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Bermuda Shorts

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Bridges, July/August 2013

If you’re going to work most anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere right now, odds are you’re hot. And that discomfort particularly travels down your legs, which are covered in suit pants or—in a casual-dress-code environment—by dungarees that reach the ankle. But if you lived in a more enlightened culture—say Bermuda—you’d be free to bare your lower extremities, not only at work, but even in the most formal situations.

Ordinarily this British isle, near the warming Gulf Stream off the coast of North Carolina, is known for its stodgy demeanor, but in this one case it has an insouciant leg up on the rest of us. Bermuda didn’t invent shorts, but it sure popularized (and even regulated) them. First called “walking shorts,” the knee-length trouser style was developed by British soldiers in tropical climates. Expats in Bermuda adopted the Khyber-Pass look as mufti, not only for casualwear, but as business attire. Vacationing Yanks in the 1950s marveled at the sight of short pants paired with a tie and jacket—or in the extreme a full tuxedo kit—and brought the style home, dubbing them “Bermuda shorts.”

Of course, as with anything Bermudian, there was a certain structure to the look as practiced on the island—which was accordingly ignored in the United States. At one time length was legally mandated, and police could give you a ticket for wearing shorts hemmed higher than six inches above the knee on city streets. But that stat actually leaves a wide berth. More in keeping with the style is one to three above the patella. These are not gym shorts, after all, nor are they overlong clam diggers, nor baggy cargo shorts.

In America, they’ve morphed into something like the preppy go-to-hell pants with wild prints and embroidered whales and lobsters. On the Island, its more restrained although bright colors are favored, and the idea is to contrast—not match—your jacket. This last bit of protocol may seem a bit self-defeating: they are worn with knee socks and dress shoes, not sneakers (although in the States it is forgiven—especially in the WASP-iest corridors—to wear no socks at all).

Sadly, the traditional local purveyor of Bermuda shorts—Triminghams—was shuttered eight years ago, but many shops on Front Street in the capital, Hamilton, will happily fit you with a pair of proper shorts.

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