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The True Meaning Of Jorts

I swore off wearing jean shorts for 15 years until I unlocked their true essence.

When I was in fourth grade, my dad took me to K-Mart to buy my very first pair of jorts. (Back then they were just “jean shorts.”) It was the mid-’90s. My best friend was already wearing jorts and I wanted them too. I would style them adeptly with oversize T-shirts from museum gift shops. I still remember the brand of those shorts: Chic. The brand still exists today, and its website reads, “Nothing feels quite as good as being comfortable.” So we’re clearly talking cutting-edge fashion.

At 10 years old, I didn’t even own a proper pair of jeans yet. Denim seemed like a fabric for adults. Jorts were yanking me away from a childhood of sweatpants and leggings toward the unknown territory of button-fly adulthood.

Standing there in that K-Mart dressing room is my first memory of not liking the way I looked. As I stared in the mirror and my dad waited outside in the store, I felt like I wasn’t “pulling off” those jorts. I was comparing myself to my thin, gangly best friend, and I didn’t like looking different. But I got the shorts anyway. They seemed to represent summer. And summer meant days at the public pool, climbing into my friend’s mom’s minivan in a wet bathing suit, clutching a towel and gnawing on a frozen Twix bar purchased from an impossibly cool teen at the concession stand as “Kiss from a Rose” played on the radio. Who could resist all that in one pair of shorts, no matter how unflattering?

My tween years saw more experimentation with jorts. I remember the last pair I bought before I completely lost my jorts innocence. I was in eighth grade. I spent a lot of time at the mall making questionable choices. I went into Wet Seal and came out with a tank top covered in butterflies and some really, really short jorts. When I wore that outfit to school the next day, I didn’t feel comfortable. At 13, I wasn’t ready for jorts of that caliber. Eventually I saw a photo of myself wearing them and thought I looked ridiculous. It would be 15 years before I gave jorts another chance.

In the meantime, I had flings with other styles of shorts. In the late ’90s the Delia’s catalog and the warm, grungy glow of Pacific Sunwear tried to convince me that board shorts were a good idea. They were not. The early aughts brought the dark days of cargo shorts and fed into the even darker days of shorts with words on the butt. Words like “Abercrombie.” They were grim days for us all. But by far the most sinister were my college years, known simply as The Horrifying Capri Pants Times. And yes, my favorite pair of capris had rainbows on the butt, the kind of thing you should hire snipers for, to hide outside your home and prevent you, at all costs, from walking around wearing something like that.

But don’t think jorts weren’t calling out to me. I wasn’t deaf to their pleading cries. “Wear me! Wear me! You’ll look just like Jessica Simpson in the 2005 remake of The Dukes of Hazzard. We promise!” “Sorry, jorts! I can’t. I caaaan’t!” My jorts boycott even endured the iconic Levi’s commercial where a supermodel takes off her jeans and lays them on the railroad tracks so a train runs over them to make cutoffs. If that commercial didn’t make you want to cut off all your jeans into sexy shorts, you were made of stone. But not even pure sex or Jessica Simpson’s butt could convince me to get my own butt back into jorts.

The thing that finally brought me back to jorts was love. (Gross.) Love for my favorite pair of jeans. My thighs, with the strength of 10,000 suns, had blown holes in my jeans, making them unwearable. With my strict no-jorts policy, usually that would be the end. But I just couldn’t say good-bye this time. So I cut myself some jorts. I used scissors because the train-track method seemed dangerous.

My jean-shorts rebirth was complete. It’s true what they say: You never forget how to wear jorts. But after so many years, I did have initial thoughts of, Is this OK? and Does this look bad? But with each passing year, time serves you a cocktail of confidence and apathy that turns beer goggles on what everyone else thinks. Fifteen years of insecurity dissolved into, Who cares?

If you’re wearing shorts of any kind, you’re clearly not going to a black-tie wedding. On some level, putting your legs through a pair of jorts is already broadcasting that you just don’t care. Recently, I saw a guy in my neighborhood riding his bike on the sidewalk, zigzagging between people while smoking a cigarette. I actually checked to see if he was wearing jorts. Of course he was. He didn’t care. At all. And considering I’ve worn a $4 poncho from a store in my neighborhood I’ve dubbed “the garbage store,” I clearly don’t care either. Jorts: the official garment of doing whatever the hell you want.

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