Is it OK to wear shorts to the office on days with record-setting temperatures?
Designer runways might have you think so. Short suits were a trend in spring-summer womenswear collections. They're also showing up in fall and resort collections.
Seen on models, with their perfect spray tans, long legs and high heels, shorts offer little to quibble with. They appear polished, stylish and appropriate — and that's what everyone should strive for with this look, according to experts.
"Shorts can really replace a skirt — they're actually easier to move in," says Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. "What's the difference between shorts and a skirt — even if they're the same length? It's that shorts are perceived as casual by nature, something that children wear, something we wear on weekends. That perception is changing."
But pick your ensemble carefully to make sure your look isn't too casual.
Sherin likes to see women heading into the office wearing knee-length shorts that are either slim and tapered or wider with a cuff, made of cotton poplin or gabardine. Linen will keep you cool, but may end up rumpled, she warns.
Pair the shorts with a crisp button-down shirt and a cropped blazer, she says. The strappy sandal is a must-do accessory, too, and a chunky platform version in a neutral color will elongate the appearance of the leg, according to Sherin. An espadrille is an acceptable alternative.
However, flip-flops really don't ever belong at the office, and the casualness of those items are exaggerated by shorts, Sherin says.
Style commentator Mary Alice Stephenson treats her weekday shorts as if they were dresses, and that can mean pairing them with jewelry and pumps.
With a heel, though, be aware of the length of the shorts. Stephenson advises: "Keep them long. ... Think Bermuda."
She adds, "Cargo shorts, denim shorts and Daisy Dukes cannot come out to play at work. Keep your shorts classy and stick to a more demure short."
Pleats are OK, and so is a high waist, she says, but anything too showy or too beachy is not.
How do you know if shorts are acceptable at your office?
If starched shirts are the norm, then maybe you should save your shorts for the weekend. But if women are walking around in sleeveless dresses or miniskirts, the office culture might be trendy enough for shorts.
Maybe start with shorts on a casual Friday and gauge that reaction before wearing them to a Monday morning presentation, says Stephenson, who styles celebrities, runway collections and magazine photo shoots.
If it's hot enough, the rules might be relaxed.
Elayne Seligman, a parent coordinator at a public school in the Bronx, typically wears a suit to work.
But on Thursday, when temperatures soared into the 90s in New York City, Seligman wore black linen walking shorts. "I really never wear shorts to work but I am today because it's so hot," Seligman says. "Today everyone is quite dressed down — even the principal is in flats and she always wears heels. Some teachers are in long shorts."
At the Manhattan public relations firm where 24-year-old Esther Akutekha works, there isn't a strict uniform, but there is a line — that just-above-the-knee line — that shouldn't be crossed. "You don't want to be too sexy regardless of how casual we are here," she says.
Designer Jason Wu says shorts can be worn anywhere, but they have to be worn as a total look, and that look has to be dressed up. He stepped up black shorts worn by a model at a runway show Monday by complementing them with a tweed jacket with leather trim and a tuxedo-style shirt.
"The new short goes from beach to cocktails," he says.
The look is easier for women to experiment with than for men.
"I don't sanction men wearing them to the office in any way shape or form," says trend analyst Tom Julian, president of Tom Julian Group. The problem for most men is that the rest of their closet can't support dressier shorts — they have neither the right shoes (driving moccasins, boat shoes or clean, canvas sneakers) nor the right shirt (a safari style or a polo, not a T-shirt or a tank).
He makes the exception for an office-sponsored field trip to the ballpark or golf course.
But not everyone likes the shorts-for-work look. Kimberly Shepherd, a 25-year-old interactive coordinator for Univision, doesn't want to see shorts anywhere — on anyone — near her Miami office building. She saw someone wearing them with tights when the weather was a little cooler, and she wasn't crazy about that look, either. "It was not inappropriate but it was still odd."
"The alternative for a woman is a skirt. You can always wear a nice summer dress, even a sundress can be dressed up," Shepherd says. "A dress keeps you much cooler than shorts, anyway."
Designer L'Wren Scott says she can appreciate the look on others, but when it comes to her professional wardrobe, shorts are only for days off.
"I wear those on the beach," she says. "I'm not a shorts person in the city."