Shorts: A Fit Guide

Real Style on 06.13.11
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Photo: Lands' End

Sooner or later, it seems, every mom reaches a point where she declares, "I'm giving up shorts!" For some of us, this is an age thing (we're too old for shorts), while for others, it's a size thing (our legs are no longer what they were ten years ago). Either way, we decide that we can make do in the summer with skirts and capri pants and never bear our legs in public again.

And then one day you look at the calendar and realize that if you're going to be at the Little League field twice a week all summer, you will probably need some shorts, because who wears a dress to baseball when it's unseasonably hot and the drought means there's dust and dirt everywhere. At least that's what happened to me.

The secret to finding great shorts is to recognize that not all shorts are created alike -- and not all shorts fit all bodies. Where you carry your weight -- chest, stomach, hips and thighs -- will determine what style shorts works best for you, and what you will pair them with. The secret, of course, is proportion.

Bermuda shorts always seem like a good option -- more coverage! -- but they're hard to wear. If you carry your weight in your hips and thighs, a Bermuda short (which hits just above the kneecap) will emphasize your widest part. A Bermuda short with a tapered line (one that narrows at the knee) will make you look like an ice cream cone, while one with a wider hem (one that falls straight from the hip) will give your upper half a boxy shape. A shorter hem plays up your curves while keeping them appropriately covered.

For a pear shape, the most flattering shorts hit just below the widest part of your thight; almost universally, this means that a 7" inseam is the best option. Anything shorter can be too revealing, while anything longer can actually make your legs look larger. Look for shorts that fall straight from the widest part of your hip, and that have a clean, flat front (no pleats). The Lands' End 7 Day Twill Shorts  (pictured above) are a nice option for pear shapes.

If your'e an apple shape (carrying your weight through your stomach),  Bermuda shorts can work for you, as long as you pair them with the right top. Look for Bermudas that fall straight from the hip, for a slim leg line. Be meticulous about fit through the waist; you don't want your shorts to create a muffin top. Don't buy any shorts that don't fit perfectly through the middle. Pair your Bermuda shorts with a longer tunic, one that covers your stomach. Keep the proportions right: your tunic should hit no lower than the widest part of your hip.

If you're trying to balance a large chest, look for shorts with a higher rise and a slight paper bag effect, to play up your small waist. Pair with a fitted tee or a tailored shirt (make sure you're wearing a bra that fits properly!) and a pretty belt.

What about shoes? That depends on where you're going in your shorts. Any length shorts look great with a strappy sandal; opt for something a little fancier than a rubber flip flop if you're going to be out and about. My favorite summer option is a Jack Rogers "Navajo" thong sandal; I buy a new pair every three or four years and wear them until they fall apart. Embellished or metallic sandals are a simple way to dress up even the most basic shorts, and the open styling makes your legs look longer.

Another option -- if you're not chasing kids around the park -- is a wedge espadrille, in either jute or cork. Look for a manageable heel, and one that is in proportion to your shorts. An easy rule of thumb is that the longer your shorts, the higher your heels can be; a Bermuda short is great with a super-high espadrille, while a very short inseam needs a flatter shoe. Keep your look classy and practical by opting either for shorter shorts or high heels, but not both.

If you're going to wear tennis shoes with your shorts, opt for something cool like a pair of Jack Purcells. I like a leather sneaker for summer, because they're easier to clean than the canvas option, which means you really can have white sneakers that stay white. Loafers or topsiders are another option -- but skip ballet flats; they're too delicate for shorts. Save them for with your pretty skirts.

More summer style tips.
Buy This, Not That: Summer Style Edition
5 Casual Clothing Essentials
Top Trends for Summer Style