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Shorter Men’s Guide to Wearing Shorts

Shorter Men’s Guide to Wearing Shorts

If you only have time to learn 3 things about shorts, the most important would be:

  • Never wear shorts below your knee - the best length is 1-4” above the knee
  • Cargo shorts aren’t a good look
  • Baggy shorts will make your legs look scrawny

  • Shorts are one of the few items of men’s clothing that can be radically affected by trends. There have been decades that favored short shorts (as minimal as 2” inseams) and very long, baggy, almost pants-length shorts. Yes, other items are affected by trends – pant leg width, collar length, tie width, etc. – but nothing is as noticeable as shorts. We’ve been stuck in the long and baggy trend for a number of years, but are moving back toward the 80’s and 90’s style with shorter shorts (think Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I.). 

    It's not wrong to wear shorter shorts. In fact, many men, including athletes and celebrities, favor them. They like the way they look (making their legs look longer) and the way they feel (they’re cooler and don’t interfere with your mobility). Whether you are wearing shorts for sporting activities or for a casual look, most shorter lengths are now acceptable. We’ll discuss the don’ts that are particularly true for shorter men, but shorts length is pretty much open to your personal preference.


    Too short?                                          Too long!                                         Just right                   
    NBA shorts through the years – pictured is Muggsy Bogues (shortest NBA player at 5’3”)

    This is actually good news for the shorter man because big and baggy makes you look shorter and wider. A slim cut pair of shorts that’s the right hem length will flatter your body and make you look taller.

    Well-fitting shorts are attractive and practical…where form meets function. Poorly chosen shorts either make you look shorter and heavier, or like you have scrawny beanpole legs. Neither look is attractive.

    There is no single “right” length for shorts. Your body type, the type of shorts (athletic or dressy casual), your activity level, and your confidence will determine how long you’ll wear your shorts. If you are proud of your legs and want to show them off, you may choose a shorter length as long as it is proportionate to your body and outfit. If you have very skinny legs you may choose to wear slightly longer shorts (still above the knee as we’ll discuss later). 

    Sizing your shorts

    At Peter Manning, our shorts are sold by waist and inseam size. Waists come in 28”–38”. The inseam is the distance between the crotch and the hem of the leg opening. We offer our Stretch Chino Shorts in 5” and 7” inseams. You’ll find shorts that aren’t proportionally sized for the shorter man also come in 9” and 11” inseams. These would most likely fall well below the knee for anyone under 5’10”. 

    Our Tech Shorts come in 7” inseams and our Workout Shorts have a 5” inseam. Both are made from a higher-tech fabric than our stretch chino short and are more suited to casual or athletic wear. You can get an overview of our shorts with this guide: It’s shorts season. You can also find more information on our Tech Shorts and Chino Shorts in our Style section.

    There are a lot of “expert” opinions on where the hem of your shorts should hit your leg. Most agree that shorts should end 1-4” above your knee cap. A 5- or 7-inch inseam should bring you within this range. Once the hem starts hitting your knee cap you have reached the “danger zone”.

    Remember, it’s most important that shorts, and pants, fit in the crotch and seat area. It’s possible to take in the waist and hem the bottoms fairly easily. In a pinch, you can always just roll up the bottom – although one that’s hemmed correctly will look infinitely better.

    If you are trying to decide which length to purchase (especially in our Stretch Chino Shorts) a rule of thumb is: if you are under 5’5”, you’ll probably need the 5” inseam. If you’re 5’5” to 5’9”, you can wear either the 5” or 7” inseam. Your decision would be based on personal preference, how much leg you want to show, and whether you want the extra mobility that you get with the shorter length.

    Shorts Don’ts


    Don’t have the leg opening bag and hit your knee. The crotch is saggy. The t-shirt is too long and droopy adding to the overall dumpy appearance. Do have a trim fitting leg opening and proportional sizing overall. Both the shorts and t-shirt are from Peter Manning.
    Cargo shorts are wide, sloppy, and add a lot of bulky fabric to the outside of your legs. The end result is looking short and incredibly dumpy.

    Yes, even Leonardo DiCaprio can look dumpy! Long, baggy cargo shorts 
    aren’t a good look for anyone.  Source:

    Shorts with bold patterns will make you look shorter. Small prints are fine, just make sure you keep it all proportional. Similarly, bright, bold, vivid colors draw the eye down and will make you look shorter. Your bottoms shouldn’t scream “Look at me!” You want to draw attention up towards your face.

    If you choose to make your own shorts by cutting down a pair of jeans, or other pants, make sure you don’t cut them so short that your pockets show out of the bottom.

    Really, really long shorts make you look, well, short! The same can be said about really wide shorts. Ideally, you want the legs of the shorts to pass the pinch test (being able to pinch only 1-2” of fabric at your thigh) but not be so wide that you create a trapezoid silhouette with the leg openings wider than the hip measurement. This will make your legs look scrawny and your body look wide. Having a bit of taper toward the bottom of the leg opening will be most flattering. 

    Double Don’ts – Denim shorts are generally unflattering and these are much too long and baggy. These are photos of Kevin Smith before and after losing weight. Even at a slimmer weight the shorts aren’t flattering. Source:  USMagazine

    If you find a pair of shorts you love but they’re just too baggy on you, you can have the legs tapered a bit so your legs will look their best. Of course, Peter Manning shorts are proportionally sized so you shouldn’t need to alter them in length or width.

    Final Thoughts…

    Shorts can either look very right or very wrong. It’s almost entirely dependent on the fit. Aside from making sure the seat and crotch fit correctly, it’s really the shorts length and width that will determine whether you look put together or short and sloppy. Shorts should end above the knee and be slim enough that you don’t look like you’re swimming in them. Fit, especially for shorter men, is essential. A great fitting pair of shorts sets you up to enjoy the summer in style.


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