While packing for my holiday to Morocco, I was inspired by some marvellous photographs taken there in 1949 by Cecil Beaton, featuring himself and friends including writer Truman Capote, playwright Jane Bowles and interior designer David Herbert. Beaton looked dashing and lean in his military-style high-waisted, pleated shorts that flared out to the knee, especially when paired with a signature twilly scarf and a locally sourced wide-brim straw hat. These are just the kind I’ve been hankering after, and it turns out that this summer is an ideal moment to rediscover them.
I’d bet my last dirham that Beaton would have loved the cream washed-linen/silk Knightsbridge shorts (£250) from Ralph Lauren Purple Label. Their distinguished long line is a departure from the trend for short-cut styles. With a high waistband, side adjusters and fly fastening, they have a cool, clean profile. The Carter cream linen version (£350) is a modicum shorter but equally splendid.
The high waistband style works well for military-influenced pleated shorts, though there’s variety in how the look is interpreted. Take Katharine Hamnett’s white cotton drill shorts (£165), which are high, wide and long but feel more knockabout than the Ralph Lauren style. Giorgio Armani’s stone cotton shorts (£558) have a more contemporary feel – and belt loops. I’d team them with Tod’s elasticated Greca webbing belt (£170) as it also channels military style and its cool fastening sits flat for a neat profile. It comes in an array of colours from cream to navy-and-burgundy stripe.
A webbing belt also looks good with JW Anderson’s mid-rise pleated cotton shorts (£390). These come in a smashing desert-army-inspired pale ochre reminscent of the uniform worn by the soldiers of the Long Range Desert Group who Beaton photographed in 1942. Military inspiration can also be seen in Rubinacci’s Manny shorts (€280), which have two fixed fabric belts that thread through one another and attach to the fly panel. The distinct closure, two pleats and straight cut are inspired by roomy Gurkha-style shorts. “The high waist and pleats make them particularly suited to hot weather,” says Luca Rubinacci, who’s been photographed wearing them around the Mediterranean, both casually and with a shirt. I’m a real fan of the Manny shorts, not only for the shape but also for the fabulous colour range of brushed-cotton drills: vibrant green, azure blue and deep maroon stand out alongside classic navy, stone, army green and black. I’d team them with patterned, striped silk shirts. In a similar vein, but with slightly less volume, are Brunello Cucinelli’s olive garment-dyed cotton-gabardine Bermuda shorts (£490).
Not all of this season’s long, pleated shorts have a wide-legged military influence. Prada’s trim, crisp and pared-down navy cotton shorts (£390) have a single inward-facing pleat and no visible buttons. More dark blue can be found at E Tautz, where pleated Naval shorts (£185) come in natural indigo denim with white top-stitching. And there are some eye-catching check styles, including Editions MR’s dapper slim-cut shorts (£165) with a kitsch, bold windowpane check, and Maison Margiela’s longer-length, gently tapered pleated shorts (£390) in fine check. Typically for Margiela, there is a subtle twist with the belt loops sitting slightly lower than the waistband. A longer, below-the-knee Margiela model in silver-grey virgin wool (£395) almost looks like a cropped trouser. Swedish brand CMMN SWDN also presents longer styles to just over the knee. The black, clay or dusty‑pink wool double-pleated Jayson shorts (£170) have a 1920s flavour offset by a key-chain detail, Zoot-suit style.
For those who aren’t yet converts to pleated trousers, shorts are a great testing ground, and just the thing to enliven a summer wardrobe.