Wisdom of Our Fathers: Short Shorts (Part 1)–Diversity and Inclusion for Plus-Sized Thighs

Pants are a problem for lean, solid dogs. Since the dawn of mass-produced clothing, our brethren have struggled with a perennial challenge: our thighs and butts have been marginalized.

Frank, a Finnish cyclist living abroad in hot weather, sends this question to the Lean Solid Dogs Mail Room: 

For big thighs, kilts really are the ultimate in comfort. If you REALLY don’t care what people think, stop reading now and switch to Utilikilts.

It seems that, although my own physique has been relatively stable over the years …, the middle of the bell curve has shifted … I’ve ordered and returned half a dozen pairs [of shorts] … that are either too big in the waist, too tight in the thighs, or, most maddeningly, both. I’m thinking Lean Solid Dogwear might be the answer to my prayers. Any favorite military surplus options?

The answer is HELL YES! Armies have been clothing people for a long time–people likely to be walking on biggish thighs and butts that are out of proportion to their waists–and they have an incentive to liberate those legs and not bind them. As we know, the old backpacking adage is true: “a pound on the feet is like five in the pack,” and in fact the British Army found it’s actually more like 6.4 pounds! Similarly, if you walk in pants that restrict your thighs, you burn extra energy needlessly. 

Baggy PLA trousers of the 1965 pattern. Not meant to fit all that well in length or width, they pleat down to a (still very roomy) waist that is belted above the hips to keep from falling. For me, 1990s Beijing was the city of my youth, and seeing these takes me right back. (Photo from listing on Taobao)

In the 20th century, armies approached this problem in one of three ways:

1) Make everything a little too big. This was the characteristic Soviet and Chinese approach. Back in my youth, Chinese men wore pants with waists that were oversized from a Western perspective, and they would wear these very high, above the hips and navel, and secure them there with a belt. (The belt itself was usually hugely oversized too, often wrapping all the way round to the man’s back.) Military uniforms worked the same way, and TONS of people wore cheap PLA surplus pants. I’ve never tried this approach myself, but it seems to have worked just fine. It just looked a little rumpled, but so far as I know it didn’t hamper one’s movement.

Of course, it probably helped that in the old days Soviet and Chinese citizens subsisted on diets that were anything but rich and left people pretty trim. There were not a lot of beefy butts and thighs to begin with.

2) Lots of combinations of length and breadth. Instead of trying to shoehorn every body type into one-dimensional categories like “medium” or “large,” you can very sensibly offer an abundance of possible combinations of width and length.

I need olive drab uniform pants, and for my needs, the Austrian ones can’t be beat. (I just wish that Europe would reconsider its aversion to back pockets. Where the hell do Europeans put their wallets?)

This is the approach taken by the English- and German-speaking armies. The Bundeswehr offers twenty possible trouser sizes, which certainly sounds like a lot, but it highlights the limitations of a sizing system based just on inseam and waist. Even though you can choose from up to six different waist sizes, if you’re squatting or cycling a lot, you’ll blow up your butt and legs more than the German pants can really accommodate. In my experience, to be really adequate you need to offer more choices, like the Austrian Bundesheer with twenty-eight combinations (four length options and a full seven waist sizes). And America being the land of choices, we offer 36 options: six lengths and six waist sizes, with really roomy thighs.

The quality of East German surplus is unexpectedly excellent, with clever design and tough construction.

Interestingly, the unrivaled champions in trouser sizing were the East Germans. Despite belonging to the Soviet bloc, they ostentatiously retained German uniform designs. But they took things even further: in addition to waist and inseam sizes, they added a third category for body type, with four values ranging from athletic to rotund. All told, the East Germans offered a whopping 120 permutations, in a small rump of a country of only 17 million people. 

3) Man up and wear short shorts. In general, French and Italian uniforms set terrible examples for accommodating “hip and thigh diversity.” Their pants have skinny legs that look very sharp but aren’t compatible with things like barbell squatting. Or protein. Italian surplus in particular seems designed for vegan marathoners suffering from kwashiorkor. And the French have narrowed down their options for long pants to a one-dimensional chart with a maximum of 13 options.

The Esercito Italiano clearly works overtime at maintaining la bella Italia’s reputation for exquisitely sharp-looking clothes. But in my limited experience, their amazingly slender surplus clothes are designed for bodies shaped like angel hair pasta.

However, the French and Italians have also spent a lot of time in the Mediterranean and North Africa, and for hot climates they solved the hip-and-thigh problem ingeniously. They cut the Gordian knot of variables—waist, thigh, seat, and inseam—and just issued shorts. And not just any shorts—not bermudas or board shorts or cargo shorts but short shorts. Seventies shorts. Shorts that insecure men might even be too timid to wear. Because you can almost eliminate the problem of thigh size as long as the shorts are short enough. Your legs will be free to move, sweat, and soak up vitamin D.

Watch this space for more further installments on choosing milsurp short shorts.

3 thoughts on “Wisdom of Our Fathers: Short Shorts (Part 1)–Diversity and Inclusion for Plus-Sized Thighs

  1. Short miltary shorts should be just the thing for the Helsinki Star Course this year. I still recall the inaugural1985 edition. We started out with 15 competitors. In the end it was just me in a rowboat. Had everyone had the right attire, things might have ended differently.

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