I've Worked It Out—This is How to Make Denim Shorts Look Grown-Up and Elegant

If I was going to point to one summer piece that is the subject of the fiercest debate, it would be the denim shorts. From the teeny tiny Daisy Dukes to the baggy jorts beloved by the likes of Hailey Bieber, it feels like every year a new slew of denim short trends roll around, with one side eager to embrace the look and the other side rolling their eyes. Historically, I've leaned more towards the latter group, but mainly because I never found a pair I thought looked remotely flattering. Sure, I owned a "just in case" pair to throw on over a swimsuit on holiday or to wear for a day of running errands on an unusually hot day, but I never actually thought they looked any good.

But recently, I've discovered that the world of denim shorts has evolved. Styles are no longer restricted to the rigid minis of my early Noughties youth. These days, designer brands and high street favourites alike have massively extended the options to encompass every personal style and body shape.

@_jessicaskye wearing denim shorts and tank and blazer

(Image credit: @_jessicaskye)

Perhaps as a result of this, I've spotted more and more influencers showcasing fresh ways to style this summer staple. A not-so-quick scroll on social media has served up plenty of styling inspiration that proves that denim shorts don't have to be limited to being a casual throw-on item. Sure, when paired with a t-shirt and trainers, they'll only ever look relaxed—but swap the t-shirt for an oversized linen shirt and the trainers for the very on-trend Fisherman sandals, and you've got something altogether more put together and polished. Go for heeled sandals and a blazer and you're even more elevated.

Scroll on to see some of the best looks that demonstrate how you can upgrade your denim cut-offs.

6 Elegant Denim Shorts Outfits to Wear This Summer:

1. Embroidered Blouse + Trainers

@oliviamarcus wearing shorts with a blouse and trainers

(Image credit: @oliviamarcus)

Style Notes: The key to making denim shorts look more elevated is to balance them out with a more sophisticated top. And as Olivia's outfit proves, one of the easiest ways to do this in the summer months is by opting for a embroidered breezy blouse—a truly timeless look.

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2. Blazer + Knee-High Boots

@amaka.hamelijnck wearing long shorts, knee high boots and a blazer

(Image credit: @amaka.hamelijnck)

Style Notes: As I noticed on a recent trip, New Yorkers are really backing the knee high boots in summer look. Give it a Scandi spin and follow Amaka's example of pairing yours with baggy shorts and an oversized blazer for an effortlessly cool outfit.

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3. Layers + Ballet Flats

@kimturkington_ wearing Bermuda shorts, a jumper and ballet flats

(Image credit: @kimturkington_)

Style Notes: We all know that British summer weather can be unpredictable, to say the least. Be ready for all eventualities by opting for a layered look—the neutral knit and classic black ballet flats really upgrade this jorts-based ensemble.

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4. Two-Tone Tank + Fisherman Sandals

@francescasaffari wearing Bermuda denim shorts, two-tone tank and fisherman sandals

(Image credit: @francescasaffari)

Style Notes: Thanks to The Row, Fisherman sandals have become a top footwear trend this season, and are arguably the most sophisticated flat sandal you can wear in the hot months. Opting for a two-tone tank instead of a simple block colour also just makes the whole look seem more considered.

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5. White Shorts + Tanks + Silk Scarf

@annabelrosendahl wearing white shorts, a black tank and silk headscarf

(Image credit: @annabelrosendahl)

Style Notes: Never underestimate the power of accessories. Anabel's silk scarf and seriously chic tote really elevate this otherwise understated minimalist look of long white shorts and a classic black tank.

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6. Striped Shirt + Thong Slides

@smythsisters wearing an oversized shirt with shorts

(Image credit: @smythsisters)

Style Notes: If you're looking for an elevated everyday denim shorts look, this is the perfect ensemble to emulate. An oversized shirt always looks effortlessly cool, and is just that bit more polished than a casual t-shirt.

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Freelance Fashion Editor

Jess Kelham-Hohler is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist. She has been a contributor for Who What Wear UK since 2023. Currently based in London following six years in Washington D.C. and New York, she was previously the Digital Editor for Soho House & Co, an international group of private members’ clubs for creatives. She has interviewed a range of artists, creators and more, including Alighieri founder Rosh Mahtani, photographer Misan Harriman and fashion editor Lindsay Peoples Wagner. Today, she writes primarily about fashion, travel and culture for various publications, and has worked as a copywriter and content strategist for brands such as Belstaff, Olivela and Equinox.