. Some men’s sports, such as track and field, use 4-inch shorts.
Quick Shorts Length Summary
- The amount of thigh you choose to show comes down to confidence
- There is such a thing as “too short”
- Shorts should never fall below the kneecap
- 11-inch shorts are best avoided by all but the tallest men
- Avoid cargo pockets regardless of length
- Avoid baggy or wide legged shorts
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I wear shorter shorts if they fit tighter?
Usually this comes down to confidence. Obviously, you don’t run the risk of too much skin showing if the leg fits tighter. However, skin tight shorts don’t usually look great on men. Opt for fitted versus baggy or ultra tight. This accents your legs, making them look more muscular and long.
Should I wear my shorts lower than my waist to make them longer?
The length of shorts should be based on where they’re designed to fit. Low-rise shorts for men are designed to be worn around the hips versus the waist. Mid-rise are designed to hit around the waist, while high-rise sit just above the waist. Typically, you only find high-rise in vintage designs.
The best look for men is mid-rise, or around the waist. It’s a classic look for a reason. However, trying to make your shorts fit lower than they’re intended never works well. While you’ll get extra length, the fit will look awkward and you’ll usually be uncomfortable.
Does length matter based on the occasion?
Yes. For formal events that allow shorts for men, opt for a slightly longer length. A 7-inch or 9-inch length is best unless you’re fairly tall. An 11-inch works well for formal occasions, as long as they still sit above your knee.
For casual summer outings, a 5-inch or 7-inch is perfectly fine. A looser fit is also okay, especially for walking along the beach or taking part in any summer sports.
Should I wear a belt with my shorts?
Ideally, your shorts should fit tight enough around the waist, or hips for low-rise shorts, that you don’t actually need a belt. However, for more formal or dressier occasions, always wear a belt if you’re tucking in your shirt. This gives you a more put together look and dresses up your shorts. Obviously, if you prefer wearing a belt and your shorts have belt loops, wear a belt. Belts look just as good with shorts as they do most men’s pants.
Is it okay to cuff my shorts to make them shorter?
Sometimes, it’s hard to find shorts that don’t fall below the knee. To reach the proper length for shorts, consider creating a cuff. Roll the leg up an inch or two. Try to keep the cuff the same size around the entire leg for a uniform look. You can add a few stitches on either side of the leg to keep the cuff in place. This works best on denim and other casual shorts. With dress and khaki shorts, you may need a professional tailor to get the cuff just right.
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