Fashion & Style

The New Men’s Shorts: No One Will Know How Comfortable They Are

AT SAVE KHAKI UNITED, a New York menswear store that sells its own line of casual, cotton basics, the most popular shorts go by the name “Easy.” Yet, easy to spot on the street, they are not. If you wear them with a T-shirt draping over the waistband, they fly under the radar, just another cotton twill pair, out for a stroll. What’s obscured—a guilty-pleasure drawstring waist—is the secret to the shorts’ success. “It’s just about being comfortable,” explained Save Khaki’s designer David Mullen.

But it’s not just the drawstring that’s easy. The shorts’ straight-cut legs are slightly fuller than the norm, though not sloppy. These are shorts in which to truly—yet still rakishly—kick back. Go fishing. Fall asleep during the day with a book on your face. Eat apricot-glazed chicken wings to excess and simply retie. You can have it all.

Labels like Gucci, Ami and Brunello Cucinellihave also discovered that by widening the leg and adding a tie-it-as-you-like-it waist, they can transform stodgy Bermuda shorts into something much freer. (Though none christened theirs with a winky title like “Easy.”)

When Save Khaki introduced the shorts three years ago, it was ahead of the comfort curve. Back then, the reigning style of summer shorts could have passed for Lance Armstrong’s competition gear. In J. Crew catalogs and GQ spreads, men found taut, abbreviated shorts that girdled their midsections and gave the world a high-resolution glimpse of their gluteus maximus. “People were wearing things tight, even shorts,” said Todd Barket, the owner of Unionmade, a mini-chain of West Coast menswear stores. Over time, those sealed-like-a-sausage shorts became overcooked. “People were so attached to skinny, it got pedestrian-looking,” said Mr. Barket, who felt compelled to offer relief this season by stocking elastic- and drawstring-waisted shorts from labels like Barena and Older Brother.

The look “comes from an athletic leisure background,” said Dominic Sondag, designer of New York menswear brand S.K. Manor Hill, whose twill drawstring pull-ons were inspired by a pair of vintage military training shorts. Another antecedent: roomy mesh basketball shorts. To balance sporty connotations, Mr. Sondag crucially decided to upgrade the fabric, making his in a refined cotton twill. The result? Shorts more appropriate for a cocktail bar than a bench press.

Though stealthily stylish, these shorts are likely too relaxed to pair with an oxford shirt. For a bit of polish, try a fitted, but not tight, pique polo shirt. Unionmade’s Mr. Barket also recommended looser tees and open-collared camp shirts to keep the overall silhouette relaxed. If you go that mellow route, said Save Khaki’s Mr. Mullen, a tonal color scheme—blue-on-blue or grey-on-grey— can keep things modishly sophisticated: “It’s less preppy and looks a little cleaner.”

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