Denim Shorts That Won’t Ruin Your Life

A slew of shorts I’ve tried and a meditation on thighs

06.21.16

In what the medical profession-at-large calls a “failed attempt, luckily,” my eight-year-old self once tried to vacuum the fat out of my thighs with the detailing portion of a Bed, Bath & Beyond-brand imitation Hoover vacuum. I learned a few things in that moment: turning off electrically-powered machines before you call for help will solve whatever the issue was 80% of the time; the technical mechanics of a hickey; try as you might, there are certain things about yourself that you can’t “fix.”

My thighs have grown on and with me in age. They’ve tightened during my more athletic phases, loosened in many a winter season, jiggled during dances and runs and have expanded like melting puddles every time I’ve ever sat down. My thighs are loyal. Thick in width and thick as thieves. I am quite literally stuck with them.

God bless them or whatever — body positivity!!! — but they make shorts shopping impossible.

Cut-offs, for many women, are wardrobe staples. Part of the hot weather uniform. “So easy.” I, too, have always wanted to participate in their simplicity. But the problem was (and largely still is), they amputate my legs. Slice my fat right in half. No look is worth that pain. Still, I figured that there had to be a solution. Surely someone makes jorts that don’t cost a million a dollars, that aren’t so tight they can ruin an entire day.

So I went on the hunt. My thighs and I tried on least 35 cutoffs. (Shout out to Eliz for calling legit 40+ pairs in.) What I found: ten pairs that totally worked and of those ten, six that I felt completely relaxed and comfortable in — impressive considering that all you need is one, right? One perfect pair to wear until the very end of summer.

Good thing we’re still in the thick of it.

Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis; market research by Elizabeth Tamkin.

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  • This is why I avoid shorts. All of them. I prefer to hide my thighs (still haven’t reached that level of body positivity) under dresses and jeans.

    • Aydan

      I avoid shorts because I hate that they ride up and on my athletic thighs are too tight usually — but have you looked into linen shorts?? Yes, they tend to be a little longer, but the waist bands and the leg portions tend to be so comfortable that I’ve fully converted! I now only own one pair of jean shorts (I cut my dad’s old jeans) and a few linen shorts (in black, of course) that I am obsessed with!! (Aside: I’m much more of a shift dress or t dress in the summer kind of person — I hate wearing too tight clothing as I tend to sweat a TON)

  • You really look like someone who should wear (appropriate) shorts all the time 🙂

  • Maia

    The short shorts struggle is real (and chafing is possibly the most dire issue of our time, no exaggeration). I love the Levis Red Tabs, and you’re definitely making a strong case for reconsidering mid-length shorts via the AYR pair…

  • A few weks ago I was lying in bed, exhausted, doing something I shouldn’t have.

    You guessed correctly: I was shopping with my phone.

    Now, a few years ago I had bought a pair of Cheap Mondays so I wasn’t far from squeaking and jumping when I found a similar pair on my tiny display. Also: half the price! I completed the purchase there and then and slept blissfully afterwards.
    The next day I decided to check what I had bought on a real monitor. It certainly was a pair of Black Mondays, but they had knee slits. Knee slits!?!? WTF. I don’t do destroyed jeans and I had wanted for my knees to be covered … meh.

    Anyway, since they were cheap and since I liked the material I turned my stupidest purchase into a pair of shorts. The question is: an inch above the knees – yes or no? Remember, I am only pretending to be 37.

  • Kelsey

    Amelia, you’re such a babe. This article is fully responsible for causing me to break my 10 year shorts ban.

  • Beatrice

    Sooo pretty!! What are those tank tops also?? I was about to buy the white Levi’s red tab shorts until I spilled a glass of red wine on my white Levi jeans…. So now I’m using those as cut offs. Good luck, bad luck… Who knows…

  • If I’m ever in a fight to the death, my thighs would be the secret weapon. At all other times I have to live with the short/pant dilemma. Thank you for the key tips!

  • Sarah H.

    I really like Amelia. For some reason she gives me this nostalgic, sweet-make you want to bring your teacher an apple-kind of look.

    • Leandra Medine

      You’re gonna make her head hUGE!!!

  • Natty

    I bought the Levi’s “wedgie” shorts a size larger than usual and still experience ultimate camel toe asphyxiation when I sit down. I love what they do to the booty, but really wish I had gone up two sizes for sitting purposes!

  • Allie Fasanella

    i really appreciate this header, bc cutoffs totally ruin my life. you’re a queen and i wanna hug self conscious 8 year old you and rip that fucking vacuum out of your hands

  • Rachel

    I was just thinking about cutoffs on my way to work this morning, thank you for the timely article! But I’ve always thought a big part of the “so easy!” appeal of cutoffs was that it was a way to extend the life of your favorite pair of jeans? I tend to just take a pair of scissors to beloved jeans once they get those inevitable holes in the upper thigh and wait for the wash to do its fray magic. I love those J Brand ones though…

  • grace

    here, here. another shorts tip for our thick-thighed sisters: carry around a stick of gold bond friction defense at all times. i keep it in my bag and swipe it on my inner thighs before heading outside. solves a world of hurt.

    • Anna Kalmbach

      I do this too hahahahah

  • mollie blackwood

    I would also recommend Madewell’s cut-offs this year. I’ve struggled my entire life with shorts (I was a competitive gymnast growing up which equals short legs and bulky thighs forever). These are the first shorts I’ve loved: https://www.madewell.com/madewell_category/DENIMBAR/jeanshorts/PRDOVR~F1607/F1607.jsp

  • Haley Nahman

    Amelia you’re such a babe

  • Having spent all my allocated money on a Ref dress, I’m gonna follow your advice and tailor the damn waist on the pair I already own, then cut some slits in the sides and go to town distressing them until they sort of look like that fantastic 3×1 pair.

    Also Amelia, you look A+ in ALL of the shorts!

  • I like how you emphasized sizing up and then tailoring the waist. For some reason, I always size up and then just wear massive belts with my shorts which can be very impractical.

    • MT

      This is what I’ve often done, and is how I once left WHBM with three items, one each in sizes 6 (a-line dress), 10 (jeans), and 14 (shorts).

  • Jolie

    Because the chafe struggle is real and NYC requires me to walk everywhere, I avoid shorts so hard, even though I want a bajillion pairs like the ones in this article. Amelia, I’m living vicariously through you here — you look good af in all those shorts. I LOL’ed at “melting puddles”…that’s exactly how I feel when I sit down and my shorts somehow become denim underwear and my thighs grow bigger than the Grinch’s heart.

  • what a fun adventure. you look slammin’ in ’em all! you should wear shorts every day. to relate to the first paragraph a bit: i once took a hammer to my television thinking i could insert myself in the actual TV and be on Barney & Friends. I’m not saying my age, because I was too old.

  • Jen

    Denim shorts are my obsession! Highly recommend the redone “the short.” You can size up if you want them baggier or do your regular size if you want them a little tighter. They are SO flattering, especially from the back!

  • Anna Diane

    OMG someone who’s got the same thighs like me! Im kinda relieved now 😀 and you look A++++ in AAALL of them!!

  • Rachel Zuckerman

    In the words of my emoji keyboard…

  • MT

    I bought these from Target and they’re the best denim shorts I’ve bought in YEARS. They fit and are flattering on my large thighs and don’t cut into me when I sit down. 10/10 wuold wear in public and not just to the gas station.

  • BK

    SLIDE 6 THO, instant Tinder profile pic right there. Loving the white Levis Wedgies, I have a pair of white 501 cutoffs I found on etsy for !!!$30!!! And they are MINT so I’m glad you feel similarly. Warm regards, BK

    • BK

      Also, the title of this article reminds me of the Very Aggressive Slogan of Gob’s Banana Shack in Arrested Development:

  • Hannah Cole

    I bloody love your thighs Amelia – our thighs could be friends, and will love you for writing this article and giving them some non-killer options. xx

  • I’m feeling you with the thigh puddles! I will have to try some of these!

  • jt

    I was so hoping it was Amelia trying the shorts on when I read this!!! A++

  • Susan

    Details about the bodysuits? I know this post was showcasing the shorts but the bodysuits were extremely flattering!

    • Anna Kalmbach

      Agreed RE bodysuits!!!!

  • Vanessa

    I’m curious to see what the tailoring looks like with the buy larger/take in the waistband concept. Does the waistband get darts? Or do they take it apart and actually shorten it and apply a new button?

  • Jessica Peterson

    Next up, how to get your thighs and teensy waist. Thanks!

  • starryhye

    High fives for thick thighs! You look slammin’ in every pair, Amelia. For years, I never wore shorts. Granted I lived in the Pacific northwest, so it really wasn’t an issue. And then we moved to Arizona. In August. You really have little choice in clothing when the temps are 100+ degrees! It’s been a few years, and now IDGAF about my legs and rock short shorts all the time. Shout-out to my husband who loves when I show some leg! All of this to say, I find that shorter shorts are the most flattering on me. 2-2 1/2 inch inseam to be precise. Other than that my criteria is pretty loose. I have been curious about One Teaspoon’s shorts. A blogger I follow swears by them, but she’s skinny little thing, with thigh gap. Any one have some feedback for me on those??

    • sky

      thick thighs?! I would kill for these slender thighs . You haven’t seen thick thighs if this is what you call thick thighs .

  • Beth

    I’m a huge fan of cutoffs, but I am hating the denim diaper trend a la that Free People pair.

  • sky

    Um your legs look amazing ! And I would love too have the slender thighs you have . I’m surprised that so many are saying these are thick thighs. They’re not anorexic looking by any means which is a good thing. You have thighs; yes but thick, no. Either way you look phenomenal ! And thanks for modeling the shorts . Always needed for summer shopping.

  • Caro

    The “always short” by AYR are so fricken cute. I had a couple conversations about shorts with friends that ended with, “Are shorts even cute?” And i set it as my Facebook status to get more feedback. ………….. Oh my gosh, shorts are tough. Thanks for doing this work! They look really awesome. I’m a believer.

  • lj

    i love this – i never used to wear shorts due to my perceived thick thighs but now i live in miami so… also not sure that gap khaki capri pants were the look when i was a teen but that’s where self consciousness gets you. anyway, i think shorter shorts look awesome now and flaunt my stocky legs with pride!

  • Allie

    Where do you go to tailor your shorts!

  • This is extremely helpful. I am incredibly short so cut-offs make my legs look like tree trunks emerging from a denim base.

  • Stephanie Piccirilli

    Hi! I really enjoyed this article as a person with “thunder thighs” (if you will). I just thought I’d note that the pinned and patched shorts from Zara contain stollen designs from small artists such as Tuesday Bassen. If you want to support small artists who are constantly ripped off by major corporations, consider buying any of the other shorts and applying some pins of your own from Tuesday!!!

  • Hayley

    I managed to get a pair of re/done black denim cut-offs for $98 (on sale, with 20% off code). I ordered them 2 sizes larger than my normal size 30, and had the waist taken in, and they’re perfect. I may never leave the house without them again.