While the true story behind the Bermuda short is shady, no other family fashion spent more time in the spotlight of the 50’s. Boys, girls, Mom and Dad, everyone loved the knee-length short in plain pastels, or bright madras plaid.
Contrary to popular belief, Bermuda shorts did not originate in Bermuda. The shorts were a product of sweltering British military officers serving in tropical British colonies (including Bermuda) at the turn of the century. Officers cut off the bottom half of their pant legs in hopes of achieving some relief from the heat, and the cut-off style eventually caught on as local fashion with Bermudians.
Bermudians were so relieved over the new comfortable style that suits were sold with the short pant instead of long pants, and a new local tradition was started. British tourists in Bermuda took to wearing the shorts, which were widely available in stores and tailor shops, and brought the trend back home and to America. They dubbed the new style the 'Bermuda short.' The tasteful yet cool style of the Bermuda short left the island in mass exodus and found a new home in suburban America.
An additional tale about the exposure of the Bermuda short for women has more to do with modesty than comfort: ladies vacationing in the leisure land during the 50’s were unable to bare their legs in their mid-thigh high shorts, as they were considered indecent by the Bermuda custom. So they adopted the man’s Bermuda shorts to respect local tradition. It was the great explosion of tourism in the 50’s that fueled the fad for the shorts, and their popularity soared when they were made for the entire family.
Bermuda shorts were acceptable work attire for the tropical climate of Bermuda, and local businessmen wore the short pant style with thin knee socks, called Bermuda hose. Workers were also responsible for the short-sleeved shirt craze that hit the corporate world back home. While true Bermuda shorts are constructed from the same materials and methods as dress slacks (constructed waistbands, and belt loop), the shorts that came to be called Bermudas in the U.S. were much less formal. Trendy Bermudas were done in colorful madras plaids and bright colors, but always cut just above the knee. A slightly shorter version became known as the Jamaican short.
The one catch to Bermuda shorts was the mandatory knee socks: too much leg could never be exposed by any respectable girl, and only sissy boys showed off their spindly legs sans socks. Boys have worn the short-pant knicker suit since the days of Little Lord Fauntleroy, but never had grown men been so willing to highlight the dimples of their knees. Bermuda short: trendsetter, taboo breaker.
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