Back in 2019, when I first joined GQ full-time, I decided to immediately alienate myself from my new colleagues by writing a semi-regular column about the clothes they all wore to work everyday. It was called Style Narc, and it lasted exactly two editions—one about a wave of plain black Nike hats that swept our office, and another on white Dickies painter pants—before the pandemic came along and rendered the concept utterly irrelevant. One trend that never would’ve appeared in the column, though? Shorts.
Yes, even in an office as casual and fashion-forward as GQ’s, where leather pants and cropped shirts were nearly as commonplace as blazers and jeans, shorts remained the one absolute no-no. Perhaps it was the last vestige of a more buttoned-up era in magazines, or maybe, with The New Yorker a couple of floors above us, we were all just too chicken to risk running into David Remnick in the elevator with our gams out. Either way, like Victorian ladies at the beach, I never so much as glimpsed anything above an ankle on any of my male coworkers.
Since our office officially reopened in the fall of 2021, however, that’s all changed. This summer, in particular, I’ve seen a startling number of men in shorts at work. There have been a couple of dressy, fashion-establishment-approved Thom Browne short suits, a plethora of thigh-baring jorts, the occasional beyond-the-knee flex, and a few handsome chino numbers. With temperatures soaring to record heights in 2023 and office dress codes relaxing across the country post-COVID, the only real workplace style rule we had left at GQ had finally been vanquished. And it got me wondering: Is that happening anywhere else? Are shorts finally off the no-fly list in America’s offices?
To find out, I informally polled 30 men across a wide range of industries—including finance, tech, advertising, and government—about whether they were allowed to wear shorts to work, and perhaps more importantly, whether they even wanted to. The results both consistently surprised me and proved to me—an avowed shorts wearer and advocate—that we still have a lot of work to do to help guys be less afraid of their own legs. If you thought the discourse around wearing shorts at night was thorny and confused, just wait till you hear what people think about seeing them in their places of business.
The bottom line is: No, most people can’t wear shorts to work. Only nine of the 30 people I polled—exactly 30 percent—had the option to wear shorts to work everyday. Many of the individuals who can’t do work in traditionally conservative fields like investment banking, and yet, almost none of those respondees are required to really dress up anymore. “I saw a guy wear a Tool band tee at the office once,” said one employee of a major New York hedge fund, who also admitted to wearing jeans to work most days. “But shorts are definitely understood to be crossing the line.”
That idea of a line being crossed came up time and time again in my conversations. “A guy I know once wore shorts and was told off by an older executive,” a person in the publishing industry told me. “I’ve seen people in denim overalls, and everyone wears sneakers, but he got singled out in shorts. The executive told him, ‘Dress for the job you want.’”
Even some folks who are allowed to wear shorts at work feel iffy about it, though. “It’s disgusting,” an art director texted me about his ad agency’s anything-goes dress code. “Men’s knees and open-toed sandals 🤮.”
All of this anti-shorts rhetoric, spouted by both the older managers of the folks I interviewed and many of the younger employees I spoke to themselves, was frankly mind-boggling to me. As far as I’m concerned, the right pair of crisp, not-too-revealing shorts—paired with, say, a smart button-up, a nice knit polo, or even a lightweight sport coat—looks far more presentable and respectable than most of the jeans I see people wear to the office. And this whole idea of men’s legs being gross to look at? Maybe some of y’all just need to get a few more squats in at the gym.
Alas, perhaps trying to convince men that it’s OK to wear shorts—at work or otherwise—is simply a lost cause, and I’m just a misguided fashion writer who’s out of touch with the way most regular workplaces operate. One of the sharpest, funniest responses I got came from an employee at Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street megacorp whose dress code makes headlines when it changes and still sets the tone for much of corporate America. When I asked whether he ever wished he could wear shorts at the office, he simply texted back a clip from The Sopranos: “A don doesn’t wear shorts.”
Originally Appeared on GQ