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So why aren’t shorts routine workwear when it’s sweltering?

PUBLISHED: 12:58 06 August 2018 | UPDATED: 12:58 06 August 2018

From House of Fraser: Boston chino shorts by Howick, navy, £35; striped shirt by Turner and Sanderson, £40, or special offer four for £100; sandals by Howick £12 (were £25)   Picture: SHERIDAN SMITH

From House of Fraser: Boston chino shorts by Howick, navy, £35; striped shirt by Turner and Sanderson, £40, or special offer four for £100; sandals by Howick £12 (were £25) Picture: SHERIDAN SMITH

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The clothes are great. Sadly, I have the body of Shrek...

A 21st Century work combo from Timberland: Straight fit dark-grey shorts with blue patterned cuff, £70; long-sleeve slim-fit shirt, pale blue, £70; classic boat shoe in navy, £105 Picture: SHERIDAN SMITHA 21st Century work combo from Timberland: Straight fit dark-grey shorts with blue patterned cuff, £70; long-sleeve slim-fit shirt, pale blue, £70; classic boat shoe in navy, £105 Picture: SHERIDAN SMITH

James Easter and I haven’t talked in 23 years, but we pick up where we left off. The debate’s the same as 1995, when the UK was roasting: Why isn’t a nice pair of shorts default clothing for the male British worker when we have a heatwave, instead of those so-hot long trousers?

The ex-businessman is a champion of the smart pair of shorts. With a long career in the travel industry, he’s been all over the place and seen how much of the world isn’t so stick-in-the-mudish – especially a nation such as Australia.

Back in ’95, to illustrate the article I was writing about dressing to suit the weather, he willingly put on crisply-pressed shorts, some nice shoes and shirt, an Aussie-style hat and posed gamely in Ipswich town centre for pictures.

He hasn’t changed his mind: We can look smart and keep cool at the same time, and more of us should be doing so, when the sun keeps shining.

“I’ve just come back from America,” he says. “We were in Vegas and it was 44C and the staff in the hotel – very swish – were all done out in shirts, nice short-sleeved shirts, and looked incredibly smart.”

Here, “in big offices, as long as they’re smart, I don’t see any reason why people can’t wear shorts. Just don’t go to big sports shops and get horrible, cheap, cotton grey shorts…”

Staff often wear shorts in Australian banks. “They’re called walking shorts, and are tailored.” Men would commonly dress in shorts complemented by a smart pair of deck shoes and a neat short-sleeved shirt. Why not de rigueur in England too? James muses. “The quality of short-sleeve shirts these days is far above what it was 20 years ago, and very smart.” Things have changed; why not take the next sensible step? “There are no offices I’m aware of these days where there’s a rule you have to wear jackets. And what a useless piece of clothing the tie is!”

To glimpse what could be my future, I head for the intu Chapelfield mall in Norwich to look at shorts, shirts and shoes that could cut a stylish dash as workwear.

Jonathan Hamblyn, at River Island, suggests a pair of dazzling white shorts with a belt. Picture: SHERIDAN SMITHJonathan Hamblyn, at River Island, suggests a pair of dazzling white shorts with a belt. Picture: SHERIDAN SMITH

And the clothes at House of Fraser, Timberland and River Island are lovely. The only thing wrong is the body they adorn.

A model I am not (unless it’s for Shrek, maybe). It takes rare skill to stand at the end of a row of mannequins and look easily the most wooden of the group, but I have that talent. Sheridan Smith’s photographs together amount to about 60MB – 55MB of which must be my stomach. Note to self: Take out gym membership. And go.

Meanwhile, at Timberland, the shorts-wearing Jonathan Burrell is practising what he preaches. “When I was 18, 19, the thought of wearing a suit for work was quite appealing, but when you start work, you realise it’s more about comfort. We can make shorts look smart,” he says.

What’s the trick, if we want to wear them for work and not just during leisure time?

“I think they have to fit well. If you’re going to wear cargo shorts, you can’t really make those look smart. I think it has to be tailored shorts – and what you wear for the rest of the outfit. “You can wear the nicest shorts ever, but if you wear a vest top or a T-shirt you’re going to dumb it down a little bit. If you wear a shirt, and nice shoes, I don’t see it any different than wearing trousers, to be honest.”

Length? “Just above the knee would be good.”

Shorts are commonplace among staff in retail and coffee shops, and Jonathan doesn’t see why smart styles shouldn’t be more prevalent in offices. Another Jonathan – Hamblyn, over at River Island – agrees.

“Chino shorts with belts, and shirts and soft loafers, are really smart and definitely something I would encourage people to wear in the office. Women can go to work and wear skirts and be perfectly smart, and it’s the same for men.

“If you look at Italian fashions, especially, they incorporate a lot of tailored shorts into their everyday wardrobe. I think we can definitely learn from them.”

There’s never been more inspiration so readily to hand. Social media is playing a major role, with a lot of fashion pictures posted on Instagram and websites.

“You can search for #shorts or #smart shorts city and you’re inundated with hundreds of images of ways to wear shorts. Websites can literally tailor an outfit around something you like.

“I definitely think it’s (shorts-wearing in more formal settings) more acceptable and has changed a lot.”

It chimes with James Easter’s view. He points out that postal workers and delivery drivers often wear shorts these days, as sartorial traditions and attitudes evolve.

“You’ve only got to look at what people say for funerals these days: wear something bright – a bright tie or a funny hat. It’s a celebration. It’s only our country that seems very staid.”

He laughs: “We live in eternal hope that the police and the taxman will one day wear shorts in the office.”

So it’s too hot to work, right?

“There is a myth there’s a maximum temperature in which people can’t work. There isn’t,” says Nova Fairbank, public affairs manager with Norfolk Chamber of Commerce.

“The temperature needs to be appropriate for your industry. So it will account for the fact some people are working in smelting works, and that’s going to be mega-hot all the time.”

That said, “Employers need to do as much as they can, because the hotter it gets, the less motivated your staff are; the less productive your staff are. So: Fans, cold drinks, ice-lollies, appropriate workwear.

“The one bit of advice I’d give to them (employers) is be flexible and accommodate where possible. It’s not an unreasonable request for men to ask not to wear a tie and potentially come in in their shorts.”

Where does she stand on the Great Debate? It all seems to come back to that word “appropriate”. “What’s wrong with men wearing short as long as they’re smartly dressed? Something that’s smart, just above the knee, and teamed with a non-casual short… what’s wrong with that?”

That said, staff do need to think about the context of what it is they are doing and consider if what they are wearing is sensible. “If you are interviewing for a job, you shouldn’t really be wearing shorts. It comes down to common sense.”

Seems to me that while attitudes might be changing, there’s still no easy rule of thumb. We have to make those regular judgments about what we are doing and how we dress for the part.

“It’s appropriateness and mindfulness, and respect for the person you’re going to be talking to.” Sounds a good yardstick.

So can I see myself ever wearing shorts to the office (assuming I can squeeze into them?) Ummh… I like the shorts, I like the shirts, and I do melt quicker than a snowflake in Dubai. But I’m old-skool enough to feel safer in a suit. Heavens, I still feel the need to put a tie on, some days, even though it’s ridiculous, because it lends that little extra bit of confidence.

One day, maybe. Got to hit the gym first…

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