Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Fashion Backward: A Historical Note on Bermuda Shorts
“The short-pant is a terrible fashion choice. Unless it is from Bermuda.”
The island of Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, has a long history as a military outpost for the Royal Navy. British officers set up a North Atlantic headquarters in this strategic island in 1816; they soon found the heat unbearable, a common thread throughout the Empire outside of Great Britain. Each territory finds and creates a style on its own due to the weather. In India it is the light breathable Madras, in Burma (modern day Myanmar) linen is the textile of choice. But, in Bermuda, the Royal Navy found that the island had no natural clothing resource, almost all textiles were made from cotton. Nathanial Coxon, a native Bermudan and local businessman, ran one of the only tea shops on the island. Coxon employed a small staff and when business skyrocketed and his shop became crowded with naval officers, the shop became a sauna with steaming pots of tea. His own employees complained about the heat. The navy blue blazers and cotton khaki pants were the uniform and Coxon hesitated in adopting a new one. In order to save money and not outfit his staff with a whole new wardrobe, he took the khaki pants of his crew and cut them at the knee. The employees found the style silly, but were much more comfortable in this attire. Rear Admiral Mason Berridge took his tea in Coxon’s shop and found the style, “a bit of old Oxford and a bit of the Khyber Pass.” He loved the practicality and adopted the style for his fellow officers (who would later where them with knee socks). Berridge commissioned the short-pant and named it the Bermuda Short. But unlike other imperial writs, Berridge gave credit to Coxon and Coxon was given the title of OBE (Order of the British Empire). Bermuda shorts are still popular today (particularly since they come in a myriad of colors) and not just with tourists in tropical locales. It has become a mainstay on casual Fridays and the short-pant of choice for garden parties and clam bakes.