Shorts come in many styles, like the loose, stretchy shorts you wear to the gym and the comfy cargo shorts you style for a backyard picnic. The tricky thing about shorts is that they come in many different lengths. So, how long should shorts be?
The best length for shorts depends on a person’s height and the type of shorts. Different kinds of shorts have varying lengths, like bike shorts vs Bermuda shorts. Many kinds of shorts look best when long enough to end two inches above the knee.
In this article, you will learn how shorts’ length is measured. You will discover the best length for many popular shorts styles. Finally, you will find tips on how to pick shorts based on your height.
How Does Short Length Work?
The shorts’ length is measured using the inseam of the shorts. The inseam measures the distance down the inner seam of the leg, from the crotch to the hem.
So if you see a pair of shorts with a 7” length listed, it doesn’t mean that the whole garment measures seven inches from the waistband to the hem. Instead, it means that the inner leg of the shorts measures seven inches.
For guys, common short inseam measurements include 5”, 7”, 9”, or 11”. A good rule of thumb for long shorts is that you don’t want them to hang lower than two inches above your knees. That said, you can also find oversized short styles designed to reach all the way to your knee as well.
For ladies, common inseam measurements include 3”, 5”, 7”, and 12”. The most popular overall short length for women of average height is a 7” inseam, especially for dressier shorts.
The trick with using an inseam measurement is that where the shorts fall on your leg depends on your height. Clothing manufacturers design off-the-rack shorts to fit the most generic body possible so that the shorts will fit the greatest number of people. But that does not necessarily mean the shorts will look right on your body.
One easy way to determine how long shorts will look on you is to measure your inseam.
- To do this, wear closefitting leggings or shorts and place one end of a tape measure at the crotch seam.
- Run the tape down your inner leg.
- Use a washable fabric marker or a piece of chalk to mark where five, seven, or nine inches would land on your leg.
- This way, you can know how long the new shorts will look on you. Note which length you like best to help you shop for shorts in the future.
Popular Shorts Length
Different popular styles of shorts traditionally have particular lengths, such as Bermuda shorts vs bike shorts. Understanding the length of the type of shorts you want can help you buy a size that fits you just right.
Running ShortsRunning shorts come in a wide range of lengths, including short racing shorts with an inseam of just two to three inches or long, loose jogging shorts with an inseam as long as nine inches.
This disparity is because the term “running shorts” covers a broad spectrum of short varieties you wear for many different athletic endeavors, including jogging around the neighborhood, running a marathon, or jumping hurdles at a track and field event.
Running shorts usually have an elastic waist and contain moisture-wicking fabric. Some have a special liner to prevent chafing, too. They typically have a loose fit to allow free leg movement, and this style of running shorts is called either V-notch or split shorts.
Some runners also prefer compression shorts, which fit closely to prevent chafing during long runs. This style looks a lot like bike shorts, which is where it originated.
For short-distance races, hurdles, or most track and field events, runners often prefer the loose upside-down V shape of V-notch running shorts. But long-distance runners or casual athletes who like to run several miles in the morning may prefer close-fitting compression shorts to avoid chafing.
So, what length of running shorts is best? This generally depends on the kind of running you plan to do. Generally speaking, shorter running shorts with an inseam of 3 to 5 inches work best for fast, short distances, and shorts with a longer inseam of 7 to 11 inches work best for longer distances. This is because longer shorts cover your thighs and prevent chafing as you run longer.
Bike ShortsBike shorts or cycling shorts often have a longer inseam of 7 to 9 inches, but this can vary depending on the type of bike shorts you choose. Just like running shorts, cyclists wear different kinds of shorts for different types of bike riding.
Bike shorts cling to the lower body and usually contain stretchy, synthetic fabric that won’t soak up sweat. These shorts do not have seams in places that would cause friction while riding a bike, such as at the crotch. Authentic bike shorts even include a special pad called a chamois to provide extra comfort between you and the bike seat!
If you plan a bike ride that will last an hour or more, you probably want bike shorts that end just above your knee. The tight leg of the shorts will cover your thigh and prevent friction during your ride.
But if you ride in shorter biking events or races, or an indoor spin class, you may want short bike shorts for extra freedom of movement instead.
While less common than the just-above-the-knee length, you also see riders wearing below-the-knee or full-length bike suits in cold weather.
BermudaBermuda shorts should reach three inches above your knee. Unlike many types of shorts, you will not find much variation from this standard rule because the Bermudas should like quite dressy instead of either short or baggy. This shorts style looks like a chopped-off pair of dress pants, with a fitted waist and a good quality three-inch folded-up hemline.
Quality Bermuda shorts often feature high-end fabrics like linen, cotton, or wool.
Traditionally, men wore Bermuda shorts, which originated in the British military. But today, both men and women can rock this dressy short style. One of the hallmarks of these shorts, besides their particular length, is that they often come in many fun colors like teal, coral, or mint green.
To make sure that a pair of Bermuda shorts will fit you right, measure your inseam to the point three inches above your knee. Then buy a pair of shorts that has that same inseam measurement.
Boy ShortsBoy shorts are a style of women’s underwear that fits like close-fitting, soft, and stretchy bike shorts, extending down about an inch along the thigh. This longer-than-usual underwear style provides extra protection and comfort during a workout or sporting event.
Boy shorts usually have an inseam of one inch or less. Though you can wear them in place of pajama shorts, typically, you wear them beneath other workout clothes, which makes the short length important–you don’t want your underwear to hang longer than your running shorts!
Gym ShortsThe most common length of gym shorts is a seven-inch inseam, though shorter gym shorts with a 5-inch inseam are also popular. This style of shorts is designed for a loose fit and ease of movement, perfect for anyone exercising at the gym.
Gym shorts usually have a drawstring or gathered elastic waistband and feature stretchy, breathable fabrics like mesh polyester blended with Spandex or other stretchy synthetic blends.
In some cases, gym shorts can look a lot like running shorts. They have a relaxed fit and sometimes even come with a liner, so you can wear the shorts without underwear to avoid chafing.
That said, one of the confusing things about gym shorts is that this particular athletic style became so popular that you see it used in everyday casual wear, but often in a much longer style. Casual, at-home “gym shorts” often hang to the knee or lower. They feel extra roomy and comfortable because of the wide, loose legs and the elastic waist, making them a popular choice for athleisure.
Because the term gym shorts can mean several different things, buying your shorts from a known athletic apparel brand is a good idea if you want authentic workout gear. You should also check the inseam measurement listed in the product description before making a purchase.
Cargo ShortsCargo shorts usually have a long inseam measuring 10 or 11 inches, though some styles hang below the knee or even partway down the calf. This longer length goes well with the loosely cut, casual fit of these popular utility-oriented shorts.
Cargo shorts have a fitted waistband, wide legs, and big cargo pockets on the outer thigh. They look like cropped cargo pants, otherwise known as military pants, often come in military-esque colors like beige or green as well.
The key to wearing cargo shorts in good length for you is to go long. You don’t want to wear too-short cargo shorts because they will look tight and small instead of loose and casual. When in doubt, pick a pair of shorts that hits just above your knee.
If you plan to mix your casual cargos with a dressier top like a polo shirt, go with a clean above-the-knee length. Longer shorts will tend to look baggy and overly casual in this context.
While cargo shorts remain most popular in men’s fashion–especially in the “dad style” casual aesthetic–women can wear cargo shorts, too! Women’s cargo shorts often have a more fitted shape and a much shorter length but still feature the trademark large pockets on the outer leg. Look for an inseam of about 5 inches. On the other hand, you can also embrace knee-length cargo shorts for women if you want to go super casual with a bulkier, roomier cut in the legs.
How Should Shorts Fit a Woman
How shorts should fit a woman depends on several factors, including the style of shorts and your height. Check out these tips to find the best fit for you!
- Make sure you choose shorts in a length that suits the overall style of the garment. For example, bike shorts often have a long, tight fit, while running shorts will have a shorter cut.
- But you also want to focus on your height when you pick an inseam. If you have a petite frame, look for a shorter inseam in your shorts. This will show off more of your leg and make you look taller. Of course, if you have a tall or bulky frame, you may want to choose longer shorts for the opposite reason!
- The golden rule for women’s shorts length is that fingertip-length shorts usually look good on any woman with any body type. To figure out this inseam length, stand in front of a mirror with your arms loose at your sides. Use a safety pin to mark where your fingertips end on the side of the pants or shorts you’re wearing. Then measure your inseam to that point.
- Besides length, you also need to consider the overall fit of the shorts. Like with jeans, you don’t want your shorts to pull so tight that they wrinkle across your seat or at your crotch. Nor do you want them to sag in the seat and look sloppy!
- When it comes to the shape of the leg, casual shorts or dressy shorts often look good when they fit just slightly wider than the shape of your leg. Much wider legs will look baggy and short legs that too closely define the shape of your leg will look strained and too small.
Finally, you should also keep in mind that how shots should fit is ultimately your choice and depends greatly on your comfort. Not everyone likes displaying a lot of leg in short running shorts, for example. In this case, wear knee-length gym shorts for your jog, and don’t worry about the standard fashion rules for that type of shorts.
Where Should Shorts Sit on the Waist
Where shorts should sit on the waist often depends on the rise of the shorts, which varies by style. Most elastic-waist shorts, like gym or running shorts, fit most comfortably at the natural waistline or just below the navel. But shorts designed more like pants with a fitted waistband may have a lower rise and sit just above the hip bones.
The rise on a pair of shorts will tell you where the waistband will fall on your body. Shorts have both a front and a back rise, which measures the distance from the midpoint of the crotch seam to the center top of the waistband. This tells you how high the waistband will reach in the front and how much space you will have in the seat o the shorts.
If you want to find out how a pair of shorts will sit on your waist before buying them, look up the rise in the product description, then measure that distance on yourself.
Shorts Inseam by Height
While the ideal length for your shorts does also depend on the style of shorts you pick, you can make sure your shorts look good by using your height to pick the perfect inseam, too.
|5’ to 5’5”||4 inches for athletic, 5 inches for casual|
|5’5” to 6’1”||5 inches or 7 inches|
|6’ and up||9” or 11”|
At What Point Are Shorts Too Short or Too Long?
The point where shorts are too short or too long often depends on your own personal fashion sense. You will find all kinds of conflicting opinions about this ranging from claims that women should not wear short shorts in public to a “rule” that all shorts should end two inches above your knee.
The truth is, every different kind of shorts should have a different length. If you know the rules for that style of shorts, you will find yourself better able to judge if the shorts look too short or too long on you.
For example, after reading this article, you know that bike shorts usually fit long, reaching almost the knee. If you try on your bike shorts and they barely stretch to mid-thigh, you probably need a larger size that will reach farther down your leg.
Besides considering the style of the shorts to pick the right length, you may also want to consider the occasion. Short running shorts look appropriate on the track and long bike shorts look appropriate while you’re out on the trail riding your bike.
But you may also want to consider that both super short and super long and baggy shorts have a very informal vibe. This makes them better suited for wearing at home than to a party or event. Shorts with a fitted waistband and a length that hits just around your fingertips typically look dressier and more suitable to wear in public by current fashion standards.
5-Inch vs 7-Inch Shorts
For women with an average height, shorts with a 5 or 7-inch inseam often look ideal, while men with an average height often look best in shorts with a 7-inch inseam. This does vary depending on the style of the shorts, but it is a handy general rule of thumb you can go by if you have an average height and build.
This guideline works especially well for dressier short styles.
7 Inch Inseam Shorts vs 9
On guys, a 7-inch inseam often brings a pair of shorts to two to three inches above the knee, the sweet spot for dressier shorts. A 9-inch inseam often reaches just above the knee, which tends to have a baggier and more casual look suitable for cargo or gym shorts.
For ladies of average height, shorts with an inseam of 7 inches often hits the fingertip-length point that looks ideal on people with many body types. A 9-inch inseam may reach to the knee or lower on many women and will look looser and more casual.
Should Shorts Be Above or Below Knee?
Most shorts end above the knee or considerably higher, and, technically, shorts that end below the knee fall into the cropped pants or short pants category.
The exception to this rule is the popular trend for oversized shorts, especially casual gym or cargo shorts, reaching well below the knee. This urban look makes a baggy, casual look edgy and cool.
Of course, how long shorts “should” be changes constantly, just like any fashion trend. In the 1970s and 80s, the trend for short shorts made famous by basketball players hit an all-time high, but by the 90s, long Bermuda and cargo shorts had much more popularity.
When Are Shorts Too Short for Guys?
There is no real rule for when shorts are too short for guys, though you can follow general style guidelines based on the kind of shorts you plan to wear. For example, if you want to wear running shorts, you can choose short micro shorts with a mere 3” inseam, displaying most of your leg. But if you want dressier Bermuda shorts, look for a length that has the shorts ending three inches above your knee.
If you want to follow modern styles, the general rule of thumb is that 7” to 9” shorts often look best on most guys.
How Do I Know If My Shorts Are Too Small?
You can discover if your shorts are too small with simple tests like the pinch or the walking test.
- Try sitting down while wearing the shorts, and see if you can lift a small pinch of fabric from the thigh without pinching your skin. If you can, the shorts have a little extra room. If you cannot pinch any fabric, the shorts may fit too tightly.
- To test the waistband, try slotting two fingers inside the waistband of the shorts. If you cannot comfortably fit two fingers into the waist, the waistband may fit you too tightly.
- Try walking while looking in a mirror to look for pocket flare. If the crotch area of the shorts strains into wrinkles and the pockets flare out, the shorts will look too small.
- And, of course, go with what feels comfortable! If you feel like your shorts might squeeze you in half, get a larger size that feels comfortable.
The most popular shorts length for men is 7, 9, and 11 inches, while the most common short length for women ranges from 5 to 7 inches. Shorts length is determined using the inseam of the shorts, which measures the distance from the crotch seam to the hem on the inner leg.
Different styles of shorts traditionally have unique inseam lengths as well. For example, Bermuda shorts should end three inches above the knee, while cargo shorts often end at or just above the knee, and running shorts can have a super short inseam of just three inches.
What is your favorite way to pick a good short length? Do you focus more on the style of the shorts or on your height? Leave a comment below to let us know!