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How to pull off the shorts suit, menswear’s latest trend

Tradition calls for a suit jacket to be accompanied by a pair of fitting trousers. But then again, when has fashion followed tradition? Formalwear is no longer strictly determined by how effectively you pair a two-piece suit with a pocket square, and the nebulous nature of style has let it take on a new form. Enter the shorts suit.

Most of the credit to this trend can be attributed to Pharrell Williams, who rocked up to the 2014 Oscars red carpet in a Lanvin tuxedo with shorts that cut off right above his knee. The award-winning singer has continued his unorthodox sartorial choice throughout the years, most recently at the 2019 Oscars in a camo shorts suit ensemble by Chanel (just five days after Karl Lagerfeld passed).

Despite fashion critics decrying the trend in the past – the late Joan Rivers said that Pharrell looked like he was “representing the Lollipop Guild in the tribute to ‘The Wizard of Oz’” – the shorts suit has been slowly gaining more traction over the seasons, especially when Thom Browne championed the adoption of chino shorts in favour of his uniform-esque aesthetic. LeBron James and some of his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates walked into the arena for the 2018 NBA Finals in that said look, cementing the shorts suit’s place in fashion history.

The humid climate of Singapore also makes for the perfect breeding ground for the shorts suit. A stroll across the CBD to your favourite salad bar will no longer have your legs begging for a breather, and weekend brunches at the beachside club just got a sartorial upgrade.

If you’re convinced that this isn’t just a novelty trend (we’re looking at you, velour tracksuits), here are some guidelines on how to pull off the shorts suit and look as dapper as Pharrell.

#1 Tailor the pieces

For those who have won the genetic lottery and can fit into any suit off-the-rack, please keep scrolling. For everyone else, this is the most important factor that will determine whether you look like a debonair stud or a sack of potatoes. We can’t stress enough how important tailoring is to a suit, even if you don’t have the intention of pairing a jacket with shorts.

Your shoulders on the blazer shouldn’t be too small, nor should they sag down your arm. The waistline should also be tucked in as much as you are comfortable with. The shorts should end before it touches your knee, and keep it tapered to your thighs.

#2 Match the colours

The appeal of a “broken suit” with its mixed blazer and trousers is timeless, but adopting that style for the shorts suit is not the occasion. In fact, you’ll look like someone who walked out the house before looking into the mirror, and we wouldn’t want that. Stick with one colour scheme, be it grey, blue, or black.

You can even go the Pharrell way and experiment with different prints, provided they are the same for both the top and bottom.

shorts suit
The shorts suit has been a staple in designer Thom Browne’s wardrobe for many seasons. (Photo: Alessandro Lucioni/Gorunway.com)
#3 Socks or no socks?

There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to socks with a shorts suit. LeBron James wore his with a matching pair of socks that rose up to his calves, while others have chosen to omit them entirely from their look.

If you do choose to go sockless, at least wear a pair of no-show ones? Foot hygiene is important, people. Don’t forget that.

#4 The conundrum with ties

It’s been more or less accepted now that you don’t need a tie to go along with your suit, but when wearing a shorts suit, it gets a little tricky. If you’re wearing a dress shirt underneath the suit jacket, a necktie or a bowtie would complete the look, as otherwise it would be almost too informal.

One way to combat this rule is to wear a double-breasted blazer with a T-shirt underneath. Tinie Tempah at the Burberry show in 2015 pulled it off and we didn’t even blink an eye.

Tinie Tempah (left) in his version of the shorts suit. (Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images
#5 Read the room and the invitation

While we’re all for the trend of suits and shorts, it is not an outfit you can wear to every occasion. Attending a summer wedding on the Italian Riviera? Yes, the shorts suit will be perfect. A sit-down dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant with dignitaries from overseas? You’re better off leaving the shorts at home.

Josiah Neo
Josiah Neo is a tech writer who contributes occasionally to the fashion, travel, and culture beats. When he’s not busy keeping up with the keynotes, he’s probably stuffing his face with the best Melbournian donuts (at Shortstop, BTW) or watching his favourite esports team, the Los Angeles Valiant, pummel their opponents into oblivion.