Women long wrestled with the dilemma: how much can you dare - or bear - to bare?
By Josie Ensor
Four distinct styles are currently on sale: half-length, which reach no lower than the middle of the thigh; knee-riders, cut no more than 2in above the knee; board shorts, which stop slightly below the knee; and clam-diggers, which reach halfway down the calf.
It creates the dilemma of which style is the most flattering, particularly for any man past the first flush of youth.
Retailers say that while knee-length shorts are the most popular, the most trendy look is half-length - the very style that fashion commentators say is most difficult for men to pull off.
Debenhams said sales of men's shorts that end more than 4in above the knee had risen this year by 156 per cent.
Meanwhile, clam-diggers have fallen out of fashion entirely. John Lewis has stopped selling them, with the more conservative knee- riders proving most popular, and has moved away from the "cargo shorts" look, which had military-style extra pockets.
Nick Keyte, the head of menswear buying at John Lewis, said: "We're making them cleaner and smarter so men can wear shorts and still look professional. Our most popular range is the chinos, which are one or two inches above the knee - not too revealing.
"We stopped selling shorts that reach down to the calf as it is no longer what our customers want."
A snapshot survey by The Sunday Telegraph on the promenade at Bournemouth last week suggested no consensus in the debate - but an interest in fashion, which men of an earlier era might have found surprising.
Graham Millward, 60, a retired teacher from Bournemouth, was wearing designer board shorts.
Graham Millward in his designer boardshorts. (BNPS)
"I think shorts should go down an inch every decade of your life," he said. "For me, now, on the knee is perfect. My legs aren't so great any more so this length maintains my integrity."
Matthew Dawe, 43, an IT manager from Winchester, said: "Just below the knee is right. No one wants to see a man's knobbly knees." His wife, Zoe, 40, who bought his shorts for him a few years ago from Next for £25, said: "If they have a well-toned leg that's not too spindly, I think a man can go a little higher up the thigh. Probably not after 50, though."
Matthew Dawe. (BNPS)
Dave Forsyth, 34, a bank manager from Bournemouth, said he had noticed the length of shorts getting shorter and shorter but was not following the trend.
"I think the right place is just on the knee - that's where I always wear mine," he said. "The men parading around in ones almost short enough to be Speedos can just come off looking overconfident and silly."
Dave Forsyth. (BNPS)
Chris Curtis, 55, a retired manager of a sales company from Blackpool, wearing tailored grey shorts which he bought for £20 from Marks and Spencer said: "I've gone shorter this year than I have in previous years because I've lost a lot of weight recently. It's all about being confident with your body."
Chris Curtis with his wife, Sharon. (BNPS)
Ray Fletcher, a 58-year-old train driver from Worcester, who was wearing colourful half-lengths that were £4 from Primark, said: "It's quite controversial but I think the shorter the better. You can't take yourself too seriously when it comes to fashion."
Ray Fletcher doesn't like to take fashion too seriously. (BNPS)
Some thought men should have more freedom over length.
Gary Robini, 42, a roofer from Cobham, Surrey, who was wearing £15 three-quarter-length shorts from Sports Direct, said: "I don't really care about tanning or what people think about them."
Gary Robini. (BNPS)
Plenty of men have come a cropper in their choice of shorts.
David Cameron was criticised for looking awkward in a pair of baggy knee-length khaki shorts - £19.90 from Uniqlo - while on holiday in the Algarve last month, while earlier in the year his cotton shorts were judged too short and boyish.
David Cameron in his holiday attire. (AP)
Before him, Tony Blair suffered ridicule for his £82 Vilebrequin swimming shots.
Alex Bilmes, the editor of Esquire, said the key rule was "not below the knee".
"Clam-diggers, as we refer to three-quarter-length shorts, should only be worn in Australia by Australians. No self-respecting Englishman should ever wear them," he said. "There's little excuse for shorts shorter than three or four inches above the knee."
The true gentleman should remember that trousers can be just as cool as shorts, he added.
"A man should consider his legs before stepping out in shorts as most Englishmen have pale, skinny, chicken legs which are not a pleasant thing to force on other people," he said.
"I'm inclined to say men should never wear shorts out of the house. "