They have been as multipocketed as fly-fishing vests and as baggy as ball gowns. They have descended well past the knees -- are they shorts or pants for big-time floods?
These sad, awkward, ignoble garments were the best that most men could do to keep their cool in the summer. Though there was nothing short about them -- not in length, not in girth.
But a new breed of shorts -- tailored, above the knee, modestly pocketed -- is ascendant, making a play for the guys who last summer swanned around in garments reminiscent of potato sacks.
"I think the slimmer short is what is in right now," said Jim Moore, creative director of GQ magazine. "It's what all of the retailers are advocating. It's easier than it used to be."
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Easier because men can now find plenty of shorts that fit right and look more sophisticated. Simpler, flat fronts are in style. Grown men are leaving the baggy shorts, big checks and flip-flops to kids on the beach.
Instead, they are pairing form-fitting, button-down shirts with slim, seersucker shorts and basic white sneakers. Or wearing leather driving loafers with khaki shorts and polo shirts.
For too long, Moore said, wearing shorts for guys was "an extension of being a frat boy or a slob."
"It seems to be the last thing guys get correctly," he said. "They understand slimming down for work, but when it comes to the weekends, it's like, 'I can throw on my oversize stuff now.'"
Even the ultimate baggy short, the cargo -- heavy with pockets and zippers, with buttons and strings and loops and snaps -- is on a diet.
Moore said he "still believes" in cargo shorts, only not the kind for sale last summer.
"They are slimmer now," he said. "There is a trimness to them." The preferable ones, he said, come with only two pockets.
The fashion police at Details magazine are less sanguine about cargo shorts -- "A year ago we started saying, 'Just say no to cargo,'" said Courtney Colavita, the magazine's fashion editor -- but they are almost evangelical about the power of the tidy pair of shorts.
"The big thing about shorts is most American men wear a size that is too big for them," said Colavita. "American men focus on their arms and chest, so there is an imbalance. They don't want to show their chicken legs. They overcompensate with these baggy shorts, and they are not doing themselves any favors. It actually makes it worse."
For starters, Colavita recommends that guys take their significant others with them to stores and try on shorts a size smaller than they normally buy.
"Go for a lower size," she said. "You will be surprised."
And don't hesitate, she said, to have shorts hemmed if they are hanging too low.
At the very least, make sure the shorts fall about 2 inches above the knees, said Tom Julian, author of the Nordstrom Guide to Men's Everyday Dressing, which has a chapter on shorts.
Julian urges men to have a variety of shorts in their wardrobes, which includes form-fitting cargos and could involve pleated, linen shorts for nicer occasions.
The contemporary standard -- what Julian described in an e-mail as "THE modern style mandate" -- is flat-front shorts in a solid color, although patterns are becoming popular.
"You are seeing a lot of small-pattern, interesting shorts," he said. "Small checks, small plaids, small pinstripes. They look more casual after you wash and wear them."
What to wear with shorts? They do lend themselves to things blousy -- Hawaiian shirts, guayaberas -- but resist.
Go with a military shirt, something long-sleeved that easily is rolled to the middle of the bicep, said Julian.
"It's very functional," Julian said. "You could wear it as a shirt-jacket or wear it on its own. It can be cotton or linen. You can wear it with anything from a flat-front chino to a small-pattern pair of novelty shorts."
Footwear completes the summer look. You can't go wrong with a "clean, white sneaker," said Colavita, although boat shoes -- they are popular now -- are a good look too.
Flip-flops are for the beach, she said. Sandals are "controversial." Some guys can pull them off, "but most guys look like fools in them," Colavita said.
As for socks, dump them.
"It's all about the line, and a sock that even goes just to the ankle, it cuts the line. You want something long and lean and nothing that interrupts it."
Moore at GQ likes Vans sneakers with shorts. As for sandals, he thinks they are OK as long as they are rugged.
"When they are too designery looking," he said, "they look corny."
Belts? Julian said if a pair of shorts has loops, wear a fabric belt. Colavita and Moore say buy a pair that fits and ditch the belt.