Straight Talk Advice

How Short Should Short Shorts Be?

Jul 09, 2013

Fashion police (Mom) wants low down on short shorts

Dear Straight Talk: I have school shopping to do and while I like my kids to pick out their own clothes, I often find myself in the role of "fashion police." Many of the shorts are so short and the tops so low-cut or sheer. What does the panel say about reasonableness for shorts, skirts, see-through tops, and plunging necklines? I would also like to know what peer judgments are made towards those whose attire rises or dips beyond reasonable. I read your column every week and would be so pleased to find this information. —Yuba City, Calif. Mom

Omari 19, Washington, D.C. Ask me a question

Making sure your kids are dressed appropriately is important because girls not wearing enough clothes are judged as promiscuous. Short skirts and shorts will always be in fashion, but they must be appropriate. It's your job to set the rules, but it might work better if they came across as suggestions rather than police authority. Another tactic is to let them wear what they want for a week and ask if people perceive them differently and how they felt dressing like that.

Taylor 16, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

Showing a little cleavage is fine. Showing leg is fine. A sheer top that exposes some skin is fine. What isn't cool is when any of these is overdone. Then it looks trashy. I can't give exact measurements because all bodies are different. The goal is to keep it classy.

Molly 21, Berkeley, Calif. Ask me a question

I use the “pick-one-or-the-other” rule. If I'm wearing something short, I won't wear a low-cut top. Or vice versa. See-through tops should be worn with a tank or camisole underneath. I don't wear a lot of revealing clothing now (compared to high school) due to the negative attention it gets me where I live.

Brennan 19, Colorado Springs, Colo. Ask me a question

In high school, it's fairly accepted that too much cleavage makes a girl appear easy. Short shorts are considered reasonable — however, that's ONLY if all is contained therein. If all is NOT contained, it is considered trashy and slutty, not only by guys but girls, too (who can be ruthless judges). Lots of makeup, dyed hair, or extreme piercings usually spell “insecurity” which equals “easy.” Girls have a lot more pressure than boys, fashion-wise. At college, this high school pressure falls away and seems so pointless!

Katie 19, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

General rule: if one area is more exposed, the other should be more covered. I match shorter shorts (2.5” inseam) with a basic tee, while longer shorts (4” inseam) get a tank top/bandeau. Wearing a bandeau under a shirt is catching on and more acceptable than a bare bra showing. However, at the lake or a concert, you aren't expected to dress as conservatively.

Gregg 19, Los Angeles Ask me a question

It's fun to look at girls whose shorts don't cover everything, but we're are all thinking “slutty” and would never date that girl.

Dear Mom: Ouch. I wish it weren't so, but people are constantly judged by their appearances — especially women. (There isn't a peep here about men!) Over-exposing oneself is separate from personal style, which I support. Over-exposure also exposes that something is “off” in the teen’s life. It's definitely up to parents to set rules (not mere suggestions) as most public schools have thrown in the towel.

Let's review what's acceptable from a peer standpoint: Short shorts work only if absolutely nothing falls out. Bandeau or cami is required under sheer tops. Keep cleavage moderate. If the outfit is “hot” above, make it cool below — or vice versa. Nobody mentioned high heels. If the outfit is fairly cool, great. Otherwise, wrong message is bumped sky high.

Editor's Note: I can hear the howls already. We should be able to dress however we want! Women are being prejudiced against! Yes and yes. And we all have to look in the mirror, because there is no law against dressing however you want in our culture, yet, as we've heard today, there is an unwritten code, about what is acceptable. Teens are the most ruthless of judges with all the kids split into cliques based on fashion and style choices.

To Parents: Apart from "too much skin” (which I do recommend you police), teenagers should be granted their own personal style when with their peers. A simple and fair rule that usually keeps everyone in the family happy is if it's a kid-event (school, games, hanging out, etc.), kids can dress in their style. If it's a parent-event (company picnic, holiday party, out to dinner), they dress to the parent's liking.

Hey! What's up with no comments about guys' sagging?!  —Lauren


  1. By Skippy, age , from Laguna Beach, CA, USA on 07/09/2013

    Our mom has no problem with the way my sister and I dress, but we have a new stepmom who thinks it’s her job to be the “fashion police” for us!  In the summer when it’s hot we like to wear short shorts that show just the very top of our butt crack.  We don’t overdo it, but guys find it a turn on if you show them just a little.  We go there on visitations every other weekend and our stepmom had a major cow about it and said we were “exposing ourselves” to our 15 year old stepbrother if you can believe that! You see girls wearing these shorts everywhere you go in the summertime so he’s going to see this anyway, and what’s the harm?

    She even thinks she can tell us what kind of underwear we can wear when we’re there.  Like most girls our age ( 17 and 15), we wear thong underwear.  We share a room with our 14 year old stepsister when we’re there, so she sees us in our underwear (and naked) and we couldn’t care less since we’re all girls.  She told her mom that we wear it and now she wants to wear it and our stepmom also wants us to forbid us to wear it when we’re there.  Again, all the girls wear thong underwear these days, so she’s certainly already seen it in the girls’ locker room and at slumber parties, etc., so where’s the harm in her seeing it on us, especially when she sees us naked? 

    She says she doesn’t have the right to tell us what to do the rest of the time, but does have the right to have a say in what we “expose” her children to.  Our dad told us in private that he doesn’t have a problem with the shorts and underwear we want to wear, but he doesn’t want to make waves in a new family so we have to go along with her when we’re there.  He says it shouldn’t be a big deal since it’s just every other weekend and we can wear what we want the rest of the time.  Well, it is a big deal to us!


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  2. By Neal, age , from Roseville, CA on 07/09/2013

    I agree that showing too much just makes a girl look slutty.  I find it much more attractive when a girl with a nice body leaves something to the imagination.  I have a stepsister with an obvious crush on me who constantly flirts with me and wears shorts in front of me that are so skimpy that it shows half her butt when she bends over which she finds reasons to do right in front of me, and I’m not exaggerating.  I find it sickening to have to look at this and far from turning me on, it is a big turn off.


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  3. By Treyvon, age , from Yorba Linda, Calif. on 07/09/2013

    I couldn’t help but notice that all the things mentioned as potentially inappropriate garb are clothes designed for women, not men.  I’ve noticed a lot that (especially with more traditional parents) girls get way more flack for how they behave and what they wear than guys do.  This may be part of the unfortunate “lock and key” dynamic of traditional western sexuality.  For men, promiscuity is looked up to and chastity is looked down upon, but for women (especially young women) chastity is looked up to and promiscuity is looked down upon.  Naturally, this sexist puritanism expresses itself in the world of fashion. It’s not surprising that there are more rules for what a young woman can choose to wear than what a young can choose to wear.

    This is a generalization, of course.  I’m not saying no guy ever got criticized for wearing his pants low.  I think the real problem here is stereotyping.  If a girl wears skimpy clothes, people assume she is more sexual than a girl who chooses to wear something less revealing.  The guy wears pants that sag, people assume he’s unmotivated or perhaps comes from a poor or broken family.  I can say definitively, from first-hand experience, that the snap judgments we make about people based on how they present themselves are almost always wrong.  An ideal world, people would be able to wear whatever they wanted without being judged stereotyped.  Girls with dyed hair and facial piercings can be really sweet, and guys who look calm, professional, and upstanding can often be anything but.  (Just look at Don Draper).  All too often, kids who wear something that people consider “weird” become socially isolated.  So, in conclusion, people shouldn’t be judged for what they choose to wear, and that starts with giving them the freedom to wear whatever they want.

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  4. By Karl, age , from Whittier, CA on 07/09/2013

    My younger sister wants a boyfriend so bad that she’s dressing so as to show off as much of her butt and boobs as possible.  Guys laugh at her behind her back and tease me about having such a “slutty” sister.  I’ve tried to tell her that this isn’t the way to get a boyfriend and that the guys are just laughing at her and making crude remarks about her, but she won’t listen.  This is a total turnaround for her.  She used to be so shy about her body that she couldn’t even undress in front of other girls except our other sister who she’s close to and shares a room with.  It was very traumatic for her when she started middle school and had to change into gym clothes and take showers with other girls.  Now she’s going out of her way to expose her body to guys!  She’s also become very casual around the house and walks around in front of me in just a thong and T shirt which makes me very uncomfortable.  She used to listen to our other sister who is older and who she’s always looked up to, but she also can’t get through to her.

    She still doesn’t have a boyfriend, so you’d think that she’d figure out that this isn’t the way as my other sister and I had been hoping.  But she’s still dressing this way.


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  5. By Pete, age , from Lodi, CA on 07/10/2013

    I feel the same way as Gregg and so do most of the guys I know.  I realize that it sounds sexist and it probably is, but we enjoy looking at girls who wear tops that show off their tits and shorts or low rise jeans that show their butts, but we have no respect for them and wouldn’t want to date them.  If they could just hear how guys talk and laugh at them behind their backs, I really don’t think they would be trying to impress us by dressing this way.  While Skippy may be right that exposing their butt cracks can be a turn on for many guys, it doesn’t mean that we would want to go out with someone who has to expose herself like this to try to attract guys.


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  6. By Kat, age , from Santa Ana, CA, U.S.A. on 07/10/2013

    Guys like Pete are very sexist as he even admits, and they make me sick.  I’ll bet he’s the type who would seduce a girl to have sex with him and then dump her because he couldn’t respect her since he was able to seduce her!  However, that doesn’t change the fact that what he says is true, and I’m glad he wrote and was so candid.

    I’m going to do whatever it takes to make my little sister read this week’s column, especially Pete’s comment.  She won’t listen to me, but maybe she’ll listen to it straight from the horse’s mouth!  She wears low cut, seethrough tops without a bra and tight shorts and jeans that are so low rising that it shows a good deal of her butt crack.  The friends she hangs out with also dress this way and they think it’s what guys want to see.  As Pete says, many guys do want to see this, but it’s not going to lead to a good relationship with a decent guy.  Even though she’s my sister and I see her nude every day since we share a room, it still makes me sick to see her dressed to expose her body in this way. 

    Girls, LISTEN UP!


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  7. By Nick, age , from San Pablo, CA on 07/11/2013

    I agree with Neal.  I find it a turn off when a girl exposes her crack or shows cleavage almost down to the nipples as I see many girls doing.  I find it much more attractive when a girl with a good figure wears tight jeans or shorts that don’t expose their crack and leave it to the imagination.  The same thing on top.  A modest amount of cleavage on a girl with nice breasts is attractive, but it just looks slutty when they overdo it.  Also, girls should know that when they expose too much guys take it as a signal that they are promisuous whether that is true or not. 


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  8. By S.L., age , from Folsom, CA on 07/11/2013

    I hope my stepsisters and a few of my friends read this, and especially the comments from the guys about how dressing like this comes across to guys.  I’m not a prude, but I don’t believe in exposing my body this way and guys seem to find me at least as attractive as the girls who think they have to expose themselves like this.  It really makes me embarrassed and uncomfortable when I see my stepsisters wearing jeans and shorts that expose their butt cracks and tops that overly expose their boobs.  It’s kind of strange because I share their room on visitations and seeing them nude doesn’t bother me.  I guess it’s because when they’re nude in the bedroom they aren’t displaying private parts of their bodies in a “slutty” way, but when they’re dressed like this in public they are.  It really bothers me when I go places with them and guys stare or whistle or make crude comments, but they take it as a compliment.


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