Bermuda Shorts – A Legacy That Has Not Been Lost

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As we have been going through a heatwave, I felt it was only right that I address a style of garment, that comes out every time the temperature increases, and it becomes practical to wear them. That garment is of course Shorts. Now, for this article, I decided to focus more specifically on Bermuda shorts.

Generally, the “Bermuda” (Not lost in the ‘Triangle’) is often dropped these days, and in the high street, they are more often than not just called shorts. But, why were they known as Bermuda shorts? What is the significance, and why are they much more commonplace than you realise?

Bermuda is the only place in the world where they were the national dress for men. This, changed however in 2007 when Bermuda decided to discard some of its British Colonial heritage.

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Millions of people who have not yet visited Bermuda may think they know of Bermuda Shorts. But only the dress Bermuda shorts - what male Bermudians and professional business newcomers from all walks of life used to wear for business attire and cocktail parties in the evenings – These are the real Bermuda shorts, worn approximately three inches above the knee. They were often worn as a uniform, as day attire, and sometimes as informal evening wear, or walking wear.

Shorts owe the majority of their contemporary origins to the military. Quite possibly the earliest example of modern-day shorts is roughly the 1880s when they are seen as part of the uniform of the heavily respected Gurkha soldiers of the Nepalese army –– much like our Khaki (Chino) shorts of today, but these have four generous pockets and a distinctive cummerbund waistband with buckles and adjustable straps.

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During World War I, Britain set up its North American Headquarters in Bermuda. It is said there was a single tea shop run by Nathaniel Coxon on the island, and because of the British soldiers, business thrived. The summer heat and the steaming pots of tea made the temperature inside the little tea shop more often than not unbearable. The owner, not wanting to spend money on new uniforms for his staff, took all the khaki trousers they wore and cut them just above the knee. Rear Admiral Mason Berridge, who, so happened to like having his tea in this little shop, adopted the style for his fellow officers and soon christened them “Bermuda Shorts”.

The British Navy founded the yacht clubs in the port towns of Hamilton & St. George in Bermuda. And it wasn’t long before officers of the British Army serving elsewhere began adopting the smart looking, summer version of the khaki military uniform. Before long, the men in London, who made such uniform decisions on behalf of the military, stated that standard dress was to be khaki shorts amongst all British soldiers serving elsewhere in the sub-tropics of The Old British Empire.

The local people of Bermuda soon began to notice the smartly dressed British officers milling around these yacht clubs, and it was not long before tailors began to copy and modify the style, and make it appropriate for civilian use. This of course helped to establish the style, and by the 1920s it had become the standard business attire of the local men.

At this time, Bermuda was also a very popular steamship destination and tourists arriving for winter holidays soon helped to spread the style back to the United States and elsewhere around the world.

It has to be said, No country has influenced the school uniforms worn by children around the world more than England.

Originally, uniforms were first adopted by charity institutions to identify the children receiving charity. Only later, did exclusive private schools adopt the uniforms, with the goal of discipline and uniformity, but paradoxically, the uniforms served to famously identify the status of students from prestigious schools. With few exceptions, it was grey flannel shorts, based on the short trouser uniform worn by the British Military in Tropical settings.

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The style was also adopted by the Boy Scouts, whose founder, Lord Baden Powell, himself a Major General for the British Army. As these school children grew up and began to become adults in the world, gradually shorts became more acceptable in society, first, with outdoor activities like hiking and golf and then they made the very public jump to tennis. In 1932, when Britain’s top-ranked tennis player, Bunny Austin appeared in the U.S. National Championships in Forrest Hills, Long Island, he wore flannel shorts instead of the standard white trousers. This cooler, and the ability to move easier and more comfortably, style helped him. It wasn’t long before other Tennis players also began to wear shorts.

After World War II, Western civil society began to shrug off the conformity that had been required. Society began to reorganise itself more, and by the 1950s, in suburban America, Bermuda shorts were seen as essential wear during the summer, and in the hotter areas of the country. Of course, this was also the period when Ivy style was at its height, and many Ivy League students adopted smart shorts when on campus. It seemed that Madras shorts were particularly popular.

These days there are several variations on shorts. Coming in various lengths, rather than the regulation three inches above the knee. Their practicality has ensured a legacy of style. Thankfully we can say it was never lost in the Bermuda Triangle...

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Read 806 times Last modified on Wednesday, 12 August 2020 12:02
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