Some badly needed real talk about wearing a short suit to the office

Scotiabank employees: we’d “be sent home immediately” for showing up in a short suit

Pharrell Williams at the 2014 Oscars in a short suit

Musician Pharrell Williams and Helen Lasichanh attend the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty)

Singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams wore one to this year’s Oscars. J. Crew recently added four different kinds to its collection of suits. Esquire, GQ, and the New York Times have all weighed in. but can the “short suit” go from Hollywood red carpet and retailers’ catalogues to men’s wardrobes and the corporate office?

The “short suit” is exactly what it sounds like: everything above the belt is business as usual—sport coat over a button-down shirt and sometimes a tie or bowtie—but below the belt, the trousers are chopped off just above the knees leaving one’s legs exposed and more emphasis put on the shoes.

This latest trend in menswear seems to be getting a real push from retailers for the summer season. J. Crew is offering the short suit as part of its Ludlow suit collection with price tags starting at US$400.  Other retailers jumping on the trend include Topman (US$390), Asos (US$286) and Reiss (US$500), according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

One retailer that isn’t rushing to stock the short suit: Harry Rosen. “Short suits are not something we are considering,” said Adam Martin, a buyer for the Canadian retailer’s designer collections.  So, will anybody actually wear one to the office? Martin doesn’t think so. “It’s not a look, we believe, many Canadian men want to pull off,” he said in an email.

I wanted to get an answer straight from the horse’s mouth. So, last Friday afternoon I went down to the intersection of King and Bay streets in Toronto to conduct a highly scientific survey of passersby on whether they would consider wearing the short suit to the office.  Of the 17 men I polled in one hour, only three of them said they would consider wearing it to the office. “I think there’s a big shift that has to happen, especially in the Bay Street area to allow me to be able to wear something like that,” said one lawyer who said he would consider wearing the short suit. “It’s very non-classical, and I like being a little bit different and I don’t hate my legs, so I could show them off.”

A majority of the voters worked in finance and banking, with a few working at law firms. Two Scotiabank employees said they wouldn’t be wearing the short suit to the office. When I asked what would happen if somebody showed up to their workplace wearing the ensemble? “They’d be sent home immediately.”

Another banker, who said he would consider wearing the short suit to the office, noted one important reason some men might be hesitant to start hacking away at their trousers: leg hair. “There’s something about the leg hair people don’t want to see,” he said. He might be on to something. The New York Times ran a piece in March about the men-in-shorts trend. One publicist cited in the article said that if somebody is going to wear the short suit then body-hair issues need to be considered:

“You either have to have a very even coat, be fortunate enough to be hairless or shave,” James LaForce said. “Some of us are the triple threat: shiny brown muscle hairless legs. But some of us are the opposite: a triple handicap, which is pasty stick legs with hair-pattern issues.”

Another reason men might not be adding the short suit to their wardrobe: It makes them look like a schoolboy. “For me, the short suit reminds me of a school boy uniform. That’s not a statement many men are keen to emulate,” Martin said. But the buyer for Harry Rosen fully supports wearing shorts and a sport jacket, “There’s a difference between the short suit and wearing shorts and a sports jacket. The latter we fully advocate,” he says. “Depending on the occasion, dress-shorts, a shirt and a sport jacket or blazer is a great option as the weather warms.”

If the short suit doesn’t cut it for the air-conditioned confines of your workplace, you might want to consider wearing it to other functions this summer like a casual wedding. “Wearing shorts with a sport jacket is perfect summer attire for a gentleman attending a casual—emphasis on casual—summer garden wedding, going out on a date, or out to dinner,” Martin says. In fact, one man I surveyed, who vetoed the idea of wearing the short suit to the office, said he would consider wearing it to a wedding—something he was planning to do over the weekend.

If you’re thinking of wearing shorts and a sports jacket, a piece of advice from the folks at Harry Rosen: Keep the look clean and simple. “Ditch the tie and opt for an open-neck shirt and a pocket square for some personality,” Martin said.