TWO YEARS AGO the streets were awash with a sea of boho gypsy skirts, and the summer before was all about Jessica Simpson's Daisy Dukes. This summer's defining piece is undoubtedly the city shorts, which have been transformed from a casual staple into a chic must-have.
The look was championed by Frida Giannini, who matched shiny, tailored Bermudas with printed chiffon tops on the Gucci catwalks. Other designers had their own take: at Versace they were worn low with a big belt, while Armani and Andrew Gn introduced the tailored short suit for the working woman. For high-wattage glamour, Etro paired its shorts with a fitted metallic jacket, and Dries Van Noten's romantic take included shorts in kimono fabrics, tie-dye and flower prints.
'Shorts are always popular in the summer and this season more so because of the cruise theme,' says Becky Chang Pei-chi, a personal stylist at Lane Crawford. 'Lengths vary each season, but this year is all about the Bermuda.'
Experts agree that shorts are one of the most versatile pieces of clothing this season, but choosing the right pair can be difficult. As with all trends, the key is to experiment. Shorts are a great investment no matter what shape, size or age you are and there are a variety of styles to choose from, including the Bermuda, the mid-shorts and Kate Moss hot pants.
Whatever style you choose, the cut is the most important thing to keep in mind. If you end up resembling a tourist or a badly dressed soccer mum, then you've got it all wrong.
'Bermudas usually graze the knee and should be loose fitting but still tailored,' says Chang. 'Opt for a straight leg that's not too tight. Short shorts will usually stop mid-thigh and come with cuffs. A cuff is more suited for a casual event or a day at the beach. Tight shorts are less forgiving, but can look great if you have toned thighs. Look for styles that are more tapered and that are well cut.'
Harvey Nichols director of merchandising Zarina Kitchell advises avoiding 'anything loose and baggy. The utility look is also on its way out.'
If separates don't work for you, one-piece short jumpsuits or strapless short dresses are great for a night out. These one-pieces can create the illusion of a longer torso and are also comfortable.
Once you've determined what type of cut you like, the next step is figuring out what length is appropriate.
'If you're conscious of your thighs, buy a length that just covers it,' says Kitchell. Tracy Fong Tien-tse, the owner of Trace boutique in Central, says styles should be 'low-waisted and cover your bottom. Shorter shorts are more flattering, because Bermudas have a longer area in the front that can look strange if your legs aren't long enough. I prefer mid-thigh shorts.' Fong also suggests buying a bigger size so the shorts sit comfortably on your hips.
White is this season's colour, but it isn't always easy to pull off. 'If you go for white, it's always better to wear a top that's loose so it balances it out,' says Chang. 'Don't choose a darker top as it will slim your upper torso and make your bottom half look bigger.'
Denim is fun for casual events, but isn't appropriate for more formal occasions. Go for metallic colours such as silvery blue, which is safe but glamorous. For basics, choose black, grey or navy blue. Other fabrics to look out for are brocade (which will carry through to autumn). Nautical-inspired styles with gold buttons are popular, and patterned shorts add dimension and a bit of fun.
Once you've bought your perfect pair, it's time to decide what to wear them with. Proportion is the key. Looser tops, preferably an Empire line, will make the bottom look smaller. Keep them minimal with little or no detail, particularly if the shorts are patterned. Avoid too much contrast between the top and bottom.
'Tube tops are easy - or go for summery vintage tops,' says Fong. 'Try longer tank tops and belt them at the waist [belts are still big for summer and the double-belt look was spotted on the autumn catwalks]. A sheer silk kimono-type top with a tank top underneath also makes the look feminine.'
For accessories, anything goes and many can be used to take your pair from day to night. On Kitchell's list are cowboy boots, long layered necklaces and ballerina flats. Chang prefers beaded necklaces and wedges to elongate the legs and add height. Only wear flats if you're tall enough, and go formal with crystal-encrusted styles from brands such as Giuseppe Zanotti.
With temperatures soaring, shorts have also started to infiltrate the workplace. So, how can you make them look smart in the office?
'I think shorts would work more in the creative industry,' says Kitchell. 'But if you wear them to work, pair them with a classic shirt which is already very chic and some chain necklaces. A short jacket with cropped sleeves is also good.'
Chang says it's also important to choose the right length. 'The more you reveal, the more inappropriate it becomes. Go for tailored shapes and forget wedges - they're too casual. Chunky platforms or open-toe sandals will work. Closed-toe shoes will make the legs look shorter. Don't show any skin between the bottom of your top and the waistband and avoid tops that are too long as it can look sloppy.'
Fong recommends short suits too, so stock up on short-sleeved shirts and wear them tucked in and with a big belt for a chic, safari look.
If buying shorts late into the season seems strange, think again. The look can still work next season. 'Buy styles that carry into autumn,' says Fong. 'Pair them with leggings or opaque tights and boots, which are all big trends to watch out for.'
Shiny, heavier fabrics are best, and darker colours are de rigueur.
Where to shop
Although autumn gear is already in stores, you can stock up on shorts at bargain prices.
3.1 by Philip Lim (Harvey Nichols, the Landmark, tel: 3695 3388) has relaxed styles that are good for all shapes. Johnson (Trace, 4/F, 9 On Lan Street, Central, tel: 2526 6912) pioneered the shorts trend in LA and features styles made from vintage and menswear fabrics. Trace also carries short suits by Myth & Ritual and short jumpsuits. Miu Miu (the Landmark, Central, tel: 2523 7833) has great Bermuda styles in fine cotton with patterns such as polka dots. Diane Von Furstenberg's (the Landmark, tel: 2522 8782) white eyelet shorts with gold metal detail can be dressed up for the evening, and Lane Crawford (IFC Mall, Central, tel: 2118 3388) has casual styles from Chloe and tight denims from hip brand Superfine.
For a look that can take you into the evening, go for Armani's (Chater House, Central, tel: 2532 7711) elegant short suits. For more affordable options, check out Club Monaco (Times Square, Causeway Bay, tel: 2118 3515), Zara (IFC Mall, Central, tel: 2234 7305) and Mango (Times Square, Causeway Bay, tel: 2506 1130).