Vibrant patterns often raise a red flag for men. Even when on holiday, flamboyant fabrics risk evoking frat-house parties or the over-the-top shirts worn by Tom Selleck as Magnum, PI. But some sophisticated patterns, most often featuring flora and fauna, are emerging on shorts – a fun and less challenging canvas for experimenting with louder patterns, as the surface area is away from the face.
A neutral base can be vital for making print palatable. Engineered Garments’ navy shorts (£166) with bold russet sunflowers are a cracking example. The robust fatigue style has top-stitched patch pockets and a vintage-feel herringbone draw cord.
But it’s subtle, shadowy monochrome patterns that account for many of the most appealing compositions. From this harvest a favourite is by Marc Jacobs (£355), in a muted navy cotton printed with ghostly brown koi carp overlaid with a cream bamboo pattern. Cut above the knee, with an on-trend 1950s feel, they have a crisp finish and belt loops at the waistband. Japanese brand Sacai uses silky printed voile for shorts (£315) with a longer and fuller cut, in blue-black adorned with a cream, brown and blue fern-leaf pattern. A piped waistband and seams lend a luxe accent.
Also channelling a knocked-back colour scheme is Copenhagen brand Wood Wood, whose black-on-khaki Tomi cotton-mix shorts (£110) have a refined printed leaf silhouette. Bold, confident and masculine, these natural colourways work effortlessly with both white and pale blues or strong block colours, and look their best when teamed with pristine white tennis shoes or soft loafers.
Paul Smith’s monochrome palm-tree print comes in textured brushstrokes and two lengths – short (£90) and medium (£95). I like the colourful photographic print examples too (£110). Valentino offers a gorgeous juxtaposition of rugged and refined, in the form of khaki cotton deep-pocket safari-style shorts (£495) decorated with finely drawn but vivid orchids.
The swim-short maestros at Orlebar Brown have used photographic montages inspired by jungle flora and fauna. Floral Bulldog shorts play with focus and depth of field to create a trippy, painterly effect. One engaging pair, Flora Print Zoology (£195), depicts lush ferns, flowers and dragonflies. There are also some bang-on-trend camouflage-style dark leaf-print shorts in a crisp linen/cotton mix (£155). Another swim shorts label, Vilebrequin, takes an embroidered approach, with up to 170,000 richly coloured stitches on each pair of Pixel Flowers shorts (£540, main picture) creating artfully blurred renditions of pineapples, trees and birds.
White cranes soar across the Prussian-blue silk of Louis Vuitton’s shorts (£545), with a touch of pink cherry blossom in the mix. The Parisian house drew inspiration from the shorts of Thai boxers, which are typically emblazoned with birds, vines and blooms. The exotic print reminds me of the shirt worn by Al Pacino’s gangster Scarface. It’s a strong look that would work well in a glamorous setting, though needs a certain masculine swagger to carry off.
Other fashion houses channelling extravagant prints include Dolce & Gabbana, where birds of paradise grace silk prints inspired by the Chinese Palace in Palermo. Rendered on sapphire-blue silk (€756), the birds perch on leafy twigs, while cream silk (€756) or slate cotton (€564) versions feature songbirds amid bamboo.
Equally sumptuous are Gucci’s beige matte silk shorts (£365) with handpainted flowers in muted hues and pleats for a relaxed fit. A pale-blue mother-of-pearl button on the seat pocket adds to the appeal. I envisage these teamed with a white vest under an open, crisp white linen shirt and a wide-brimmed Panama – and a hot summer’s day, of course.