But now as adults, when given the option between a pencil skirt and the short, we’ve opted for the latter, in full keeping with our youth-obsessed culture: Guitar Hero! Fully waxed pubic regions! Comic-book heroes!
When the short makes an appearance in pop culture—think Jodie Foster’s trampy hot pants paired with a belly-exposing floral shirt and wide brimmed hat in Taxi Driver; Sissy Spacek wearing those teeny white shorts alongside the James Dean-ish Martin Sheen in Badlands; and Heather Graham as Roller Girl in Boogie Nights, rolling around the disco floor in those titillating shorts that exposed the lower half of her bum—it is often a symbol of adolescence and purity.
A citywide refusal to enter adulthood might also explain the reemergence of the cutoffs: those worn-in shorts cut from vintage Wrangler or Levi’s jeans commonly found on the long-legged models riding vintage bicycles around our streets. (See Agyness Deyn, Kate Moss.)
Even this street style is not safe from the high-end retailers. Scoop offers a cutoff short made from vintage jeans by a brand called What Comes Around Goes Around for $165; Intermix carries a pair of Elizabeth and James suspender cutoffs for $275—a long way from a pair of $9 Wranglers widely available at the city’s thrift stores.
“It looks adorable if it’s a little baggy, if it looks like you borrowed your boyfriend’s jeans and chopped them off and has that look of carelessness and use,” said Sally Singer, fashion news and features editor of Vogue. “It’s the look of teenage life in the ’70s when there wasn’t much fashion around and you just chopped off your jeans and had a Big Gulp at 7-Eleven. But it’s also unforgiving and it certainly helps to be a model.”
Ms. Singer argued that shorts are not really news. “What is new is the profusion of funny pants on the runway,” she said. “The droopy crotch, I Dream of Genie type of number that blurs the line between skirt, pant and odd object—that have made the Bermuda or the abbreviated clam digger suddenly seem very neat and tailored.”
Not every woman, in any case, is willing to revisit her childhood wardrobe. “Those short shorts on women not in their teens….” mused Miriam Molnar, a 37-year-old freelance writer. “They really don’t look good.”