We Wear Shorts Suits?

short-suits-for-workShorts suits (or: a suit with shorts) — can they be worn in a professional way? I noticed that commenters were talking about this yesterday, and it also came up in the Facebook chat I did with Lucky, and then again on the Corporette Facebook page — so I thought we should talk about it more in the main body of the blog.

professional-short-suitsFor those of you who didn’t see, the Wall Street Journal ran an article on the shorts suit over the weekend, recommending them as “summer’s most versatile combo,” going “from office to party without a hitch.”  Um… okay.  So far most of the comments I’ve seen on the blog are dead set against this, and for my $.02 I would agree — if I were, say, Lindsay Lohan going to court, or perhaps some other young starlet going to a charity luncheon, then I would totally invest in short suits.  (Like, totally.)  But for the office?  Where I’m trying to convey respect, and avoid having people think “WTF was she thinking when she got dressed today?”?  Um, no.  Oh, and incidentally, the shorts suit is not new:  Julia Roberts’s character wore one in Pretty Woman.  See, so professional working girls do wear them.

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But these are just a few voices out of the many who read this blog, so let’s take a poll:


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  1. I work in an engineering office that has become increasingly casual over the last year. I wouldn’t have worn them a year ago, but at this point I’d wear a short suit to work, as long as the shorts were at least just-above-the-knee length.

    • I also work in an engineering office and I would have no problem wearing a knee-length short suit to work. I personally wouldn’t just because I prefer to wear dresses and skirts, but it definitely wouldn’t violate the company’s non-existent dress codes. I already look far more dressed up than everybody else, as I work with mostly men who wear jeans a t-shirt every day.
      (For the record I’m the office manager/full charge bookkeeper)

    • When I was interning at an engineering firm in the San Fernando Valley I used to wear a short suit to work as it was typically >100 deg outside. Granted I wore them with black tights and they were just-above-the-knee length, still no one batted an eye and I daresay I was rather successful there (continued working through my senior year and got the offer).

      The dress policy was ‘business casual’ with managers typically wearing slacks+button front shirt (no tie) for the men and skirts/slacks + blouse for the women. There were a few who sported jeans daily, but they were the minority. I’ve since put the short suit on hold since I’m now a full-time jr engineer and a bit conservative wrt work wear choices as I ‘establish’ myself.

  2. What about a suit with cropped pants?

    • How cropped? I wear ankle-length cigarette pants with a 3/4 sleeve blazer all the time. It’s one of my favorite looks. I’d consider it business casual, though, not business formal.

      • I was thinking mid-calf or longer. It’s not something I would wear to court or in other cases where full-on business attire was required. Capris by themselves seem too casual, but I agree that a blazer would make the capris sufficiently formal for business casual.

      • Valleygirl :

        I think the look works for others but on me – I’m 5’10 – the shorter pant and the short sleeved jacket just makes it look like my clothes shrunk.

      • Diana Barry :

        Agreed. I think the pants need to be ankle length and not capri. I tried on a capri suit once and it just looked silly. Cigarette pants have a more Audrey Hepburn vibe = more dressed up.

      • I love this look but just can’t make it work for me. I’ve tried many styles but think ultimately that my height and muscular legs just don’t work for cropped pants.

    • It depends on your office. I think if people normally wear ankle pants/capris, you can probably wear it to non-formal occasions. Here anything below the knee is fine.

    • I agree with the others – I’d consider it business casual and appropriate for the office.

    • To crop or not to crop :

      I personally think that a cropped pant negates the formality of the jacket so if you are wearing a jacket with it to maintain compliance with a dress code or similar expectation, it doesn’t work. With that said, I work in a business casual environment and love to bust out my crop pants. I’m not comfortable in skirts so cropped slacks are my go-to in the summer. I always make sure to wear a crisp, professional top or a lightweight v-neck sweater or sweatervest and heels with them to counteract the casual-ness.

      Where does one find ankle-lenth pants (for work that is)? This look would be so fun to play around with.

      • My point was not that you could wear cropped pants and a jacket where a suit was required. Wouldn’t a jacket serve the same function as a professional top and heels?

        • To crop or not to crop :

          Yep. That’s why I said “if you are wearing a jacket with it to maintain compliance with a dress code or similar expectation, it doesn’t work”. If you are wearing a jacket not so you can say it’s a suit but rather just because it looks nice and you like the look, go for it. It’s a cute outfit but a formal suit appropriate for client meetings, court, etc. it is not.

      • I scored a pair of ankle length black Theory pants that I’m now in love with at Marshalls for $80 (originally $215). I was unsure of the purchase at first, as I’ve never worn ankle length pants before, but I’m so glad I bought them. They are great for that spring/summer/fall transition period.

    • A colleague just wore the most incredibly cut grey suit with tapered ankle length pants. It was yummy!

  3. ” Julia Roberts’s character wore one in Pretty Woman. See, so professional working girls do wear them.”

    You slay me, Kat. Nicely put.

  4. At some point, women wearing pants in offices was considered just as controversial as this is, but now it is considered normal by the vast majority. So while I don’t see myself wearing a shorts suit, ever, maybe in 10, 15, 20 years they will be common and future corporettes will laugh at us for even having this discussion. Maybe they’ll even be wearing shorts suits to court and job interviews!

    Those of you who actually lived and worked through the “women wearing pants– GASP!” era, feel free to correct me if my impressions are wrong.

    • I agree. The look is too out there for now, but I think at some point down the road it could become more mainstream, and that will be fine – particularly if the shorts are the same length as skirts, I don’t see an especially logical reason why not. Argument against this would be that men’s suits have never evolved to have shorts, but we’ll see!

    • I think your analogy is false. Women wearing pants was controversial because pants were considered menswear. Shorts are controversial because they are casual.

      • Agree, its been more than 20 years of men wearing suits and they don’t wear short suits. The problem with short suits is that they are sold as just that, suits. If you can wear shorts to your office than you can wear a short suit, but if you can’t wear shorts to your office, you can’t wear a short suit and expect it to fly as a suit. The most casual element of your element is what the domination of the whole outfit is. (For instance jeans and a blazer means you must be able to wear jeans to the workplace.)

        • I think this is a perfect explanation.

        • Valleygirl :

          I think part of it for men, is that in the 50’s/60’s boys wore short suits – and men wore pant suits. So it may not even be a casual/not causal thing… I see it more as an adults wear pant/skirt suits, kids wear short suits. I also think that women wearing short suits plays into the whole “women as children” thing… similar to overly cutesy “costume” outfits. I also think for women dealing with older bosses who were more familiar with little boys wearing short suits – it really knocks at your professionalism to have them associate you with a kid.

          • I also think that women wearing short suits plays into the whole “women as children” thing… similar to overly cutesy “costume” outfits”

            THANK YOU. You just hit the nail on the head about what really bothers me about these. I couldn’t put my finger on it. They are infantilizing.

          • Very good point! When I think “short suit,” I think “ringbearer” — an adorable little boy at a wedding. I don’t think “women’s professional wear option.”

            I should confess that I hardly ever wear shorts as casualwear, myself. They have always seemed to me like an item of clothing that you don’t wear any more once you grow up, except for athletic activities.

    • I did work and live through the late 1980s/early 1990s, last time retailers tried to bring “shorts suits” into style. In those days they called them “walking shorts.”

      It sort of caught on for about a year, and then was ridiculously, hideously out of style. Anyone wearing a shorts suit was a laughing stock.

      I would just say if you really really want to try the look, don’t spend a lot of money on it. It is by no means a good investment!

  5. I think it looks weird. Shorts are beach wear and weekend wear. You wear them with sandals and flip flops, not pumps. I’ve seen Angie on YouLookFab put together “dressy” business casual looks with shorts , jackets, and pumps. I generally love her style, but to me, it looks off. Personally I would never consider a shorts suit. I like suits with capris or cigarette pants. I love skirts. But shorts in the office? No thanks.

    • THIS. I used to read that blog but lately it feels off and disconnected from what actual working women would wear to work. And no offense to non-working women but the shorts, jackets and pumps outfit feels like what someone, who’s not actually going to the office, would put on to look “professional” for a lunch with friends. It’s not even a question of how casual the office is – my office is very casual (fancy flip flops abound in the summer) but this outfit would look too costumey in my office

  6. I remember the first time I saw a shorts suit (shorts were an option with some separates that I ended up buying — skirt and jacket, thank you). I held the shorts up for my sister and said, “Why? Why do stores even make these?” The jackets and skirts were clearly selling but the shorts seemed to be lingering on the rack…

    Anyway, I find even the concept of dress shorts to be totally bewildering. The other day my boss in a fairly casual office was wearing a pair of dress shorts (sans jacket) and even then it struck me as strange. Just wear a skirt. Shorts are not office wear.

    • Totally agree, but it is a bit odd, isn’t it? I mean, if you think about it, a large part of office clothing is just a matter of being discreet and covered up, and a knee length short is likely to be more modest than a pencil skirt, you don’t have to worry about exposing yourself accidentally if you sit down the wrong way, etc., etc., and, yet, it is inappropriate.

      Not arguing that it shouldn’t be. Just noting how arbitrary a lot of our “rules” are.

      • I don’t think it is odd. I think it is an issue of formality. My sweatpants are looser-fitting and more modest than many pairs of very form fitting business-wear pants I’ve seen recently, but that still doesn’t make my sweats appropriate for the office (if only!)

        • I guess I disagree that shorts, inherently, cannot be formal. To be sure, I agree that they aren’t. But, to me, in theory at least, shorts are similar to a skirt, i.e., they can be short, long, formal or informal. Not all skirts are office appropriate, but some are. The difference between shorts and sweatpants is that sweatpants are always going to be made out of a certain kind of material (velour, terry, spandex, etc.), which is what makes them sweatpants and, thus, totally informal. Shorts, on the other hand, could easily be made out of a “formal” material that would be perfectly acceptable for a blazer, pencil skirt, or pant. It is only the fact that they are shorts that renders them informal, and I am saying that I happen to think that this is a bit odd. Not that one should wear short suits. Just that it’s a bit arbitrary.

      • Ekaterin Nile :

        This is why I get in a lather about the “wearing a skirt suit to interviews and/or court” issue. It drives me nuts that it’s considered more formal and professional for me to wear something that exposes the bottom half of my legs and makes it more likely someone can see my undies unless I’m cognizant of my leg position at all times when sitting down.

  7. I was wearing a cropped pants suit in the office yesterday and I felt it was a little bit too casual. On the other hand, I saw an estate planning client who was wearing a sweat suit, so maybe I was in the right range.

  8. PSA. Neiman Marcus has a limited sale on this silk Kate Spade top: http://www.neimanmarcus.com/store/catalog/prod.jhtml?itemId=prod125390034&parentId=cat21000740&masterId=cat8900735&index=37&cmCat=cat000000cat8900735cat21000740
    It’s now $85 instead of $245. I think the sale expires at 2:30 EST.

  9. Fan (of the shirt) :

    Without getting into any comments about her politics or performance, I was wondering if anyone saw Michelle Bachman in the debate last night.

    I ask because I liked the look of the stand up collar button up with her suit. I thought it was a nice look and was wondering if anyone had seen a shirt like that around? I’m not big on the collared shirt poking out of a suit jacket look (I feel it looks awful on me) and I’m interested to see if I could find something similar to what she had on to try a different look.

    TYIA (and lets try to keep things civil) :)

    • I had to look it up, but you’re right, that’s a really lovely shirt- very professional and put together looking, while still interesting and feminine.

      I find it incredibly sad that you had to basically beg people not to say nasty things because you commented on a woman’s clothing. (I know exactly why you did it, so I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have, just that it’s sad in general.)

    • Fan (of the shirt) :

      I think how put together it looks is what appealed to me the most! I think part of the reason I dislike the collared look on me is that the collar moves or is higher one side or slumps or if worn outside the jacket can flare out more on one side than the other, etc etc etc. Just one big mess on me but that blouse would stay in place beautifully. She also made a lot of hand movements and nothing changed.

      As for my warning, I think for the most part she tends to be one of the more controversial folks out there today. I am a fan of her shirt (but not her as evidenced by the name) but I just wanted to keep it focused since she tends to bring out the crazy detractors and the crazy supporters. Best to warn both sides :)

    • She is doing a much better job of looking pulled together and professional lately. I remember that she used to have heavy makeup and borderline “going out” clothes instead of professional attire. I think she looks great and I appreciate that she doesn’t seem to play on her looks and sexuality (like another famous republican woman does).

      • Charith Cutestory :

        I think that is probably intentional. I’ve read several articles about her intention to portray herself as a “thinking person’s” She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Not to discuss politics, but I think it’s interesting how one’s wardrobe choices can affect the general tone of a campaign.

    • I think MB looked amazing. Not going to discuss the politics, but visually, A+!

    • I thought her open-toed shoes were inappropriate. If anything’s a job interview, a presidential debate sure is! But besides that, I thought she looked very pulled together.

  10. I can’t even get to the appropriateness portion of this debate. I would never wear a shorts suit to the office because I find them to be heinously ugly. There may be additional dress code-related arguments against them, but I can’t get past the eyeball assault.

    • This. I work in a (non-law) office where shorts are acceptable during the summer – but short suits are just so weird and ugly. If pushed, I suppose I’m okay with them as business casual… very casual… but why would anyone WANT to wear them?

      PS: I feel differently about cropped pants. I undestand they aren’t for those in the most conservative offices, but they can look quite smart.

  11. Around these parts (Philadelphia), when I see a woman in a shorts suit, I figure she’s in marketing or she’s a court reporter on her way to take a deposition. I’ve seen the combo a handful of times over the past few years, but never, ever on an actual lawyer or executive. The wearer was always carrying something that looked like a folio of advertising materials or was pulling a steno machine.

  12. I do it on my off days from court or hearings, but always with heels and only almost knee length.

  13. found a peanut :

    It’s kind of weird that it’s acceptable to wear skirts, which show the same amount of leg as shorts (assuming shorts are knee-length) and pants, which are the same shape as shorts, but it’s not OK to wear shorts. If you had shorts in a suit-like material, why would they still be considered casual? I have casual skirts and work skirts…can’t I have casual shorts and work shorts?

    I don’t wear short-suits and I don’t think I’m going to jump on the trend anytime soon, but there’s no real principled reason why a woman couldn’t wear one.

    • This is pretty much how I feel. I don’t see any principled reason they shouldn’t be appropriate. Of course, I know that they are not, so I don’t wear them. But if others would change their mind, I’d totally be on board.

    • I tried to post to this same effect earlier, but it appears lost in space (or moderation).

      Although it’s not a look I would adopt (due to my own body issues), I really don’t see a difference between skirts and shorts — assuming similarly suitable length/fabric/tailoring. Aside from a visual/fashion judgment of just not “liking” the style, the only real objection I can think of is that you see the division of the legs and where they join… which, fine — I understand some religions/cultures/etc. have objections to that, but if you’re on board with women wearing pants…

    • The difference for me is that shorts are sexier… I only wear knee-length skirts to the office, and only if they do not show the underside of my rear. (There was a comment a few weeks back about how clothing is inappropriate if it shows the outline of the underside of your rear or breasts. I think that hit the nail on the head.) For example, A-line skirts are better than tight pencil skirts for that reason.

      There are not shorts that don’t accentuate your rear end. Shorts are designed and cut to flatter your backside. (Well, maybe not that Pretty Woman culottes-suit pictured, but those are just plain out of fashion.)

      That’s why I find them inappropriate.

  14. Anonymous :

    I totally rocked this look during student government elections and sorority rush in the late 80s. I can’t imagine wearing this to work now. But nostalgia makes me think I might go there for brunch or an intown garden party.

  15. I’m in PHX, so if anyone should be a proponent of the shorts-suit, it should be me. But I just can’t get behind it. I wore shorts (knee length bermudas) and a cardigan to a CLE a couple of weeks ago and even though every one there was casual, I felt that I had dressed *really inappropriately* (and believe me, I have some fairly low standards when it comes to appropriate CLE dress).

    However, I still love the WSJ’s “conservative office” look with the navy bermudas — wish I could do it, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

  16. the full cleveland :

    when I see a woman in a shorts suit, I figure she’s in marketing

    (weeps quietly)

  17. I do like the look. I do not work in a professional environment and never have so that may color my opinion. This suit (in particular) is very nice especially with the heels. It is a tighter fit Bermuda short, so knee-length:


    I wouldn’t wear something like this to a formal event (court, etc) but don’t think it looks bad for every day wear.

  18. Shorts are not appropriate in the office (and my firm isn’t even that casual), and throwing a jacket over them does not make it acceptable. Regardless of length, shorts are not a skirt. Of course, this is my opinion, but I think while it might be “creative” but certainly not “business professional”. If you can pull off Bermuda shorts or something similar at a conference or casual event, that’s great. I wouldn’t wear cropped pants to the office, but I’ve seen some people do it and look okay. I just think the suit jacket with those things looks ridiculous.

  19. I would never jump on this trend, but mostly because I *hate* shorts. In the past 10 years, I have owned maybe four pairs of shorts, compared to at least 15 skirts. I agree that they are office-inappropriate for now, but I can’t ever imagine thinking “Oh goody, I can wear my shorts to work!” – in fact, I can’t ever being excited to wear shorts, period.

  20. A little off tangent .. but any suggestions for wearing skirts if you are self-conscious of your legs? I used to weigh 150 pounds more than I do now and I don’t particularly like my legs from the knee down (thick legs still). But I want to wear skirts. I have no issues with nylons but that doesn’t work so great with sandals. Help!

    • You can go with longer, flowy skirts for summer and then switch to tights or boots with shorter skirts in the cooler weather.

      • Even with heavier legs? I have classic cankles in that my lower leg is pretty much the same size from the knee down. I’m afraid a longer skirt would exacerbate that … ?

        • Sure. You want to avoid what I think of as “midi” or “tea” length skirts — skirts that end somewhere along the calf line and therefore highlight the width of your calf. Those aren’t particularly popular right now, though. With a true maxi skirt, it goes all the way down to your ankles, so the shape of your calves is concealed — keeping in mind that because the skirts are “billowy” they will cling a bit to your calves when walking or wind. I tend to wear my maxi skirts/dresses so long they drag on the ground unless I have a bit of wedge on my shoe. Finding exactly the right length of skirt can be challenging without tailoring, so don’t be afraid to do that, and avoid skirts with a clear pattern that would be disrupted or look “off” with hemming unless they’re already the exact right length.

          • Thanks. I’ll look at some of the maxi styles. They are usually so long I’m afraid I’ll trip over them (I’m 5’5″) but with a taller wedge it might work! I have a just-covering-the-knee full skirt that I like to wear. I just need to find shoes that elongate my legs a bit. Maybe a nude shoe .. *shrug* Thanks again!

          • Maxis are easy to hem. You don’t want them too long… but be ware of maxis at the office.

        • If you mean for your off time, I wear long flowly skirts all summer, because I just like the feel and look (no worrying about shaving my legs!), and you cannot see my ankles or legs at all!

          If you mean for work, I think a clean a-line skirt is going to be more flattering than a regular straight skirt since your legs will look narrower in comparison. The only thing I would say to avoid is tiny kitten heels. In my humble, personal opinion, those do not look great on thicker legs with skirts because the heels are so skinny and short that they don’t do much for the leg other than make it look wider in comparison (but maybe that’s just to me). I think a slightly chunkier (not nec. chunky) heel or a wedge tends to look better because then the whole look is kept in proportion.

          • Thanks. I work in an environment where anything goes. I can dress up or down if I want (not a lawyer). I am just learning how to dress outside of jeans and liking how it feels to dress nice. The dress/skirt is the next step. It’s a bit breezy here in Seattle though, so I’m not sure skirts are the way to go!

        • I think that knee-high boots obscure cankles nicely, so that’s a good solution in the winter – duoboots.com, Naturalizer, Eddie Bauer and many other brands make wide-calf boots.

          In the summer, I’d suggest a heel if you want to wear above-the-knee skirts, in order to elongate your leg line. And I think the suggestion of maxi skirts is a great one. I’d avoid any skirt that hits between the bottom of your knee and your ankle because that will just make your calves look wider.

    • First, congrats on your weight loss! Based on the nylons comment, I’m curious about what exactly you don’t like about your legs?

      If it’s a skin/vein/etc. issue, I’ve heard some good things about those spray products like Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs (or something like that). Or self-tanner.

      If it’s a shape/cankles… I struggle with that, and sometimes I just suck it up. I will never have gorgeous gams, but I try to remind myself that the same gene pool that cursed me (and pretty much every other woman in my family) with these stocky cankle-y legs and a predisposition also gave me awesome hair, pretty eyes, fairly decent skin, and a smart brain. I think finding a skirt length and shoe styles that are most flattering, and sticking with those, helps a lot.

      • Mostly just the shape of my legs. I can deal with the paleness, the veins, etc etc because I earned them all but the shape is tough for me. I feel weird about them. My ankles get swollen towards the end of the day and that doesn’t look good either.

      • I completely hear you! I’m blessed with “sturdy legs,” as my husband loving calls them. I tend to stick mainly with cropped pants that are straight off the calf, but I have a few well-selected skirts. Pantyhose and heels definitely improve the situation. I am always looking for sandals that can be worn with hose. Peeptoes work decently well. I’ve heard the advice to avoid ankle straps, since they break up the leg and draw attention to the enormous ankles. I’m not convinced it’s true in all cases, but that’s my general rule.

        Something to try: Standing in front of a full length mirror, put on a long skirt (or even hold up a cloth) and slowly pull up the skirt, noting the lengths which are most attractive for you. Use a tailor to hem skirts to exactly the right length. For me, a-line skirts that hit just below my knee work the best. Mini-skirts looked great, too… but sigh, those days are gone! Maxi’s work too, as previously mentioned.

        Like AT, I just had to accept it!

    • You should check out the blog http://www.thedailysophisticate.com. The blogger also experienced a significant weight loss. She blogged about her legs at one point, but her legs are definitely sturdy and she rocks skirts ALL the time. I would check out her style. I notice that heavier legs/ankles look best with nude pumps.

      • Thanks for the blog. She has gorgeous legs. Gah! I’d love to have those. :D

        • Trinny from the original BBC What Not To Wear claims to have cankles (though she’s extremely thin) so she will only wear skirts with boots in the winter, or skirts with pants underneath in the summer. That latter one is hard to pull off, if you ask me, but the boots with skirts look is great and very classic. If you don’t live in a swelteringly hot environment, there are actually summer boots now (Sally from Already Pretty features a pair of light-colored perforated boots pretty regularly.)

          On the other hand, the US version of What Not To Wear has featured lots of women with thick ankles and they just ignore the issue. To some degree, that advice resonates more with me than the cover-it-up advice from the UK. We are more about body acceptance here, I think, and so if you can get your own self past the issue, I think you should just wear what you want to wear and forget about your perceived flaws.

      • Notalawyer :

        For thicker legs and/or cankles, I think it is sometimes more attractive if the shoe is close in shade to the skin tone or to the tights/socks/whatever. That unbroken vertical line is more slimming than an obvious break right at the cankle. (For instance very pale skin with black shoes=draws notice to those cankles!)

        I think overly decorated shoes can draw attention to problem areas as well.

        • I agree. Nude for you shoes – preferably pumps with a low vamp – are the best look for heavier legs. I’d avoid high contrast when wearing bare legs.

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