Monday 8 July 2013

Men in Shorts

Despite the near-total news blackout on the subject (hem hem), word reaches me that Andy Murray has won the Wimbledon men's singles. In doing so, he becomes the first Briton to win the championship in shorts (Fred Perry having quite properly won in trousers). So ends the era of failure unleashed by the Wimbledon authorities' rash decision to permit gentlemen to play in shorts.
  They should have noted the fate of the first Englishman so to do at Wimbledon, one Brame Hillyard, who took to the court in 'shorts' in 1930, was soundly beaten and sank without trace to become a mere footnote in tennis history. The more famous Bunny Austin was rather more successful playing in shorts, but never won a final (he lost to Don Budge and, for his pains, received a £10 gift voucher redeemable at a high-street jeweller. Those were the days.) The New York Times summed up Bunny Austin's 'look' rather neatly: 'With his white linen hat and his flannel shorts, the little English player looked like an A.A. Milne production.' Quite.
  The craze for short trousers on men originated in the crackpot notions of a bunch of faddists and 'hygiene' fanatics who styled themselves the Men's Dress Reform Party (that's a bunch of them in the picture above, confirming that jacket-and-shorts is just about the worst wardrobe combo available to mankind). The Men's Dress Reform Party was an offshoot of the New Health Society and related to the nudist Sunlight League. We know their type, and they are frequently lampooned in the novels of P.G. Wodehouse - not least in the form of Roderick Spode's fascist organisation the Black Shorts. Rather than succumbing to the crazy notions of the Men's Dress Reform Society, the Wimbledon authorities would have done better to heed the words of an anonymous writer on the subject of  'dress reform' in the Tailor & Cutter:
'A loosening of the bonds will gradually impel mankind to sag and droop bodily and spiritually. If laces are unfastened, ties loosened and buttons banished, the whole structure of modern dress will come undone; it is not so wild as it sounds to say that society will also fall to pieces…Such restraints were not noxious: they were the foundation upon which civilisation rested and protected men from savagery and decadence.' And from looking very silly.


  1. But surely shorts are on their way down again? Murray's shorts are a lot longer than McEnroe's were in the 70s. YouTube videos confirm how very silly players of that era looked.

    Dare we hope that women players' hems might come down too? No chance of that, I suppose.

  2. One can imagine those gents having a loud conversation in Esperanto about the importance of The League of Nations. In fairness, though, the baggy low cuts and knee socks almost save them. They could have been on leave from the Desert Rats. Add some scarves (or a few cravats) and....

    For a true sartorial apocalypse, imagine them in Nikes with short dark socks or dress brogues with short light socks.

  3. Lord yes, it could all be worse - and as you say, Mary, shorts are at least getting longer, in all sports it seems (except Aussie Rules)....

  4. I date the decline of the Post Office to the disastrous decision, a decade or so ago, to allow postmen to wear shorts whilst on duty. Postmen used to be respected local figures and the dignity of their calling was reflected in their dress. Alas, no longer.

  5. Yes indeed Ingoldsby - they cut a sorry figure these days. And, being notoriously attractive to dogs, you'd have thought they'd have been glad of the protection of a bit of trousering. No doubt it will be the police next...

  6. Oh no, I have a different view entirely. We have a lovely young postman. Big smile, russet beard, red tee-shirt, and beautiful blue long shorts. He probably has three or four degrees. He's consistently cheery though; all the neighbours have remarked on his bonhomie. Over these last few sultry days, scenes from Il Postino have drifted across my mind.

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