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SHORTS FINDING PLACE IN OFFICE

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There's no more skirting the issue. Shorts are taking the place of skirts, but in a curious way. Sometimes it's hard to tell they're shorts and not skirts.

So when are the new styles correct? When are they out of line?Although dress codes - many unwritten - still exist in many workplaces, a sampling of working women during lunch hour showed shorts are rising in popularity for the workplace.

More women are wearing them than you might think. These are not hot pants. They are not cutoffs, short shorts or Ruby Keeler tap shorts. Whether full-cut or slim, these are shorts usually worn with matching or coordinated tops.

And a recent informal survey of lunch-hour workers in Pittsburgh found not a single woman who said she had received guff from bosses or co-workers after adding the new shorts to their wardrobes.

Most just started to wear "the look" this spring.

"I have more than one pair. I wear them because they're comfortable. I keep them professional looking by wearing stockings and accessorizing properly," said Joann Kraus, who works at a small advertising firm.

Her shirt and pants were lime green. Her flat heels were iridescent copper.

Leonette DiBernardo, a hair stylist, wears them often because they have the comfort of pants and the dressiness of a skirt.

"I love them in rayon. They feel great. I try to keep them from being too casual by wearing a jacket, the right jewelry and usually stockings and high heels."

It takes care and planning to make shorts work in such a setting - certainly an effort to avoid having them look like Julia Roberts' outfit as a hooker in "Pretty Woman."

In any case, the right shorts must be chosen carefully.

"Good taste. That's the deciding factor," said Christina Dye, 39, a telephone company employee. Her black-and-white checked top and bottom looked more like a dress. It was her first such purchase but, she said, "I'll buy more. They're very comfortable."

"I bought these two things separately," explained 28-year-old Gloria Edwards, a Blue Cross employee, referring to her white cotton knit shorts and white jacket. "But I wear them as I would a skirt and jacket. They're comfortable. I don't think short skirts are ladylike, but I feel good in these."

They hit just above her knees. She said she wouldn't wear them shorter.

All the women surveyed agreed stockings were essential to keeping the look professional rather than casual. No bare legs.

And all considered them more attractive than a tight skirt with Lycra stretch material. And far better than faded denim jeans some men get away with in offices, as long as they wear a shirt and tie.