The Jean short: The history behind a staple summer item


Last updated on March 27th, 2024 at 12:58 am

There are some fashion items that become so iconic that the word classic just doesn’t do them justice. Examples include a pair of Ray Ban Wayfarers, Converse All Stars, and a Levi’s jeans. The third in this list has also, at least in part, been responsible for the existence of another quintessential piece of clothing, the jean short. Or, as they are often known, the jort.

When the first person decided to take a pair of scissors to their jeans to create the jort is lost in the mists of fashion history. But little did they know what they were starting. Over the years it’s an item of clothing that has been the butt of many people’s jokes, sometimes quite literally, but it has also been firmly woven into the sartorial story of the US and beyond. As we’ve said, the emergence of the jort is inevitably and inextricably linked with the popularity of denim jeans and it was really the 1950s that saw these transform from being workwear to youth fashion.

By the 1960s the jort had become firmly established as a summer staple. But in the 1970s, for many people it became symptomatic of the many fashions fails of that decade. In many cases people had just started cutting the shorts too short, or simply weren’t cut out for them, period.

Admittedly, this was more of an issue with the men who wore them. Equally prevalent in women’s fashions, characters in pop culture like Daisy Duke showed how sexy they could actually be. However, when it came to men’s fashion a great deal of rehabilitation was clearly needed.

Fortunately, this arrived in the form of modernized jean shorts. Taking the original blueprint of the cut-off jean as a starting point, today these have been totally absorbed into the fashion mainstream. Along the way, there have been plenty of subtle, and not so subtle, refinements and other developments.

The biggest one of these is that many clothing companies design and make jeans shorts as fashion items in their own right. Their cut-off origins may be in the DNA of their designs. But make no mistake, these are cut and tailored to create a far more flattering look than the old do-it-yourself versions ever managed to achieve. So today, if the legs of the shorts are frayed it’s by design, and the short shorts of the 1970s have been forever consigned to the trash can of history.

It’s also hard to credit how much choice there is today for anyone looking to add some jorts to their summer wardrobe. Yes, blue denim still dominates but there’s a whole spectrum of other colours too, often even incorporating designs which can also go perfectly with T-shirts designed to match. You’re also likely to find that they’re available in a wide range of cuts from the slim-fit to the decidedly baggy.

So, what is it that can account for the jorts’ longevity and seeming indestructibility as a summertime fashion item?

First and foremost, they have the classic appeal of the denim jean, truly a fashion style that will never die thanks to its sheer ubiquity. They’re also superbly comfortable to wear, especially at a time of year when the temperature’s rising. Then there’s the fact that they can be paired with a huge range of other fashions, whether the style’s streetwear, grunge, biker chic or urban.

Also, at a time when vintage is very much in, the classic blue denim jean short can have that well-worn and much-washed look even when it’s bought brand new – and they can even cost a little less than some pre-worn styles. So, it all adds up to a fashion item that should be a key part of almost everyone’s summer wardrobe – as well as being a piece of clothing that’s going to still be totally on trend for many seasons to come.

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