Shorts for Every Shape

by Shannon Kelly

Shorts for Every Shape

Summer’s here, and for many of us that means facing one of the most dreaded clothing items after the swimsuit—shorts.

Shorts. So comfortable and practical in hot weather, so unflattering and unforgiving if you choose the wrong ones. For years I didn’t wear shorts at all except at the beach or the gym. But styles have become more fashionable, with the advent of city shorts that can be worn to work and shorts paired with wedge heels or worn as suits on the runways. As my options have increased, so has my desire to make shorts work for me. In an effort to incorporate shorts into my day-to-day summer wardrobe, I have tested every shape and length of short with every top and shoe combination. Are there shorts for every shape? If you’re like me and destined to be plagued with spider veins in five years, maybe not, but here are a few things I’ve learned about choosing the right shorts for your shape.


What’s Your Body Type?

  • Petite
    Stay away from cuffed shorts that make short legs look stubby. Go for shorts that are above the knee and buy petite sizes or tailor the shorts so they hit the leg where they should. High-waisted shorts elongate the legs, as do shorts with vertical lines (even one vertical seam). Avoid low-waist hip-huggers. Try sandals with a bit of a heel, like a wedge, to add length—especially for longer shorts. Since shorts break up the leg, they do tend to make short legs look a bit shorter. I’ve found that flat thongs can work with a mid-thigh or shorter style.
  • Tall
    If you want to downplay the length of your legs, avoid high-waisted shorts. Cuffed shorts work with long legs, as do longer shorts that hit just below the knee. If you’re skinny, you can work the tapered-in long shorts. Flat ballet shoes or thong sandals will generally work best for you.
  • Big Thighs or Behinds, and Plus Sizes
    Go for straight-legged shorts that hit mid-thigh or (for “stronger” legs), just above the knee. Shorts, like pants, should extend straight down from the widest part of your leg or hip. Avoid flowy, shapeless styles that just make you look bigger and sloppier, and go with structured, tailored shorts instead. Those of us with a bit of junk in the trunk should stick with straight-leg shorts. I’ve learned to avoid pleats, bulky back pockets, or side pockets that create “wings.”
  • Boy-Shaped
    The bulky back pockets work to your advantage, adding a faux booty. Cuffs can add bulk to the leg, downplaying skinniness. Go for straight, rather than tapered, legs to suggest shape underneath.

The Good & the Bad

  • Micro-shorts
    Shorts that hit high on the thigh to barely below the tush work on very few people—primarily those who are supermodels or twelve years old—so I don’t know why there are so many of them in stores now. It’s infuriating! Do us all a favor and boycott them so this trend goes away and never comes back to haunt us. Don’t even get me started on the 1970s-style roller-disco shorts! Also, if you do wear short shorts—at the beach, I hope—don’t wear them with heels. It’s just trashy. Yeah, it’s been done on the runway, but so has electrical-tape bras with suit jackets. Would you wear that to work?
  • Straight-legged Bermudas and City Shorts
    These look good on almost everyone and are thankfully easy to find in the past couple of years. The tip is getting the right length (most of us look good in those that hit two inches to three inches above the knee) and the right fit. One caveat: many of these longer shorts taper in at the bottom, which gives the lovely ice-cream-cone effect. Unless you’re booty-less, avoid them like the plague. Loose-fitting shorts or shorts that hit mid-thigh or above will look casual and are weekend wear; longer shorts can work for weekends or for dressier occasions—even for work if done tastefully with the right top and shoes.

Finishing the Look

  • Eyes up top
    The right shorts can go all wrong with a badly matched top. No one but waifettes can pull off loose, flowing, tunic-y tops with shorts. The rest of us just look like we’re hiding something. The tailored, straight-leg Bermuda or city short can be paired with Oxford shirts and heels for cleaned-up affairs or work if you’re allowed; though again, I’d leave the stilettos on the runway. For the weekend, go with a fitted tee if you’re slender, or, for any shape, a tailored short-sleeve blouse or A-line top. All shapes should avoid tight shorts with tight tops. Shorter shorts work best with either slightly loose tops or well-fitting, but not-too-tight tops that hit at the hips or just above.