Last weekend, I discovered a new, personal incarnation of that “Want to feel really old?” trope. Louder than any BuzzFeed listicle; more startling than finding out how old the kids from Friends are now. Want to feel really old? Live in Finsbury Park while Wireless Festival is on.
Obviously, you can sub in any locale and any festival that attracts swarms of buoyant under-twenties in face glitter, but last weekend was my turn. As I wrestled my shopping bags through the sea of shiny, happy revellers, feeling like north London’s Nora Batty, I realised with a sudden jolt that I was no longer part of the youth. I don’t know any of Skepta’s songs. I can no longer stomach lukewarm cider out of plastic before noon. I just referred to grime tracks as “songs”. And, crucially, I don’t own a pair of denim shorts any more.
Looking back, I can’t even pinpoint the moment when denim shorts stopped being a key part of my summer arsenal. Maybe somewhere between the demise of footless tights and the Year of the Thousand Pleated Midi Skirts? Was I so busy trying to conquer culottes that I slipped into my post-jort (that's jean shorts, obviously) years without noticing? Or maybe it’s not so much that I outgrew cut-offs as that they’ve done an incredible shrinking act – getting smaller and shorter, and showcasing more arse cheek each year, until one day I just started mistaking them for blue denim pants (jants?) and passing them by on the rail.
For people like me, who find summer all too slippery a slope into dressing like Carmen Miranda at a classic car show, denim shorts are the easiest way to keep things casual
But hang on. Stop. While I’m seasoned enough to look at the jorts-slash-jants and think, “Yes, yes, but is it worth the Canestan?”, that doesn’t mean I’m ready to opt out entirely. I can’t stop wondering if Nora Ephron’s famous bikini wisdom applies here, too? I don’t want to be in my rocking chair at the District X Retirement Pod for Aged Digital Content Merchants, mourning the fact I didn’t wear denim cut-offs every day until I was 72.
Plus, sartorially, they’re a safe pair of hands. For people like me, who find summer all too slippery a slope into dressing like Carmen Miranda at a classic car show, denim shorts are the easiest way to keep things casual. Get the right pair and they’re an inoffensive staple that goes with everything – the Kettle Chips in the picnic basket of your wardrobe. But they’re also the kind of thing you don’t want to spend money on if, again like me, you’re sceptical, self-conscious and there’s a good chance they’ll end up flung unceremoniously to the back of the wardrobe after peeling your thighs off a plastic chair one too many times.
So, the answer? DIY, obviously! They’re called cut-offs for a reason, and that reason isn’t social ostracism. It’s scissors.
Turning your old jeans into a new pair of jorts makes economic and ethical sense, but it also allows you to get the length and shape exactly right. According to the internet, the most flattering denim shorts are cut slightly higher at the side than on the inner leg, and for bum-covering purposes it’s also a good plan to keep them a little longer in the back than the front. Start by putting your jeans on, and mark in chalk or pencil the four places on each leg where you want your shorts to end – at the front, back, inner seam and outer seam. Join these marks up, then give yourself a very generous margin of error (an inch or two at least) when you start cutting.
Tip: Cut one layer of fabric at a time; don’t be tempted to fold the legs over and do the whole lot in one go. Approach your jorts with the same caution as a home haircut – you can always trim more, but you can’t glue back on what is lost. Too many good fringes and pairs of Levi’s have perished that way. Oh, and watch out for pockets.
Think about the type of denim you’re using, too. Jeans with slight stretch lend themselves nicely to a longer length, while rigid straight-leg and mom jeans make the best skimpy cut-offs (NB Baby’s Dirty Dancing wardrobe may have been wildly anachronistic, but it is a masterclass in both styles). Jeans that have gone baggy over time could have a whole new lease of life as roomy, rolled-up shorts, while those 10-year-old bootcuts in the charity shop are begging for the chop. Try them as cropped kick flares first and, if that doesn’t work, then hack them into shorts.
Another tip: ripping, rather than cutting, will give you instant fray, but it’s a risky game. Better to alternate between small rips and snips, or rub at the hem with sandpaper and put your shorts in the washing machine afterwards. Straggly raw edges look more modern than a perfectly fluffy finish anyway.
If this is already sounding like too much effort, you could also cut round a pair of existing shorts that fit you well. Or just cut your jeans off above the knee and fold them up until the length looks right. After all, life is short. Time is fleeting. You have your hands full with checking the weather forecast, exfoliating your knees and trying not to think about Tobias the Never-Nude from Arrested Development.
But if youth is wasted on the young, then maybe denim shorts are, too. Somebody chill me a cider – my thighs are making a comeback.
IF YOU DON'T WANT TO DIY, HERE'S 3 OF THE BEST DENIM SHORTS ON THE HIGH STREET: