Up above the hems of a proper pair of trousers — above the ankle-baring ends of high-waters and clam-diggers, above the shin-skimming edges of pants named for the isle of Capri and for the gauchos of the Pampas — are the knees. Bared by shorts, they point us toward a few truths about social standards. Women’s legs are tangled in their own sex-segregated history of social control and gender politics; shorts are, first off, short pants, and it was not so very long ago that women were told wearing pants of any length was prima facie evidence of moral turpitude. The man in shorts, meanwhile, occupies a space that is more subtly strange. Year after year, as surely as tender spring yields to scalding summer, a season of dress-code controversies gives way to a running conversation about the unwritten rules of urban spaces, with arbiters of taste cringing at men’s legs in shorts as if wincing at a comedy of embarrassment.
Troy Patterson, “On Clothing”, The New York Times Magazine (9 August 2015), 16.