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Why women should just say no to shorts Add to ...

Fall is easy: sweaters and boots. Spring's okay, too: light jackets, tights. I'll even take winter, when the scarves are jaunty and the jackets woolly.

But now it's summer and what in the name of Jesus sandals is an adult woman supposed to wear? At these temperatures, what we really want is to be naked, but we also don't want to get fined for being naked. But nearest-to-naked sartorial options - the bikini top or the micromini with bikini top - don't take into account the truth of the human body, with its veins and bruises, its hirsuteness and winterized texture like that of a cow tongue. Plus, there's dignity. A little dignity when dressing is always a decent goal, and it's never harder to achieve than in the season of fashion humiliation.

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This is the point in the column when you rattle your paper or crack your knuckles in anticipation of a little commenting: Shorts, idiot! It's all about shorts! Problem solved!

But what if you just can't do it? Here's my objection: Shorts are for children, and I don't want to look like Little Lord Fauntleroy or, more likely, Angus Young. In the 19th and 20th{+ }centuries, shorts were almost exclusively the domain of little boys until the great day they reached manhood and were given calf-sleeves and a cigar. There's a poignant symbolism in this shrouding: Adulthood means covering your knees; childhood means skinning them.

Yes, shorts have a certain practicality and Katherine Hepburn-ish quality on their side, and every summer I think, optimistically, 'Well, just try them on! You never know! Perhaps things have changed since 1992 (Lycra … without a bike).'

And turn and spin and ... nope. Not a good look, though possibly just the prop for a home-dungeon fetishist with a lollipop and a thing for schoolbag beatings.

So skirts it is.

For the past few summers, underwear-as-outerwear of the kind Wonder Woman wore has surpassed shorts on the ridiculous meter. Rihanna sported a flat-paneled pair with fishnets on Today recently, as did Beyoncé when she sent off Oprah. Like all trends, this one can be traced back to Lady Gaga, circa 2009 (which, like all other trends, can be traced back to Madonna, circa 1987). Shorts are no longer summer's biggest problem; pantslessness is.

These "performance panties" are confusing. On one hand, not wearing pants is pretty much about sex. But they're also high-waisted and granny-like, which speaks to demureness. Mostly, undie-shorts are one of those trends that are completely, comically divorced from the reality of people's lives: We're all getting heavier, but the shorts are getting smaller. Meanwhile, Marc Jacobs has tried to convince women to tuck their blouses into their tights - Any takers? Ladies? - and Dolce & Gabanna make floral pantaloons that resemble tiny clown pants. The former is a look I call "toddler's error" and the latter is really diapers, which brings us to infantilization.

In the book Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole, Benjamin R. Barber writes about "induced childishness" - i.e., how our post-capitalist society encourages adults to linger in an adolescence where false needs, easily sated with kiddie distractions like iPads and Playstations, abound. The satirical paper The Onion recently ran a piece with the headline Nation Down to Last 100 Grown-ups: "The endangered demographic, which is projected to die out completely by 2060, is reportedly distinguished from other groups by numerous unique traits, including foresight, rationality, understanding of how to obtain and pay for a mortgage, personal responsibility and the ability to enter a store without immediately purchasing whatever items they see and desire."

Now if you were trying to decide what to wear to the end of adulthood, surely it would be shorts. Shorts don't impart responsibility. Our grandparents probably didn't wear shorts, except to garden, play tennis or wage battle. Shorts became more common after the Second World War, when troops had fought in hot places (and of course the No. 1 rule of fashion is: Those in a war can wear what they want).

But for non-military women, infantilized clothing is dangerous. Advertising and media are already saturated with images of grown women playing Lolita, and Esquire has a monthly feature called Young Actresses With Teddy Bears and Fizzy Drinks On Their Faces. When you are the Second Sex, it's best to avoid any item of clothing that makes you look like you deserve to be taken less seriously (Nelly McClung didn't wear short shorts, but Snooki does).

To both sexes, if you must do shorts, make them tailored and avoid graffiti patterns or the cheek reveal. When faced with this age-old summer conundrum, though, perhaps the shorts answer is pants.

Follow on Twitter: @katrinaonstad

 

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