That ‘Bermuda Shorts’ became the stylishly casual choice in the still uptight U.S. of the 1950s?
by Horst Augustinovic
Only children and athletes wore shorts before World War II. Men wore long pants and women wore dresses on all occasions. Then Bermuda shorts came along.
The first to adopt the style were visitors who saw Bermuda policemen wearing knee-length khaki shorts and khaki knee socks. Women started wearing the short pants because they couldn’t wear bathing suits in public and soon their husbands appreciated the cool, comfortable shorts too.
In America Bermuda shorts were catching on in the late 1940s, especially on the campuses of Princeton and Yale, as well as resorts like Palm Beach, but it wasn’t until the newfound leisure of America’s middle class in the 1950s that things started to really change. Backyard barbecues became the rage in the suburbs and the comfortable Bermuda shorts became the garment of choice.
The famous American fashion designer Claire McCardell who rejected the formality of French couture and is acknowledged as the creator of the ‘American Look’, picked up the ‘Bermuda Shorts Look’ and popularized it with the fashion-minded of her time.
So how did Bermuda shorts originate? Shorts that end just above the knee were first worn by the British Army in tropical and desert climates, including Bermuda. With a shortage of clothing during World War II, the general managers of Bermuda’s banks – the Bank of Bermuda and the Bank of Butterfield – arranged for a local tailor to make two pairs of shorts for each of their male employees, and also supplied them with two pairs of long, grey socks. It was the beginning of Bermuda shorts as local business attire.
Approval even came from Winston Churchill who declared ‘The short-pant is a terrible fashion choice. Unless it is from Bermuda.’