There are many uncomfortable things I will do for fashion. I’ll wear tiny sunglasses even though they don’t protect my eyes from the sun. I’ll wear high heels even though they make my feet hurt. I’ll wear loafers without socks even though they give me blisters. I’ll wear my favorite new long-sleeved shirt out to dinner in the summer even though it’s arguably too humid for long sleeves. All of these choices, despite their pitfalls, are “worth it” to me. The satisfaction I get from wearing what I’m wearing outweighs the slightly irritating side effect, whatever it may be.
What I won’t do — or rather, what I can’t do, for my own sanity — is wear uncomfortable shorts if I know I’m going to be sitting for an extended period of time. It doesn’t matter how much I like the shorts, or how much I like how they look on me, or how well they go with my outfit. It’s never worth it. I know myself well enough to know that within 45 minutes of popping a squat at my desk I will start to twitch with regret.
As you might already know, though, it’s really hard to find a pair of comfortable, attractive, unfussy, not-too-expensive shorts that jive with your existing wardrobe. I’m extremely grateful for research conducted by my esteemed colleagues in this regard, like Haley’s foray into elastic-waist corduroy, Imani’s anti-denim cutoff crusade and Edith’s mens swim trunk experiment, but none of the resulting options felt fully and truly “me.” Where oh where was my uncomfortable shorts alternative, ready and waiting to rescue my summer outfits from pelvic agony?
The answer lay right outside my door. Literally — I was exiting my apartment building one evening when I spotted a woman wearing sparkly jewelry, a colorful going out top, espadrilles and — here’s the important part — gym shorts. Not just shorts with a stretchy waistband. Actual, honest-to-goodness gym shorts, like the kind I wore to P.E. class in elementary school, made out of mesh material with contrasting piping down the sides.
Funnily enough, it wasn’t long after that that I started seeing P.E.-style shorts all over the place. Here is a smattering I have recently bookmarked on Instagram:
Perhaps we’re headed straight for a 90s (or is it 80s?) P.E. aesthetic comeback, as suggested by the incipience of brands like Jaw x Jawshop (whose Instagram bio reads, “Inspired by 90s P.E.”) and Eric Emanuel, who released a capsule inspired by gym class this past spring. Regardless, I knew pretty much the moment I saw that woman outside my apartment building: I’ve finally identified my go-to summer shorts.
Not only are they readily available (I’ve had great luck with Amazon and Outdoor Voices), but they also pair surprisingly well with the other components of my closet — my brightly-patterned tops and mini bags and slightly impractical shoes. Most importantly, they have the comfort of a bike short but the structure of a tailored short, which is frankly the best of both worlds.
In styling them, I’ve personally found they harmonize best with looser tops (anything that resembles a tank top and I suddenly look like I’m about to climb on the elliptical), but that’s been pretty much my only takeaway. Everything else is fair game. I was never very good at P.E., by the way, but the outfits I’ve created with my burgeoning collection of gym shorts have been some of my favorite (and my most comfortable) of the summer. So I guess this is a comeback of sorts for me, too.
Photos of Harling by Edith Young.