The Long History of Wearing Shorts: The 200-year Evolution of Knickerbockers, Daisy Dukes and WWD’s ‘HotPants’


Today almost all women and men have at least one pair of shorts in their wardrobes, but originally they were mainly worn by schoolboys.

As times have changed, though, so too have shorts. Over the past 200 years, the summer staple has evolved, spawning a variety of styles including skorts, swim trunks and Daisy Dukes.

Ahead, a look back at the history of shorts.

1800s

history of shorts, knickerbockers, schoolboy in shorts, Three-four year-old boy wearing a sailor suit and holding a balloon in his hand, Magasins du Louvre design, engraving from La Mode Illustree, No 38, September 19, 1897.

Illustration of a boy wearing shorts, 1897.

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The history of shorts originates with schoolboys, who wore them as part of their uniforms. They evolved from baggy breeches called knickerbockers, a longer style of shorts that hit the calves. Knickerbockers were also popular among athletes in the 19th century.

Another well-known form of shorts dating back to at least the 1800s are lederhosen. Bavarians and Austrians wore them as workwear, though in modern times they’re more commonly used for Oktoberfest costumes.

Early 1900s

history of shorts, Jack Dempsey American boxer and world heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926 sparring with flyweight boxer Fidel LaBarba in Boxing Ring 1925. (Photo by Screen Archives/Getty Images)

Boxers in 1925.

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As trends shifted in the early 20th century, women began wearing knickerbockers as casual and outdoor attire. Additionally, bathing suits resembling onesies became a common form of womens’ swimwear.

Athletes also continued to sport shorts. In 1904, England’s Football Association stopped requiring players to cover their knees. Knickerbockers were abandoned as players favored looser, shorter styles. 1925 saw the invention of elastic boxer shorts. Created by Jacob Golomb, the founder of Everlast, boxers replaced tight-fitting leather trunks in the ring.

Bermuda shorts are thought to have been invented by Nathaniel Coxon, a tea shop owner from the eponymous British territory. In 1914, his employees began wearing hemmed versions of pants to beat the summer heat. Around the same time, knee-length Bermuda shorts were adopted by British soldiers stationed in hotter climates.

Culottes, skirts with boyshorts attached underneath, were an earlier form of the skort. Paul Poiret is credited with creating culottes in 1911, but variations of the short-skirt combo were worn by female bicyclists as early as the 1890s. Today’s skorts often feature a skirt flap in the front and shorts in the back. Like many styles of shorts, skorts have remained a popular choice for athletes, including golf and tennis players.

1930s

history of shorts, Two female athletes wth the Los Angeles Athletics Club - both wearing singlets bearing the LAAC logo, and running shorts - pose in an empty Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California, circa 1935. (Photo by Archive Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Two female athletes circa 1935.

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Women increasingly began to wear shorts, especially for athletic purposes. These included Bermudas, as well as early variations of short shorts.

Adoption of these styles caused controversy in some parts of the U.S. In 1937, shorts became illegal in Yonkers, New York, and the town of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, banned shorts in 1938. “Honesdale is a modest town, not a bathing beach,” said a city official in Missouri’s Moberly Monitor-Index.

1940s

marilyn monroe with red hair wearing shorts, history of shorts, LOS ANGELES - 1946:  Actress Marilyn Monroe then known as Norma Jeane Mortenson poses for a portrait in 1946 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

Marilyn Monroe in 1946.

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Pin-up girls-turned-Hollywood starlets like Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe frequently wore short shorts cut to the upper thigh. Women continued wearing them for sporting events, but they also adopted short shorts as a form of casual wear.

While Yonkers’ ban on shorts was repealed in 1942, states like Texas and Illinois introduced their own bans. A 1944 city ordinance in Monahans, Texas, prohibited women from wearing shorts in public. In the summer of 1945, women weren’t allowed to wear shorts in Illinois cities including Decatur and Vandalia.

1950s

history of shorts, A publicity photograph, by the Scotty Bjurstrom Agency, featuring surfing action that promotes Hawaiian vacations, Chicago, Illinois, circa 1950. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Surfers circa 1950.

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By the 1950s, shorts were worn regularly by men and women. The decade also saw a major innovation in the history of shorts: the introduction of swim trunks. Hawaiian surfers began wearing boardshorts in the ’50s, and they were eventually adopted by men worldwide.

1970s

history of shorts, daisy dukes, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, Catherine Bach, 1979-85. © Warner Bros. Television / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Catherine Bach in a publicity photo for “Dukes of Hazzard.”

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

As casual clothing became more widely acceptable, the demand for denim soared. As early as the 1960s, people began cropping their jeans, turning them into raw hem cutoffs.

Cutoffs were commonplace by the 1970s, with a new, even shorter style dubbed “Daisy Dukes” being named after Catherine Bach’s character in the television series “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

In the ’70s, WWD coined the term “HotPants,” which described tight-fitting short shorts made from a variety of fabrics, including velour, corduroy and leather. Upper thigh-grazing styles originated in the 1930s, but they made a major comeback in the decade of disco.

1980s

history of shorts, French Singer Sheila at Home in Los Angeles (Photo by jean-Louis Atlan/Sygma via Getty Images)

French singer Sheila circa 1980s.

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The 1980s saw the rise of athleisure, with brightly colored sportswear taking fashion by storm. Naturally, this included the popularization of dolphin shorts, which got their name from the Dolfin Swimwear company.

Dolphin shorts came in various fabrics including terrycloth and nylon, and tended to feature rounded hems. Dolfin originally produced style in the ’70s, though they were later duplicated by many clothing manufacturers.

Richard Simmons, 1994, history of shorts

Richard Simmons, 1994

Courtesy Everett Collection

Dolfins were favored by aerobics fanatics far and wide. In 2012, fitness guru Richard Simmons claimed to own 400 pairs of vintage Dolfin shorts.

1990s

marky mark shirtless, history of shorts, boxer briefs, marky mark calvin klein underwear, HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 3:  American singer and actor Mark Wahlberg walks the runway at the Seventh Annual California Fashion Industry Friends of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) Benefit Dinner and Fashion Show to Honor Calvin Klein on June 3, 1993 at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Ron Davis/Getty Images)

Mark Wahlberg modeling Calvin Klein boxer briefs in 1993.

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Boxer briefs, a tighter version of boxer shorts, were invented in the 1990s. The new form of underwear became closely associated with Calvin Klein, whose risqué ads featuring Mark Wahlberg conquered billboards, magazines and television.

2020s

Emma Corrin on the runway at Miu Miu Fall 2023 Ready To Wear Fashion Show on March 7, 2023 at the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council in Paris, France. (Photo by Giovanni Giannoni/WWD via Getty Images)

Emma Corrin models the “no pants” look on the runway at Miu Miu fall 2023.

WWD via Getty Images

Shorts have gotten even shorter with the inception of the “no pants” trend. During the fall 2023 season, Miu Miu sent models down the runway in tiny shorts resembling underwear, while celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Kristen Stewart and Sydney Sweeney have experimented with the leggy look.



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