Who wears short shorts?

“Who wears short shorts? We wear short shorts.”

The famous ‘80s commercial jingle that rekindles images of long-legged beautiful ladies now applies to men, thanks to a resurging trend of retro board shorts and trunks that has shortened hemlines of men’s swimwear.

Short shorts on men are nothing new. They originated in the ‘60s, and the mid- to late ‘70s saw the popular corduroy shorts by OP gracing the high thighs of many surfers. The style wasn’t just a fashion statement; the short trunks enabled mobility and comfort while catching waves, which many pros favored.

The fad went on hiatus during the ‘90s when longer board shorts and trunks with 22-inch outseams exploded onto the scene, hiding men’s knees for more than a decade.

But in summer 2006, retro styles with 16-inch outseams (the outside length) unexpectedly came back with a bang when well known surf brands like Quiksilver began reissuing cuts and patterns reminiscent of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The trend may not be new, but it’s still going strong. The south swell that slammed the Southern California coast two weeks ago brought swarms of surfers decked out in thigh-baring old school duds, making some spots like Surfrider Beach appear to have been stuck in a time warp.


The widespread popularity of the trend has annoyed some surfers who have long worn the shorter shorts for performance rather than fashion purposes. “Shorter board shorts are much more comfortable than longer ones and they don’t get caught over your knees when you bend them [while] surfing,” local surfer Arty Flynn said. “But I don’t really want to wear them anymore because everyone has them.”

However, not all are giving up the trend; stores are still stocked with plenty of them.

“Sales of 1990s-style board shorts are even with [sales of] the retro style,” Chris Petzing, assistant manager of Becker Surfboards at the Malibu Colony Plaza, said Monday, adding that hemlines have continually shrunk during the past five or six years.

Also, “This summer, there’s a reoccurring trend of neon colors from the eighties,” Petzing said.

Averaging lengths of 16 inches, the majority of today’s retro trunks and board shorts graze the mid-thigh. But thanks to the many clothing lines that have reinstated them into their fashion repertoires during the past three years, the lengths of some shorts can vary by a few inches to appease both the daring and the thigh-shy.

The trend has also gained momentum beyond the beach to guys everywhere, even if the only thing they can surf is the World Wide Web. The shorts have popped up in stores like American Apparel and J. Crew, among many others.

“Over the course of the past two days we’ve sold at least five pairs,” Ashley Pelico, manager of American Apparel on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, said Monday. “We keep getting new styles and colors, all of them are selling really well.”

A pair with black and white horizontal stripes, one of American Apparel’s bestsellers, is highly reminiscent of the “jailhouse trunks” worn by big wave surf legend Greg Noll in the ‘60s. A solid white pair is a replica of those worn in 1978 by Malibu resident Cameron Farrer.

So past is present and trends may come and go, but for now, expect to see a little more leg in the lineup.

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