Are Shorts at Work Ever Appropriate? No One Agrees...

Fashion is subjective, and not just the artistic designer clothes you see in glossy magazines. What you're wearing today might make you cringe 10 years from now when you flip through your photo album. To be accurate, when you flip through your Facebook photo albums on your featherweight glass tablet. Take a look around at the people walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant and you can probably find a few things wrong with what they're wearing. A yellow shirt that used to be white. Socks with sandals. Pajama Jeans.

Still, when the oppressive summer heat rolls into town each summer, the fashion world and real life once again collide. Workers, dripping in sweat on their morning commutes, wonder, "Can we wear shorts to the office?"

While workplaces usually have their own wardrobe guidelines, many employers leave specifics up to individuals. The hope is that workers can use common sense. Of course, not everyone's definition of common sense is the same, so inevitably someone wears a Van Halen shirt to an important conference and suddenly everyone's forced to wear a uniform. Then no one's happy as they walk around in their white and beige clothes five days a week.

And suddenly everyone is a fashionista with an opinion. Some people think shorts are never acceptable in the workplace. Others think it's fine if you work in a zoo or sporting goods store, but not if you work at a law firm. Then you have some people - including many southerners who consider a "cool" day any day that doesn't reach 115 degrees - who believe any wardrobe that prevents overheating is essential.

Because fashion is subjective and every workplace has its own guidelines, no one person can give a definitive "yes" or "no" answer to the question. Tom Ford, king of fashion, thinks men should never, ever wear shorts. Yet designer Thom Browne thinks you can wear shorts as part of a suit. If those two can't settle the issue, then we're not going to cast a vote.

Instead, we took to Facebook and Twitter to ask you, the workers and career experts, what you think about shorts in the workplace. It sounds like a silly topic at first, but people feel passionately about it. To some people it's a workplace sin; to others it would make them much more comfortable for 40 hours each week. The responses were adamant and abundant. Here are a few of our responses:

First we have the yeas.

"Yes yes yes." – Pam Richardson

"It's OK unless you want people to pass out from heat stroke." - Patrick P.

"I had the great fortune to work for 17 years at two amazing companies that allowed shorts at work. Apple Computer and Hewlett-Packard. I feel that employees should be allowed to wear shorts providing that they look nice, (no cut-off jeans) and a nice polo/dress shirt (no ratty looking T-shirts). Of course if you are in a sales/marketing or high level executive position you might want to continue with the standard business dress until the rest of the world catches up." - Gary K.

"You'll miss a lot of parcels if you refuse to let the UPS guy in shorts in the front door." - Gail C.

"I work at a university, so our dress code is very relaxed. I pretty much wear whatever I want to work. I figure if they want me to wear long pants then they will provide me with a clothing allowance so I can purchase them." - Kevin L.

"I would love to wear shorts to work, but it's such a taboo thing – and I don't know why? Shorts can be professional too!" - Corey H.

"Ummm, I'm wearing them right now. They are professional and very suitable for work. Promise." - Tamera D.

Now, the nays.

"NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" - Charlotte W. [Note: Extra Os and ! included to preserve Charlotte's passionate tone.]

"In HR and I say nope, if it's in a professional business setting office. 'Why?' you ask. To cut down on issues in the long run because all it takes is one person not to know what 'nice' shorts means or what 'professional length' means, etc." - Amber T.

"No. The best is business casual or dress down Friday. But not shorts." - Jan S.

"No shorts to work. Not even when worked in Mohave Desert at [135+] degrees." - Rose B.

"Nope not professional. I think ladies can wear dresses, and men should go for short sleeved shirts and lightweight pants."- Tracey S.

"If companies allowed it, I think people would do it. There are some very nice, almost prof. looking shorts out there." - Stella N.

And then the "Well, it depends..."

"It depends on the workplace, and if you meet with outside clients." - Jeff F.

"Not at the office, but at a construction [site] – like where I work – would be appropriate." - Steve C.

"Shorts (mid-thigh) are OK for delivery people who are often out in the heat of the day, in the summer. Inside an office they are not appropriate. Unless 'skorts' make a comeback (knee length split skirts) women should never wear them to work!" - Stephanie B.

"The appropriate shorts for the office are ones that are cut just below the knee or longer. They should not be of denim. It should be the shorts version of dress pants." - Andra G.

"It depends on how much you deal with the public, or how much the public sees that half of you. I work in fast food; the public only sees us 90 percent of the time from the waist up. For this reason shorts are permitted but with guidelines on length, color, and material. Besides standing in front of three ovens all day gets hot. I for one don't like sorts and don't wear them though." - Andrew O.

"For FedEx, cops and U.S. Post Office." - Laura G.

"I work for a commercial insurance company in Boston. Wearing shorts at work is definitely dependent upon the nature of the business. In professional settings it would depend whether you meet clients in your office or not. We have an appropriate policy which allows for shorts only on Fridays during the summer season unless you have a client meeting that day. Shorts do have to be appropriate in length and style. After the summer season we can wear jeans on Fridays only. Other than that we are business casual." - David F.

"Some places don't allow shorts or some summer weight pants in order to maintain a professional environment. I can appreciate this concept except during this intense heat." - Jennifer M.

Meanwhile, over at our sister Twitter account, @CBforEmployers, Amy wondered, "Shorts... what about JORTS? #kidding #maybe" And with that tweet, she proved why companies have strict dress codes. First it's shorts, then jorts (also known as jean shorts), then Jams, and then garbage bags with arm holes cut in them.

We gave you our six guidelines for summer wardrobes, which are good rules to abide by for many workplaces. But that doesn't mean they work for every single job and industry. Share your thoughts on wearing shorts to work. Is it a yes, no, or depends kind of situation for you?

Next: The Worst Summer Work Wear Offense Is...

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I think it's stupid that in RETAIL, you can't wear shorts. If I have to go out in 100 degree weather, you're d*mn right I want to wear shorts. Do employers just figure, " can we make our employees MORE sweaty? hmm..."
Ridiculous rule when it comes to standing at a checkout line, running around the store all day, or going outside to load items, bring carts in, etc. The worst is having to go out and bring in all the carts, then go BACK to your checkout station, dripping sweat because you're wearing pants and they don't schedule help for outside duties. No reason to not allow khaki shorts. What's funny is both girls and guys will wear tight pants that show off areas of their body that many don't WANT to see, and that's fine, but shorts aren't.

Okay, rant over.

July 31 2015 at 12:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Once, years ago, when "dress" jeans were fashion out of the office, my boss wore very nice Levis or Wranglers to work with a nice sport shirt or polo. One day I asked him if it would be okay if I work jeans. Now I am not a fashionista but I do know how to dress in any situation. He realized this and told me it would be okay. So the next day, I wore designer jeans, pressed, and a nice silk blouse. He said I looked fine. So sure enough the next day one of the other girls in the office came in wearing the typical jeans that younger people wear. Her pants were Levis off the ranch look. Totally unlike what the boss had meant. So needless to say, that ended the jeans in the work place.

July 26 2011 at 3:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Jere and Sharon

Thom Browne says you can wear shorts as part of a suit. He might consider himself a fashion designer, but most of the garbage those guys come up with never make it to the street anyway. Why is he considered better at choosing what we wear than any one else.?? Have you ever seen any of that stuff that comes down the runway in a fashion show worn out in public??? I bet not.

July 26 2011 at 2:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Clothing does make a difference. Having worn a suit and tie every day of my teaching career placed me as the teacher rather than "one of the kids." Wearing that suit commanded respect and brought control for an excellent learning environment. I can recall a new teacher complaining that he could not control his class. I said, a change in what you wear may work. He took the earring out of his ear, wore a pair dress slacks, a collared shirt, a tie, and soon after told me it worked. Our society has become too casual. I prefer to do business with those who look and act profession. I prefer to be addressed as Mr. with my last name. I am not a social friend so my business dealings need to be professional. It all starts with the clothing and the attitude that goes along with professional dress. Casual clothes and a casual attitude will not get my business.

July 26 2011 at 2:43 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Mark Lathom

It depends where you work, if you call your place of work "The Shop" or "The Job Site" it's probably ok to wear shorts. If you refer to it as "The Office" it's probably not ok to wear shorts. Then again record breaking heat waves should also be taken into consideration by the employers. I'm starting to compemplate bringing a 2nd set of clothes for as soon as I step outside so i don't sweat up my nice offfice clothes.

July 26 2011 at 2:32 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

It depends on what kind of job you have. At the airport the people at the outside baggage check in wear shorts and I see no problem with that, especially during Summer her in So. Cal. where it can be very warm outside. But for most jobs, no, I dont think shorts are appropriate. When I worked in a corporate office I never dressed down even on Casual Fridays, I found that even on those days you would be in contact with the higher ups and it just looked nicer and much more professional to be dressed well, and you never knew when a surprise meeting would take place.

July 26 2011 at 2:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If men would do like they do in the Caribbean and wear dress shorts with a coat, dress shirt, necktie, and long socks, then they might be acceptable. Short of that, no.

On the other hand, get why shorts are inappropriate for women, while mini-skirts are. If shorts come down to the knee, they ought to be permitted.

July 26 2011 at 1:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In my opinion one who does not have a sense of professionalism, ethics, self-respect along with the knowledge that the clothing one wears is the initial representation of the "human" wearing such.

This current attitude across the USA for ages 20 to 40 is lacking sophistication to say the least.

July 26 2011 at 1:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I work in a hospital and I have to say, I'm opposed to people wearing shorts. Many do not know what is appropriate and what isn't. Dress codes are put in place to maintain decorum and professionalism. One can keep cool inside a building with appropriate weight clothing. Tight T shirts, ripped pants, flip flops, shorts, skorts whatever- some people look like they're heading out for a night in a bar rather than a day at work. Donna - professionalism is NOT an attitude in all cases and I'm not living in the stone age. You do not need a lot of money to dress well, you just need to look in a mirror.

July 26 2011 at 1:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Shorts are fine at work....professionalism is an attitude, not what you wear...some of you folks need to get your head out of the stone age.

July 26 2011 at 12:26 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Donna's comment

Would you rather meet your lawyer while he's wearing a polo shirt and shorts or a dark suit, white shirt, and power tie?

Let me tell you about shopping for my wife's engagement ring. If I went to a jewelry store wearing a ski jacket, jeans, topsiders, and a collegiate sweatshirt (from an elite school), I was shown poor quality diamonds while hearing about the 4 Cs.

If I went into a store during my lunch hour while wearing a dark suit, white shirt, power tie, and blue wool overcoat, the sales associate would pull out the high-quality, expensive stones, and he or she would remark that I probably understood the 4 Cs and would skip over that.

Clothes do give off a sense of professionalism and power, and people should learn to use clothes to their advantage.

July 26 2011 at 1:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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