Seeking out a good pair of shorts can feel like a particularly daunting task. If they don’t fit properly, you can end up with camel toe or, even worse, a wedgie. On the flip side, well-fitted shorts can be exceptionally versatile: A beat-up pair of Levi’s cutoffs always manages to look cool, while a fancy high-waisted style can appear as polished as an A-line or pencil skirt — with less thigh chafing. To find the best options out there, we consulted a panel of stylish women about their favorites, including denim shorts that won’t gap in the back and breezy alternatives to biker shorts.
Best denim shorts for women
Elana Fishman, style editor at “Page Six,” calls this Madewell style a “godsend for those with a greater waist-to-hip ratio, like myself.” Designed with a narrower waist and more room at the hips, the shorts “barely gap in the back, even after a full day of wear,” she says. And because they’re made with one percent elastane, “the touch of stretch means it never feels like you’re being suffocated by your shorts.” Fishman has been wearing the style for five years now and added different washes to her wardrobe, including this “versatile faded black” color. “I’ve styled these shorts with everything from second-skin bodysuits to billowy blouses to crop tops over the years, and they truly work with everything,” she says.
“For years I tried and failed to make my own denim cutoffs with vintage jeans,” says Laura Naparstek, a product marketing manager at Braze. This year, instead of attempting to make her own cutoffs, Naparstek turned to Agolde, purveyor of especially well-distressed jeans and shorts. “I picked these Agolde shorts because they had that great loose, almost triangular shape that I was trying to create myself for so many years,” she says. “That shape and the strategically placed holes flatter many different body types, too.” Caroline Maguire, fashion director at Shopbop, is also a fan of this style from Agolde, and especially appreciates their 11” high rise cut. “I love a great high-waisted denim short,” she says. “The higher the rise, the better.”
For a high-rise style that’s got some stealth flexibility, and is available in a wide range of sizes, consider this pair of cutoffs from Good American, Khloé Kardashian’s denim brand, suggests Katie Sturino, founder of the 12ish Style, a blog covering size-12-to-18 fashion. “They have stretch, but they don’t look like they have stretch, you know?” Sturino recommends sizing up with these, “but I love the fact that they cover an inclusive size range,” she underscores. “Good American is the first brand that allows plus-size girls to participate in some classic summer cutoff styles; it’s the first time I have had ‘cool’-looking denim cutoffs.”
Levi’s can’t really be beat in this category. Maria Dueñas-Jacobs, director of brand development at Stitch Fix, likes to get hers from vintage shop What Goes Around Comes Around because they tailor them precisely. But her quest for excellent jorts is ongoing: “Like jeans, I can never get enough of, or stop searching for the next, great cutoff denim shorts,” she says.
If you’re a true vintage-denim purist, designer Susan Alexandra and I Love Craigslist founder Madison Brill suggest broken-in pairs of Levi’s shorts from Etsy or eBay. Both recommend buying two sizes too big “so they emanate insouciance,” says Alexandra. Brill also suggests sourcing jeans and cutting them yourself if you’re having trouble finding a pair in your size.
Best cotton shorts for women
Sometimes you just want some extremely soft shorts with an elastic waist. Molly Elizalde, a co-founder of the new media startup Your Magic, told us about this pair from stripes-purveyor Kule. “As soon as I received these Kule shorts in the mail, I ordered a second pair,” says Elizalde, who owns the shorts in orange and white and blue and pink (both unfortunately sold out, though this stately navy and white combo is still available in limited sizes). “They are perfect for every summer activity: running errands, walking the dog, lounging at home.” Elizalde usually wears the shorts with sneakers, but dresses them up with “leather sandals and jewelry for dinner.”
“A summer uniform calls for an oversize cotton button-down and shorts that will pretty much disappear under the shirt,” says stylist Lilli Millhiser, who prefers tailored shorts for a more put-together look. She likes her linen pair from & Other Stories because they’re comfortable and “great for everyday with my kid. I can throw them in the wash, and they have pockets,” she notes.
Strategist contributor Sophie Vershbow recently turned us on to another pair of linen shorts for a fraction of the price. These “extremely flattering” Old Navy shorts hit at the natural waist and midway down the thigh. “My favorite thing is that these shorts are partially elasticized in the back, allowing them to stay up at your natural waistline when you’re moving without jamming into your organs when you sit down — the common burden of high-waisted-pants wearers everywhere,” Vershbow writes. And, because they’re made of 55 percent linen and 45 percent rayon, “they’re easy-breezy while still feeling soft against your skin.”
If you’re looking for linen-blend shorts in a wider variety of colors, lifestyle blogger Ayana Lage recommends this high-rise pull-on pair from Target. She personally went with pink. “The color makes them trendy, but the cut feels classic,” she says, adding that this was an easy way for her to incorporate more bold colors in her wardrobe. The shorts also come in white and olive green, and three different striped options.
Millhiser recently purchased this pair of hiking shorts she says are “chic enough” for outside of hiking. The polyester and spandex material have a high-quality technical feel to them, she notes. “I got them for a camping trip we have this summer, but I immediately wore them when they came in and will for sure wear them outside of our trip,” she says.
Best sporty shorts for women
“I’ve had this bike-shorts fatigue over the past few years,” says Delia Cai, senior Vanities correspondent at Vanity Fair. As an alternative, she found a pair of “very ’80s gym-class” polyester and cotton shorts while shopping at Front General Store in Dumbo. She prefers the looser fit and plans to wear hers with tall socks and sneakers this summer.
[Editor’s note: Cai’s pair is a blue with white piping that isn’t sold online. This pair is the same silhouette but in a camo pattern.]
Another pair Cai has had since March are these trail shorts from Girlfriend Collective. She appreciates their built-in compressive layer and ultracropped length. “They’re really short but in a tasteful way,” she says. “Something about the athletic shorts tones down the hoochie vibe. It’s more like, ‘Oh, I’m just an ’80s athlete or something.’”
Creative consultant Jess Tran is “really particular” about shorts as someone who’s five-one. Her vintage Adidas track shorts make her “feel and look elongated, not truncated and stocky.” She has a couple of pairs, including “ones that are really, really tight that I’ll wear with a little tank and then a big shirt, and ones that are a little bit baggier.” She says they make a great summer basic because they “keep you cool and are a point of interest,” and she recommends scouring eBay for old polyester and nylon pairs like the ones above.
Pastry chef Natasha Li Pickowicz told us about her old faithful Adidas spandex shorts. “This city heat has been so unbearable that I’ve been digging up pairs of black and navy itty-bitty Adidas spandex from my old rowing days,” she says. “Am I too old to wear skin-tight shorts on my long solo walks through the outer bouroughs? They’re so comfortable I don’t even care.”
A similarly stretchy option with a slightly longer inseam comes recommended to us by stylist Hannah Black. “Like most women with curves, I am an avid shorts hater,” she says. “Biker shorts are my summer go-tos.” She prefers Los Angeles Apparel’s “super-flattering” shorts because the wide waistband and plush cotton construction “suck you in in all the right places.” Black notes that she styles hers “under loose-fitting baby-doll dresses for Saturday-morning coffee runs.”
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