Style Q&A: Is There a Professional Way to Wear Shorts?

When the office is a sauna is it ok to opt for something more comfortable?

Is there a way to wear shorts professionally? Working in a hot office next to the server room in the summer is no joke as far as the temperature goes. At what point is it ok to wear shorts? When the office is at 78 degrees? 80? 90? There's no formal dress code at my workplace, but everyone wears jeans/khakis and polos/button-downs. – Michael K.

Mentioning the words “professional” and “shorts” in the same sentence is a bit of an oxymoron. One is all business.  The other is inherently casual.  However, in the modern age of menswear these two polar opposites, which at one point in time would’ve repelled each other like the negative sides of magnets, have somehow become relatively homogenous.  Shorts are obviously meant for warm weather and/or overheated environments in which one would rather not have his pants stick to him like a polyester suit.  On the other hand most offices (at least in America) would ostracize the wearer of shorts outside of the company picnic or softball game.  So what is a guy like you to do?

Well, it sounds like you’re in the IT profession by your proximity to “the server room” and if you’re not in IT you need a new job if they stick you in the corner next to the hot boxes.  At that point you might as well work construction outside.  But since we live in reality its sounds like you’ll be staying on this job for awhile.

In my experience most IT guys I know wear the standard issue “IT guy” uniform consisting of pleated, paper lunch bag brown khakis two sizes too big with a black belt and Blackberry hip holster that resembles an alien mother ship.  If this is you, whether or not to wear shorts is the least of your problems.  If however, you happen to be on a different level (I know you are) and your pants actually fit well, then you may think shorts are the next logical option.  They aren’t.  Call me traditional, conservative; even boring if you will, but if you work inside an office building with four walls and you’re not in a creative field such as fashion, art, music, etc., then you have no business wearing shorts to work no matter how hot it gets.

This is a similar rule with men and jackets.  Women suffer through wearing heels too tall and too tight without removing them in public and we men equally suffer through the heat wearing a jacket which should never be removed if worn properly.  The same goes for your pants.  Keep them long and suffer the heat, or suffer ridicule (silently or otherwise) from your co-workers and more importantly those in positions above you of which you may like to occupy one day.  Is your boss, supervisor, or manager wearing shorts?  Do you work for UPS or some other parcel shipping service?  If the answer to these questions is “no”, then you have my answer to your query.

Grant Harris is Owner & Chief Style Consultant at Image Granted; a Washington, DC based Image Consulting Company dedicated to solving the complex image, style & fashion issues of today's professional man. He has a healthy obsession with socks. Follow him on Twitter & Facebook.


  • Reply September 13, 2012


    You’re no doubt right for most places, but here in southern Arizona, it is not uncommon for shorts to be perfectly acceptable in the workplace. The simple fact is that when the mercury creeps up above 115 degrees in the summer, you’re going to look better in a polo and shorts than a navy suit. Shorts are informal, but being covered in sweat is nasty.

  • Reply September 14, 2012


    Personally, I hate it when someone presents a problem and the answer is “deal with it.” So here’s an option for Michael K.’s conundrum: Linen pants and guayabera or Aloha shirts (if you size down and select more subdued prints). If it’s summer, but you need to look professional, wearing this outfit can work. Especially if the workplace is a jeans/chinos/polo environment. Cubavera makes very nice options that I myself wear when it’s summer and I need to look like a pro. Find a nice pair of driving loafers and you’re all set. A word of warning though, don’t get the white linen pants.

  • Reply September 14, 2012


    I work at a design firm in DC, and we’re often moving around from place to place. When it gets hot and incredibly humid in the summers, wearing shorts is almost a necessity. I tuck in a stylish shirt into straight, just above the knee, non-cargo shorts and strap a belt on. With a button-down shirt I roll up the sleeves and then wear Sperry’s or something. This is acceptable in my work environment, but I doubt this would fly for the people who work in big government jobs that I’m surrounded by.

  • Reply September 14, 2012


    I think you just need to know your office. If someone came in to my work with shorts on, they’d be laughed at and probably sent home. Besides, if your office is hot, wearing shorts won’t do anything that a lighter linen pant won’t already do. Shorts only help when you are outdoors and can feel the breeze.

  • Reply September 14, 2012


    I would not call women’s heels and men’s coats similar. High heels are physically debilitating and cause long term damage; men’s coats cause pit stains.

  • Reply September 15, 2012


    I’m glad I do a lot of stuff with crossfit so athletic shorts and crossfit t-shirts are great 🙂 But, I stick to linen pants in the warmer weather if I am doing anything else. I have found some jeans (Gap) that are a thinner material so I retire most of my other jeans once summer rolls around. Also depending on the temperatures and what I’m required to do on a given day having a change of socks, underwear, and shirt can be very helpful.

  • Reply September 19, 2012


    There’s really only one way: move to Bermuda. 

  • […] Our latest Q&A over at Primer.  Wrapping up the summer with a short question about well, shorts. […]

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