The Blog

Short Cuts

Summer brings a brief tragedy for men's wear. Sadly, for runners the situation is even more revealingly terrible.

12:00 AM, Jul 10, 2003 • By DAVID SKINNER
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EVERY SUMMER, I come upon the same discovery. Hot weather makes women more beautiful and men more ugly. The former discard layers to reveal a natural loveliness of soft, interconnected curves, while the latter do the same to reveal their top-heavy bodies teetering on grotesquely disproportionate legs. And blame for male summertime ugliness, as I conclude year after year, lies largely with shorts.

No item of clothing is so disfiguring to the male form as shorts--although properly understood, shorts are actually an interruption or an abridgement of clothing. Whereas pants (nice ones anyway) introduce a softly graded line between the midsection and the feet, shorts dismiss the line to bare unseemly hair, untanned skin, underused desk-jockey muscles, and the uncertain, buckled structure of kneecaps. Visually, unpantsed male (and some female) legs are to pantsed legs as a plucked chicken is to its living and squawking formerly-feathered self.

One hesitates to say anything nearing agreement with such clothing-as-cover fanatics as the Islamo-fascists who consider our wonderful country a scourge upon the earth, but when it comes to men's legs, my only thought is, please, show some modesty! Sons, fathers, grandfathers, one generation as knobby and shameless as the next--they ride with me on the Metro, they march in and out of the roadstop restrooms on I-95, barely pausing to wash their hands, tacky tourists in their comical sunglasses and cheesy 3-for-$10 T-shirts. And, of course, their hideous, hide-revealing shorts. Except for the fanny pack, no clothing article or accessory so offends my eyes.

Yet I wear shorts myself, for comfort in hot weather and to go running. And lately, I've a had a lot of trouble finding a decent pair of running shorts. One pair I already own, made by Reebok, are actually just right: short, but not obscene; lightweight; and perfectly comfortable for my underachieving running schedule of a few miles at a time, a few times a week. When I went to the Reebok Outlet store to see if I could snag another pair or two, the salesman ushered me to a pair of longer, form-fitting shorts, seemingly designed to advertise the wearer's progenitive capacity. "These are running shorts?" I asked. "Yes," he told me, unpersuasively. "Do you have any others?" "Only women's."

It used to be that the problem with being a runner is that you might look like this guy. Pathetic, like most men in the summertime, but that's about it. More recently, the job of buying decent shorts was made harder by the long-short fashion introduced by skateboarders and adopted by basketball outfitters, though in a wide-leg style. These are impossible to run in, though I applaud the unintended effect of covering great stretches of manleg that would otherwise look like so many links of uncooked turkey sausage. But now the difficulties of being a runner are mounting even further as sports apparel companies labor under the impression that you might want to look, as the kids say, hot.

Fortunately, there are specialty stores. And after visiting one here in Washington this afternoon, Fleet Feet (a national chain) I found several pairs short enough to run in, but loose enough to save me from getting arrested for flashing. I had, until now, avoided such vendors because they charge more for what are simple articles of clothing. But since the more general athletic stores have decided their product lines should be cool and sexy instead of functional, I can't see that I have much choice. One shouldn't have to stay away from big sporting-goods chains to buy a pair of running shorts, but one does. As always, things that are simple, but nice, are so much harder to find.

The middle ground between fat and formless shorts that hang well below the knees and skin-tight crotch panties is shrinking. Indeed, the latest thing in runner fashion is actually the Speedo-style super-brief running brief. But you wouldn't catch me dead in such skivvies. I'd sooner walk--in which case, I can wear pants.

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.