Today Netflix unleashes its long-awaited, eight episode prequel to the gonzo camp satire Wet Hot American Summer. Though more than a decade has passed since the staff at Camp Firewood fornicated their way into the hearts and (altered) minds of college kids everywhere, apart from a returning cast that’s a lot older, wiser, and helluva lot more famous, not much else has changed. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is packed with the same buzzed out hijinx and trademark non-sequiturs that helped turn the original into a cult classic.
Also returning, is the eighties-inspired costume design that helped give the original film its iconic look: Bradley Cooper’s pastel polo shirts; Elizabeth Banks’ lowrider bikini bottoms, and of course, Ken Marino’s cutoffs. The short shorts in particular — which exposed the blinding pasty white thighs of nearly every original male cast member — were responsible for many a chuckle. That was way back in 2001, when a burgeoning bro culture deemed that shorts were meant to be baggy, hang well below the knees, and in doing so, precariously enter capri pant territory. Any pair of, oh let’s call them “abbreviated trousers” that registered lower than 11 inches on the Official Inseam Scale (OIS) were viewed as effeminate.
Well, not anymore.
Short shorts on men have made a major comeback recently, thanks to a growing catalogue of menswear lines hell-bent on destigmatizing this particular breed of apparel. Chief among them is Chubbies, the San Francisco-based shorts manufacturer founded by four Stanford grads with a singular mission: “We saw all these epic photos of our dads crushing life on the weekends wearing thigh-bearing retro shorts,” co-founder Tom Montgomery told us recently. “We couldn’t find them anywhere on the modern day market, so we decided to make them ourselves.”
Montgomery sites an era when short shorts were seen as a bastion of cool. Thanks to pop culture icons like Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I., Bill Murray in Meatballs, tennis greats from Bjorn Borg to Andre Agassi, and hall of fame hoopsters like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, baring one’s “thiceps” became tightly associated with masculinity, glamor and athletic prowess. Chubbies, whose shorts all clock in at a terse 5½ inches on the OIS, pay homage to trailblazing companies like Adidas and OP, whose skimpy soccer shorts and swim trunks were ubiquitous in the seventies and eighties respectively.
Bill Murray as camp counselor “Tripper” in Meatballs. Photo: Everett Digital.
But shorts began gradually increasing in length as the nineties rolled around, thanks in large part to an emerging hip hop culture that permeated both the basketball and skate worlds when the likes of the Michigan Wolverine’s famed ‘“Fab 5” wore their shorts longer and baggier than we’d ever seen, and skateboarder Tony Hawk broke into the mainstream. Still, wearing shorts anywhere outside of the gym was considered déclassé by the fashion elite — Fran Leibowitz once called men in shorts “repulsive”, while Tom Ford declared that they should only ever be worn “on the tennis court or on the beach”.
But with nascent brands like Chubbies, and their more established counterparts Club Monaco and J. Crew leading the charge (not to mention the Wet Hot American Summer revival), short shorts are back in a very big way, and they aren’t going anywhere. “A couple of my co-founders have even gotten married wearing them,” Montgomery said. “Every situation that could use a little more fun, and a little more liberation, could use a pair of shorts.”
See you at camp.