THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT
THIS SUMMER, ALL EYES ARE ON THE INSEAM, AS SHORTS ARE PRIMED FOR A CAUTIOUS COMEBACK AGAINST CAPRIS.

Byline: Rebecca Kleinman

With capri and cropped pants achieving “Supertrend” status, many buyers wonder what ever happened to shorts? Once a summer staple, above-the-knee lengths have been virtually absent from the market over the past few years. Summer deliveries promise their initial, though slight, revival, but whether to participate leaves manufacturers divided.
“I just see shorts as being more of a junior’s look, as in: You better have some good legs,” said David White, president and owner of Syrup Clothing Co., a young contemporary firm based in Los Angeles. Besides, you’re more confined to the places you can wear them, like the beach or gym. Capris are more versatile. You can wear them to work or out to a restaurant.”
Despite his overall opinion, White includes two pairs of shorts in his summer delivery, whereas last year’s had none. A small commitment, that number doesn’t compare to the amount of cropped and midlength pants, averaging three of the eight to 15 items per group.
Howard Sheer, president of New York-based New Frontier, is of the same opinion. Opting for no shorts at all, he reports his contemporary customer wouldn’t wear trendy HotPants and already owns her favorite pair of khaki shorts for the beach. “People won’t buy fine-quality shorts because they can get good quality at Gap or J. Crew at a lower cost,” said Sheer.
Speaking from experience, he tried the slim-cut “city short” last year, but it didn’t sell. This summer New Frontier focuses almost entirely on cropped looks, from a jean style with cuffs to a clean front with a fuller leg. “Women can get more use out of them. And except for high heels, they can be worn with any shoe. They’re comfortable, too, in the same way that sweaters have replaced jackets,” he explained.
Charmel Conti, president of New York-based Work Order, and Amy Dietrich, designer for New York-based & Trousers, are far more enthusiastic about offering a variety of updated shorts, reporting that they are definitely trending back in. Among their reasons, they list that pants are growing longer again and that customers are tired of capris and always wanted shorts, but couldn’t find them.
Though both have done shorts in the past, they expanded their selection for summer. Response has been excellent. According to Conti, Work Order is up 25 percent in bookings for shorts from last year. She also squashes the rumor that the misses’ or more mature markets prefer capris or cropped pants to shorts. “The success of shorter pants has more to do with petite women who don’t want to shorten their pants. We’ve always offered a group of shorts that are more missy, and those stores actually generated more business than my contemporary accounts,” said Conti.
Work Order devotes 20 percent of its summer bottoms to shorts, while & Trousers does around 25 percent. Just as in pants some years ago, shorts receive a huge makeover this season with all the same updated styles, fabrics and trimming. “The new looks are either long and slim or shorter. It’s not the pleated, in-between length anymore,” said Dietrich.
Describing summer’s hottest style as “flattering, modern and providing some coverage too,” she shows the long, slim look in bright solids like punch pink and leaf green and plaids like mango with yellow and strawberry with green. Fabrics range from denim to stretch cotton poplin or stretch twill with a sheen.
& Trousers also mixes in two styles that come to the upper thigh. A tennis-inspired pair in stretch poplin has a tab waist and pockets, whereas a stretch twill pair with belt loops and a frayed bottom takes its inspiration from the Eighties. “I think both will look cute with mules or sandals,” said Dietrich.
Work Order’s Conti calls her designs everything from preppy to feminine to sexy. Showing just as many prints on shorts as pants, she does a long, slim style in stripes, florals and plaids. Contrast stitching and cuffs are other trends that cross over into shorts.
On the shorter side, a basic hipster with a four-inch inseam could work well within the misses’ or contemporary markets. Other shorter styles are a five-pocket in solids and floral and geometric prints, a self-belted D-ring and a scoop pocket in all prints. According to Conti, the last, which has a 4 1/2-inch inseam, is a very strong body, along with any leather, self-belted look. “Things with novelty sell better. It seems that the trend is shifting from the bottom to the top of pants and shorts,” she said.
HotPants are the only trendy style missing from her collection, as well as from Dietrich’s. Conti feels that she can’t ship anything under a 3 1/2-inch inseam to her larger accounts, like Neiman Marcus and Anthropologie. The look is left to the young contemporary firms like BCBG Max Azria, which features versions in denim with studs and stretch denim, poplin and glitter twill, and Syrup, which does two in a plaid cotton spandex and in a dark denim embellished with studs or rhinestones.
Whether the miniskirt’s comeback will affect shorts sales, especially among younger customers who will consider HotPants, is also debatable. White predicts it will definitely affect the dressy shorts business, but not denim or other casual looks. For the most part, though, he considers each to serve a different purpose, lessening any real competition.
Conti and Dietrich don’t see the mini as a threat whatsoever, calling it just another option and even a hard sell. “Only people who are in shape can wear them, so it’s really more of a junior’s issue,” said Conti.
But no matter where they stand now, manufacturers agree on one thing: Across the board, shorter hemlines have just begun.

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