Do Perfect Denim Shorts Exist?


The denim short, like the pant, has various iterations: high-waisted, low-riding, frayed, hemmed, destroyed, cuffed, cropped, etc. At its sexiest, the denim short looks like an adult diaper: short, waist-hugging, form-fitting, slightly bulky, and rolling at its edges. Coachella being the one and only reference point you need for that look.

Because of this, the denim short implores not a perfect fit, but instead, a perfect body. A quick image search quickly devolves. Suddenly, the shorts don’t matter, only your waist-to-hip ratio, thigh circumference, and the overwhelming desire to hurl your computer across the room. Ironic, considering denim is the nation’s most democratic fabric!

But unlike diapers, denim cannot be pulled or pinned to fit. You’re at its maker's mercy and that maker often has no mercy (especially if that maker doesn't worship at the alter of at least 2 percent lycra). That, and there are just so many moving parts here to perfect: fabric, wash, pattern, pocket placement. Of all the final permutations, 90 percent of the time it fits horribly.

Shopping for denim is like deciphering Big Data: enough to make you cry with “ no universally applicable solutions.” Shopbop has 1,246 “jean” items. Nordstrom, 1,693. Combined, they have 283 denim shorts. And you really only need one pair. Still, we continue the search. Like leather jackets, biker boots, or kaftans, the denim short confers a feeling and mood, communicating the type of person you—if not are—would like to be. “We might say that denim is an honest fabric—substantial, forthright, and unpretentious,” according to the magazine American Fabrics. The denim short is freedom, function, and form folded into one.

The perfect short will function similarly to a well-fitting undergarment: It will hold and hew (never pinch or cut) the body. It is easy to slip into and out of. You will forget you’re not naked.

Given it’s a seasonal item, the perfect denim short will facilitate what your bodily mechanics desire and summer demands: high kicks, somersaults, eating at barbecues, sitting cross-legged, running out of pure elation. It will never be uncomfortable, make you feel bad, or ride up before reaching 10 paces.

I found my perfect pair unexpectedly laying on a couch covered with clothing at a closet swap. For good reason. Slightly stone washed and un-distressed, to see the short in person is to see “ Mom Jeans” or a Home Improvement reel in your mind. This is not an “arranged on the wood floor with some products purely posed for Instagram' piece of clothing. Off the body, they are truly hideous.

Still, I took them, slipped into an empty bedroom, and slid out of my pants and into the shorts. They required no jumping. The zipper hugged and the button held. I could fit three fingers at the waist and thigh. I could high-kick, cross my legs, and pace comfortably. Standing before friends for a final judgment, there was a perceptible and collective sigh suggesting maybe that’s perfection: when something appears universally repulsive except when it’s on you.

—Alexis Cheung

Photographed by Emily Weiss. You know what looks great with jean cutoffs? Bathing suits. Read about five of those here.