When did it become acceptable to wear shorts in the office?

Lauren Tara LaCapra
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Fusion

Dear Fusion Money,

I started a new job this year. It's a professional environment, but the dress code is more casual than other places I've worked. As summer rolled in, I noticed a lot of people wearing shorts. When did that taboo get broken? I'm not uptight, but it's weird. I feel like I’m at summer camp in an office building.

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—Pants Please

Dear Pants,

I hate to tell you this, but the wear-shorts-to-work trend has been going on for quite awhile.

The New York Times “Style” section wrote about it in 2008. That's ordinarily a sign that a trend has jumped the shark, but the pro-shorts banter has only increased since then. Magazines ranging from Vogue to GQ addressed the issue this summer. It even spawned a Twitter hashtag recently: #freetheknee.

Statistics are elusive on how common workplace shorts have become, though. Some research exists on how attire affects behavior, and, for what it's worth, a "fashion psychologist" in Britain who wears some interesting accessories advises against dressing down.

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Anecdotally, it seems fair to say that the frequency of office-shorts has risen. Workplace gurus chalk this up to the Silicon Valley effect: startups with hoodies and ping pong tables attract smart young workers who do innovative things. “Regular” companies are mimicking the laid-back atmosphere in hopes of replicating the results.

But in reality, it doesn’t work that way. A lumbering old company can’t just become The Next Facebook by loosening its dress code–nor can a local small business for that matter. And, as you point out, shorts-love isn’t universal among employees. Some feel uncomfortable just looking at people in shorts underneath those cold, hard fluorescent lights.

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"With surface issues like casual dress, ping-pong tables, free lunch – we're seeing more momentum," said Lindsey Pollak, who advises companies on hiring young talent. "Industry to industry and company to company is very, very different, though. It's not appropriate for a lawyer to wear sweatpants into a court room."

Indeed, there are career paths in which wearing shorts will probably never be OK: law, as Pollak mentioned, as well as investment banking, butler serviceCongress, or historical reenactments. If those don’t appeal to you, maybe it’s time to loosen up. There are worse problems than seeing a little more leg around the office.

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$$$ This is Fusion Money’s advice column. The question has been edited for space and clarity. Here's last week's. If you have a question about money – making it, spending it, wasting it, investing it or giving it away – please email askfusionmoney@gmail.com and we may feature it in a future column. $$$

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I oversee Fusion's money section and have spent most of my time as a journalist writing about banks and finance. I live in Brooklyn with my partner Geoffrey & our two dogs, Captain & Tallulah. Favs: leopard print, Diet Coke, gummy candy, Ireland.

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