Short stories: Unraveling Cropped Pants' Place in Pop Culture

Short stories: Unraveling Cropped Pants' Place in Pop Culture

By Rex Pachuta

Imagine: pants. Every season of the year, every day of the week, rain or shine, leg-wear was simply limited to full-length trousers.

As ludicrous as it may seem now, that was the reality of our forefathers. Of course, a shorts-less way of life wouldn’t last forever. The Second World War brought the Bermuda shorts, a style that sits just above the knee, named for soldiers stationed in — you guessed it — the British colony of Bermuda, to keep cool during long hours of physical activity in a sweltering tropical climate.

Shorts wouldn’t sit at the knee for long. Soon, shorter styles would be incorporated into formal business attire for men, and further popularized on the court, field and track by sportsmen. Within the decade they eclipsed their masculine origins, and elevated some of the century’s biggest stars into immortal sex symbols. From Daisy Dukes to Elton John’s teeny-tiniest hot pants, we’re charting the most memorable shorts’ sightings (get it?) in pop culture history.

Marilyn’s accessible (and active!) pin-up girl 

Marilyn Monroe posing at home plate with a baseball bat in high wasted shorts.

In perhaps one of the most iconic movie stills of all time, Marilyn Monroe’s flaring halter dress lifted up to reveal a pair of matching white hot pants — a style that would prove fundamental to her ‘California girl’ closet over time. High-waisted hot pants would soon become a late ‘50s must-have as hemlines rose higher — the perfect accompaniment to the rising sexual liberation of the swinging ‘60s. Never forget Southwest Airlines, who, after incorporating hot pants into their uniforms, made their motto: “sex sells seats.”

Move over mini skirts

Elizabeth Taylor wearing daisy applique white shorts and matching top leaving airport

While shorts had risen through the ranks to become a highly desirable form of leisurewear, they were mostly deployed for just that: leisure. When it came to a night on the town, women still defaulted to skirts and dresses — both of which were growing shorter. Then came Elizabeth Taylor. Just as the obsession with itsy bitsy minis was reaching full-tilt, the Hollywood icon touched down in London’s Heathrow Airport in a pair of daisy applique white shorts and boots to match. Needless to say, the possibilities of shorts as formalwear in the modern woman’s wardrobe became limitless. 

Denim’s final frontier with Daisy Duke

A still from the show Dukes of Hazard, showing Daisy Duke wearing her namesake cut-off shorts

Where might we be without the 1980s series, The Dukes of Hazzard? Certainly not in denim cutoffs, that’s for sure. While many hit television shows can be credited with inspiring long-running fashion trends, few create characters whose name coins a decade-spanning style. Ultra-tight denim cut-offs have been known as ‘Daisy Dukes,’ after DoH’s eponymous lead, for nearly half a century and their popularity as a summer go-to among all genders is yet to wane. 

Elton John’s blurred lines

Elton John wearing red and white striped short shorts with a blue top emblazoned gold stars on stage at a performance.

Shorts had been long-established as the style of choice for festival goers, but they still rarely graced the stage on male artists. That is until, of course, Elton. A tank-top-short-shorts aficionado, the singer was particularly partial to outlandish patterns and barely breathable designs. Most memorable were his patriotically striped belted pair, worn in 1976 at Madison Square Garden.

Cindy Crawford and the cut-offs 

Cindy Crawford wearing jean shorts and white tank top in a still from a 90's Pepsi commercial.

While Daisy Dukes had already spent a good decade at the forefront of fashion, supermodel Cindy Crawford’s rise to fame propelled the style to new heights. In the early ‘90s, she’d arrive on set for her Pepsi commercial in Levis 501s and after multiple wardrobe changes, the costume designers asked to cut the jeans she arrived in. The rest, as they say, was history. 

Of course, shorts would go on to weather the ever-turning tides of fashion’s trend cycle for many years. They moved into uncharted territory with the baggy cargos, shrunk into near non-existence with the low-waisted fad and even hybridized with skirts. Throughout many different manias, shorts have proved a steadfast ally in keeping us cool — connecting the dots between athletic apparel and streetwear, from the beach to the BBQ to the bar.

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