I am not a fan of shorts. Nor, let’s be honest here, are they really a fan of me. This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate shorts on other people. I do. Living in close proximity to a glorious waterside park, I am privy to endless swells of people migrating in its direction, carrying lots of gear, and wearing, almost always, shorts. And not just because it’s warm. Barring blizzards, people seem to wear shorts almost year-round, anywhere and everywhere (have you seen them? How could you not?). In fact, just this morning, I boarded the 2 train alongside a young gentleman sporting a button-down shirt, tie, pleated khaki shorts, and a boot cast. He looked great, and I couldn’t help thinking the foot injury was incurred during some other activity involving, you guessed it — shorts. See the versatility here? Despite my misgivings, shorts are like the Swiss Army knife of bottoms. So practical. And yet so breezy. From picnic to presentation (yes, I’ve seen someone deliver a keynote in shorts) — and let’s not forget they take up half the space that pants do in a carry-on suitcase. Shorts are smart! They really are.
But not for me. Not ever.
The thing is, I wish I felt as good in shorts as most people seem to. Shorts-wearers appear joyful, oblivious to life’s disappointments and cumbersome wardrobe restrictions. Can you cry in shorts? Maybe, but why would you want to? Shorts imply a devil-may-care attitude, ready for whatever life may lob in your direction. Racketball? Check. Napping? Check. Cheeky job interview option or impromptu bathing suit? Check and check again. Shorts are game for anything and imply that the wearer is, too.
So, what’s my problem?
My problem is that having a relationship with shorts means having a relationship with my legs. Ideally, a good one. And this is where things get a little dicey. Not too recently, following a brief discussion about this particular topic, our senior features writer, Connie Wang, looked at me and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever even seen your legs.”
She hasn’t. And that is not a mistake.
I think I first became aware that I wasn’t entirely enamored with my legs when I was about 8. In lieu of ballet classes or karate, my mother enrolled my sister and me in twirling. Yes, twirling actual batons. When I asked my mom recently why she thought twirling was the better choice of early gateway sports, what with the former’s long storied history of self discipline and mental focus, she seemed unfazed. “I don’t know,” she answered me on the phone. “I just thought the costumes were so much cuter.”
She has a point here. But along with those sequin-dipped leotards and sprouting flower hairpieces came something else I wasn’t entirely prepared for as a second grader: exposed legs. And not just running around or riding your bike exposed legs. We’re talking performing onstage in front of hundreds of people bare legs. I honestly never had a problem with my legs before twirling outfits. And performing. Truly. I was maybe a little knock-kneed, and having descended from many generations of burly Southern Italian women, my legs were strong and Mediterranean-ly athletic. But there was something about the experience of regularly squeezing my growing form into these radioactive bodysuits that made me feel too big, misshapen, and to see my long, white legs popping awkwardly out the ends. I didn’t look like all the other girls I twirled with, either: They were petite with beaming, lipsticked smiles; long, bouncy hair, and killer posture. Me? I already had a sneaking suspicion that being 5-foot-9 was right around the corner. And my legs seemed to always give me away.
It’s been a good 30-plus years since I’ve picked up a baton (I know, can you believe it?), and over those years, I’ve learned a lot about playing to my strengths, which include my legs. Pilates, dance, very high heels, and the revival of culottes have all helped me to feel good about having strong, long legs. I no longer take them for granted the way I once did. In fact, I'm grateful for every quirk and rumple of cellulite that make them mine.
My relationship with shorts, however, has advanced exactly no place.
I realize it’s almost sacrilegious to say I loathe shorts. I do. Especially in a country where shorts appear to play a leading role in the average person’s wardrobe. My mother has worked in a fairly conservative government office for almost 40 years. She dresses up during the day, wears makeup and ladylike shoes, and the moment she gets home, you know what she changes into, seasons aside? Shorts. When I asked her recently how shorts became her default pre-retirement uniform, she answered rather exuberantly, “Why not?”
She’s not wrong here. Why not consider the options? According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this summer will be hotter and rainier than normal, with higher temps stretching out into September and October, too. It would be savvy to consider shorts, and with the solstice just behind us, there are a lot of smart pairs to be found.
Call me crazy, but these satin Bermuda-style shorts are the kind of thing I wouldn’t mind running in when it inevitably breaks an unbearably humid 100 degrees here on the East Coast. And let’s face it, people, that’s right around the corner.
That is, if I were open to the idea of wearing shorts at all. Which, to be honest, I don’t think I ever will be. Because I’ve tried over and over, and, skin brushing, squats, and self-tanner aside, the results always seem to be the same. In fact, every year for the past 15, I’ve succumbed to buying a new pair of shorts. The concept still appeals to me; the coolness appeals to me, as does the idea of exposing my practically translucent leg skin to real summer sunshine. These dream shorts are always the same: barely grazing the knee with graceful pleats and fabric that smacks of really expensive tuxedo trousers. Every year, I tell myself I will wear them with a lacy sandal, try them out at the office reserved for a day that is insufferably hot and low on the priority-meeting scale. I can do it. I can be like everyone else and be cool, not pretending the linen culottes I’m wearing every day are just as good as your crisp, ventilated cargo shorts. (They’re not.) Wear shorts! You can do it!
And then I put them on and try to leave the house, and I just can’t. I think I look ridiculous.
Or do I? The things we believe, that we've been telling ourselves from such a tender age, we know so well how toxic those memories are and how deeply bound they are to our experiences, our choices, our secret fixations. Even in my 40s, it seems impossible to let this particular hang-up go. My mom never wiggled her way into a too-small sequin bodysuit. And I doubt she ever gives a second thought to whether people are looking at her in the grocery store while she cruises the aisles wearing her favorite basketball shorts. Nor should she. I guess I shouldn't, either; I consider myself pretty liberally minded when it comes to clothes — and almost anything.
But shorts? Fuck no.