How can you look stylish when it's 88 degrees and humid and you're heading for the office?
For Melissa Bohlig, a press specialist at Roepke Public Relations in Minneapolis, the answer is short and sweet: shorts.
Bohlig wears Bermudas or looser shorts that hit her at mid-thigh at least a couple times a week. On a recent Friday, nearly her entire office donned them. Bohlig said the look is de rigueur for her job, which requires her to meet with editors at fashion magazines such as Harper's Bazaar.
"In the media scene, shorts are contagious," she said. "In [a recent episode of MTV's] 'The City,' all the editors [from Elle magazine] were in shorts."
But Bohlig may be have a leg up on most Midwestern professionals.
From runway to cubicle
While shorts first hit runways a few years ago, every length from hot pants to Bermudas were part of spring and summer collections from Michael Kors, Charlotte Ronson, Derek Lam, Stella McCartney and Carolina Herrera. Stylish shorts have proven very popular among working women in New York City, where stores have been stocking up. According to Women's Wear Daily, "Retailers report they're experiencing double-digit increases in the shorts category."
And some designers have clearly decided that it's a look with staying power.
Phillip Lim is showing shorts as part of his fall collections, layered over hosiery.
"Shorts are iconic of a trend of taking something casual and dressing it up," said Gregg Andrews, the Chicago-based fashion director of Nordstrom. He favors a tailored look for the office, paired with a tailored blouse, jacket and flats, wedges or kitten heels.
What about the boss?
But while they're taking over the runways and finding favor on the East Coast, shorts are not being embraced by corporate Minnesota.
According to representatives of Target, Carlson Companies and HealthPartners, shorts are not considered acceptable attire. Target, for example, requires business formal or red and khaki Monday through Thursday and business casual on Friday, which doesn't include shorts.
"Shorts aren't allowed anytime in headquarters," said Erika Svingen, a company spokeswoman, who added that team members are encouraged to incorporate their personal style into their working wardrobes.
The policy is similar at Health-Partners. "As much as I would love to wear shorts in the office, they are not part of the dress code at HealthPartners," said spokeswoman Amy von Walter, via e-mail. "Given that our organization includes patient-care areas, our policy tends to be fairly conservative."
Smaller companies in creative fields seem less restrained.
Shorts are permissible at Roepke, but they must have at least a 9-inch inseam and be worn with flat shoes or a wedge heel, said owner Katherine Roepke. And Bohlig said she wears shorts on days when she's primarily in the office. She has worn them to a client meeting only once, with the design firm Duffy & Partners. "The client is casual, very creative -- and they wear shorts," she said.
Kara Kurth is a designer at Redstamp.com, a stationery e-tailer, where even "pajamas or workout clothes" are acceptable, said founder Erin Newkirk. And Kurth, who owns four pairs of office-appropriate shorts, said she thinks being allowed to wear shorts gives her an edge. "I really like it, because if I'm inspired, my work will be, too," she said.
It seems likely that dressed-up shorts will become a staple of office attire, at least in some cities and some industries. But even Nordstrom's Andrews recognizes that the trend has legs -- and limits. "You'd want your art director in shorts," he said, "but probably not your attorney."
Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177