Privilege Blog

And The Revolution Wore Shorts

Here’s an idea. What piece of women’s clothing, native to the Western world, has undergone revolutionary change in our lifetime? Shorts. Yes, shorts. Of course, they are trumped, globally, by the veil and the burkha. And, of course, all clothing plays a secondary role to various forms of bindings and pokings of holes, in oppressing or liberating the female gender. But I’d like to suggest that shorts, yes, short, simple shorts, serve neatly as signs of change.

How do I know?

I’m old. And I remember. We didn’t use to wear shorts anywhere but in the great out of doors. Or on college campuses. Grown women didn’t wear shorts to go to the grocery store, or to parties, and certainly not out and about in a city. Certainly not.

The only time I ever wore shorts in a city I got kicked in the back of the knee for my foolishness. It was 1979. An acquaintance from college invited me out to Long Island for 4th of July. It was probably the Hamptons, now that I think about it, but I knew nothing of all that. I donned khaki Bermudas, a pink and white striped camp shirt, and some tan fisherman’s sandals. Hopped onto the subway. Somewhere between 104th and the train station a group of teenagers began to taunt me, and, as I exited the train in a hurry, full of relief, a girl kicked me lightly from behind.

This weekend I bought new shorts. After a solid decade of service, my old Banana Republic 3-inch khakis were on their last legs, so to speak. I considered, come the revolution, what are the right shorts for a woman over 50?

I looked online. My how shorts have changed.

Shorts from MIH, James Perse and Acne , all via net-a-porter, $155-$660. The ones on the right are suede.

In 2011 we apparently can wear suede shorts out to dinner. We also can spend lots and lots of money.

But I don’t plan to wear shorts at night. Doesn’t seem necessary, given that the revolution hasn’t done away with dresses. So what are the options for day shorts? Continue in the lengths of my 40s?

Chambray shorts from Target, $18.00, Heritage khaki from Banana Republic, $40.00

I remember my neighbor, Anabelle. She wore very short shorts to mow her front lawn. At 70. I watched her, all righteous in the full flush of my 30s, and I was a little shocked. “Does she need to do that?” I thought. It was 1987. Looking back, I realize a) she was proud of her slender shape b) her husband thought she was a babe c) it was her own damn front yard and none of my business.

J. Crew Chinos, $68.00. In the "novelty shorts" section. I should have known.

In that vein, these J. Crew shorts looked about right. Apt to be well-made, classic with a little twist. My recent L.L. Bean purchases have lacked quality, the Target shorts online were too trendy, the Banana Republic version sported tabs at the thigh. Why on earth would we want tabs at the thigh, we wonder? Off I went to J. Crew, only to find out that lavender (the only color in stock) sailor shorts are less than successful on me. Today. Just because one can, doesn’t mean one wants to. Khaki Bermudas, on the other hand, fit the bill. Summer weight, 98% cotton, 2% spandex.

Just remember that with khaki Bermudas, since one’s legs are no longer contributing many feminine cues, one must add a little frou-frou to the top. Go without sleeves. Praise the Shake-Weight.

I am not expecting to be kicked this summer. All hail the revolution. Some of us will arrive in Bermudas.

39 Responses

  1. I find this fascinating! I’d never really thought about it since shorts tend to be my nemesis, but now I must go buy some shorts to wear this summer. In the name of the Revolution and all! :)

  2. I can’t remember the last time I wore shorts, but it’s probably been a good 20 years. I look terrible in shorts, and have welcomed the advance of Capri Nation with a grateful heart. Those are cute, and more power to you!

  3. I love this story about the 70 year old woman mowing the lawn in short shorts…I hope I am that 70 year old woman! Cute shorts!

  4. I used to wear bermuda’s and golf shorts, now I just prefer capris etc. My figure, not that I am heavy, just out ofshape!

    Art by Karena

  5. Not a shorts fan. I sunburn easily, so more skin to apply sunscreen. I don’t mind long trousers in hot weather. I did buy navy shorts four years ago – never wore them.

  6. Shorts? Oh no, not at this certain age! Perhaps bermudas, longish, or capris at home, while running errands, on vacation ( only we never have it ), when it is warm :)

  7. I wear shorts to work out, otherwise not. My shorts are probably 15 years old. I like that pair above with the drawstring. Those look really comfy.

  8. Shorts seem to be replacing miniskirts here in Hong Kong, which is warm most of the year.
    What I’m seeing are well-tailored black shorts — quite short — paired with black hose and black flats. They are paired with polite tops and are worn even in Central, the financial district.
    OK, they’re not being worn by bankers, but by well-bred young women having lunch at nice restaurants, going shopping at upscale shops, etc.
    I don’t know if I entirely improve. At 30something, I don’t know if it’s time for me to experiment with short-shorts instead of miniskirts (not that I wear miniskirts).
    But, these young woman have the good sense not the vamp the outfits up. Short shorts are sexy enough — and none of them are making them trashy by wearing them with high heels or revealing tops.

  9. Oh how I adore shorts! I wear them all summer long (whenever not in work clothes) or skirts. I even adore them for going out at night in a dressy fabric and short cut. I think almost all women look great in shorts once you find out what cut looks good on you. I don’t do bermudas or longer shorts, but 5″ ones look parfait. ;)

  10. I’m glad you’re replacing your shorts and think J Crew is the best place to go for easy-to-wear shorts. p.s. They have crazy good sales in mid-summer and I pick up a couple every sale, which has let me try all the different lengths without guilt. I prefer the shorter ones because they’re roomy and make the legs look longer, but mid-length works too and a white pair I have from a couple years back is my summer wardrobe staple.

    Hope you are having a great week Lisa,
    xo Mary Jo

  11. I’m sorry, I am confused. Why is it that grown women are supposed to worry about their age as being the factor determining the length of their shorts?

    How about how good are your legs? Or better yet, what do you enjoy wearing regardless of the condition of your legs?

    Why is it deemed more appropriate for younger women to show more skin than a woman in her 50’s? Because we think men like to see more of their skin? Because we are afraid of the judgement of other women?

    I’m 52 and I’ll wear my shorts however short or long I deem comfortable for myself. Please feel free (you have my permission -wink) to do the same for yourself!

  12. Miss J wears shorts on casual occasions, the beach, a picnic, hiking. Bermuda length. No one needs to witness what time and tide hath wrought on her thighs.

  13. Oh I know it’s a clich√© but if you’ve got it flaunt it! I used to wear very short shorts in my twenties – before the varicose veins – but these days I stick to Capri pants.

  14. I used to LOVE Banana Republic when they were pre-GAP. Then, they sold travel and safari clothing, military surplus….stuff you could really be active in. In the early 80’s, I got my all-time favorite shorts there – Gurkha shorts….British military classics. I put a lot of miles on those shorts, including a 3 month backpacking stint in Australia. They were my (almost) daily uniform – khaki twill, side buckles, rolled hem. Now, I don’t have the figure that goes well with any kind of contemporary shorts. But I have wistful memories.

  15. Am guessing you have shapely legs, including your knees. I don’t (never did, it’s not an age thing) so haven’t worn shorts for decades. If attention can be borne there, it does not matter what age one is.

    My friend’s mother mowed the lawn in a bikini, also up to her 70’s, and with an unfiltered Camel in her mouth. She had the same attitude- good for them!

  16. Shorts? Never. I have always found them to be uncomfortable and now, with veins, unacceptable. However, for those of you that can do it… enjoy it!

  17. Talbots had some very nice 5″ numbers last summer in fun colors. Comfy, good quality, but require a touch of ironing.

  18. hi lisa,

    such a good subject. i love shorts and in the summer here, it gets really hot. so i do wear shorts. i remember a while back telling a friend of mine who is about 63 that i was at costco and a woman was in line in front of me and was wearing shorts and she looked awful in them. my good friend gave me a dressing down that i certainly needed. she said…what was the lady supposed to wear to make me happy. it’s hot, she deserves to wear shorts just like anyone else. she was right and i was so v wrong to pass judgement on another b/c of my stupid opinion. i learned a lot that day about shorts and myself.


    ps – i swear by target merona shorts.

  19. Great post! Counting the days until I can wear my khaki shorts again (it’s only 16 degrees today, so it’ll be a while).

  20. When my dear old dad retires he claims he will never wear long pants again. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do wish I had more opportunity to wear them in the summer.

  21. I don’t see tons of women in shorts, other than workout shorts, but I do see lots of men in the ubiquitous long cargo shorts. A neighbor wears them year-round, adding black mid-calf socks to keep him warm in the winter. Why, yes I do live in Berkeley, why do you ask?

  22. I can’t wear shorts this short anymore. Have to do the above the knee now. but love the bottom ones which look longer. I have some great longer ones that are part of a suit (Marc jacobs) which I have worn to death…

  23. Dear Lisa, I love that you voice things other people may think but never say. I think it is fair to say, no matter the fashion, that not everything looks good on everybody. I quite like the bermuda shorts for lazing about in the garden or running to the shops but know that my thighs and knees are best only shared with my very nearest and dearest so no shorts above the knee. Mind you, I have a friend with killer pins – still she probably would not go to town in them. I have been musing about bikinis in the same way – I last wore one when I was seventeen and yet here in Chile and most memorably in Russia generous sized women of a certain age are always in bikinis. While I say more power to them I think I will stick to my black one piece speedo and the Bermudas only this Summer.

  24. I always say that the legs and the neckline are some of the few parts of the body that women can show off at any age. Good Luck for your hunt for the perfect short. I’m sure you will look adorable in whatever you choose.

  25. Shorts! One of my favorite stories about my grandmother features shorts, and I’m planning on sharing it next week. I’m sad those “novelty shorts,” whatever those are, didn’t work for you… they’re all sorts of cute on the stick-thin 18-year-old model.

  26. Joyce L. has a point, what the shorts are paired with has significant impact on the presentation. Location as well I suppose, HK fashion seems to manage to be edgy while maintaining demureness.
    I see no reason why shorts should be avoided so long as you’ve got the legs to go with them.

  27. Jo – Ha! In the name of the Revolution indeed:).

    deja – I’m so clueless, I thought everyone wore shorts.

    mater – Here’s the thing. I am not comfortable in dresses or skirts. Never have been. They make me feel nervous. I think because I am a squirmy sitter, and often cross my legs in chairs.

    Lori – May we all mow our lawns at 70!

    Karena – I’m out of shape too. But there’s only so much concession I can make to that:).

    DocP – Ah, yes, I confess I have more sun damage on my legs than anywhere else.

  28. Mette – I think shorts become more part of life living here. Everyone wears them, and the summers are so long and pleasant.

    Susan – You win the prize for longest-held shorts!

    Joyce – Yes, I have seen this look everywhere in blogs and magazines. Are there any Hong Kong street style blogs? I am sure we have only begun to feel Asia’s influence on fashion.

    Glitterista – I wonder, if I were in my 20s now, whether I’d wear shorts for nighttime. I bet I might. I like the look, with those cage shoes people wear…

    mary jo – Oh wonderful, thank you for validating my shorts sourcing. Seriously. Hope you’re having a great week too.

    Karen – :). You are right of course. That’s what the Revolution has done for us.

  29. Miss Janey – Yes, well, hence the Bermudas. But I’m wearing them out and about in my little suburb. If people don’t want to see my aged calves they can avert their eyes:).

    That’s Not My Age – My mom has good legs. I think mine are at least passable.

    Lara – Oh I know! I remember Banana Republic in those days. They started with J. Peterman has taken over. And I remember the Ghurkas. Those may have been the ones I wore on the subway that day.

    Duchesse – Bikini lawn mowing takes it to another level. I’m still doing it, but in shorts. And I’m OK about my legs – being prone to musculature and all, as the Sturdy tend to be.

    J.W. – I am learning just how clueless I’ve been:). Had no idea anyone found them uncomfortable. *slaps forehead*

    Rosie – Thanks for the recommendation. I hadn’t thought of Talbots.

  30. Janet – You and I have some very similar approaches to clothing over all. I now wish I could go to Anabelle and tell her she looked great:). I’ll check Target next time I’m in.

    Jen – Thank you. It’s been in the high sixties and low seventies here. Hence the short-shopping. I hope your part of the world warms up soon.

    Sensible – Oh thank you so much. I’ve never been one for frou frou, so it’s a reach and I need all the support I can get:).

    Emmaleigh – Sensible man, your dad.

    rb – Bwahahahaha. Oh yes. The People’s Republic. A fashion enclave all its own. You know my sister works/lives in that area? I love to visit her.

    Jody – I bet that Marc Jacobs suits is chic to die for.

  31. Preppy 101 – I guess I’ve expanded the concept of my “house” to include my neighborhood:).

    Linda – Thank you so much. I think that’s, above all, why I’m writing. To talk about the things that didn’t get said. Mostly clothes, of course, but that’s my underlying driver. Thank you again for noticing. And, by the way, I bought a bikini when I turned 50 and I actually wear it, now and again. Because life is short, and sun feels good.

    Your Southern Peach – Aw. You are so sweet. I think I agree with your your legs and neckline concept!

    Maggie – I look forward to hearing your grandmother’s shorts story. She must have been an early fighter for the Revolution. The shorts are all sorts of cute, but on me, honestly, the bermudas were cuter. I do have a daughter though…..

    Fuji – I am getting more and more interested in Hong Kong street fashion as time goes by. I’ve spent a lot of time in Shanghai, but I am guessing HK is better hands down.

  32. Hi Lisa,
    Disappointingly, many HK fashion blogs focus on Western brands. (Asia is brand obsessed.) I’m not particularly interested in reading what someone here has to say about some expensive new Chanel bag.

    There is one good fashion and style blog, though, by an Indian woman now living in HK. She really pays attention to local trends.

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