The thermometer read 32 degrees on a cloudy February morning in Burnt Hills — perfect shorts weather.
In the crowded halls of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, pale, male legs flashed by with regularity, displayed beneath baggy cargo shorts and above socks pulled up to mid-calf.
No matter how low the mercury drops, many teenage boys thumb their noses at frostbite and brave the elements in nothing more than shorts and a hoodie, leaving some adults concerned and others simply mystified.
One theory is that they’re trying to show off their socks.
According to BH-BL tenth-grader Riley Hynes, that’s partly right. Dressed last week in khaki cargo shorts and a green Nike hoodie, the 15-year-old proudly showed off his bright white socks, each emblazoned with a hot pink breast cancer awareness ribbon and matching pink stripes.
Throughout the school, there were other flashy socks on parade: purple-and-black striped ones, screaming pink ones, and some traditional black ones and white ones — all pulled up high.
Hynes’ socks are on display twice a week, all winter long, regardless of the weather.
“I thought today was particularly warm,” he said. “I opened my window and put my hand out.”
The way he sees it, wearing shorts just might make him feel warmer than wearing pants would.
“If you’re wearing shorts, shorts equal summer, and summer is warm, so when you’re wearing shorts, you feel warm,” he reasoned.
Ninth-grader John Whitney, a member of the school’s wrestling team who reserves his shorts for the warmer months, has a different take on the winter shorts-wearing phenomenon.
“It’s more of a statement that they can handle the cold because they’re dudes,” he said. “It’s either that, or they don’t have pants. One of the guys on the wrestling team says that he wears shorts all the time because he doesn’t own pants. … But one day, he wore jeans, and he said he found them. But that day, he also wore a carrot hat, like a hat that looked like a carrot.”
Science teacher Kelly Leone is puzzled that shorts have become an all-weather clothing article for teenage boys.
“I can’t decide if it’s a fashion thing, if they’re lazy and they open their drawer, they’ve gone through all their winter-appropriate clothes and are now dipping into the shorts, if they’re just not sensitive to temperature, I don’t know. It’s ridiculous though,” she said.
Between 20 and 30 percent of the boys at Shenendehowa’s Gowana Middle School show up regularly in shorts, sixth grade science teacher Meg Corcoran estimates. She said she thinks the whole shorts-wearing thing is one small step boys are taking toward leaving the nest.
“In middle school to high school, they’re on their own, they’re feeling independent, they’re picking out their own clothes. Everybody’s not watching everything they’re doing,” she explained. “I think it’s just trying to get their independence, in a goofy way.”
Whatever their motive, Corcoran’s not all that thrilled about seeing a bunch of sixth-grade boys show up at school half-dressed in sub-freezing temperatures, and she’s made that known. If it’s 30 degrees or below, she sends shorts-wearers to their gym lockers for wind pants, or has their parents bring in long pants for them to put on.
“In the event of a fire drill, they’re just not dressed properly to be outside in freezing cold temperatures, and then I really am worried about them,” she said.
BH-BL ninth-grader Owen Jones could care less about the temperature.
“New Year’s Eve, it was like zero, negatives, and I wore shorts then, outside to play football,” he said.
The slim 15-year-old was wearing jeans Wednesday, but said he’s in shorts three out of five school days each week, no matter how cold it is.
“I was born in Mississippi, so I kind of have an excuse that the sun’s radiated me so much I’m just naturally warm,” he said.
He’s not interested in showing off his socks, he noted. “The highest I’ll go is these ankle socks,” he said, showing off a pair of white ones with a Nike swoosh on them.
Shorts are sold year-round at H&M in Wilton Mall, a store popular with the teen set.
“I’m wearing shorts right now,” a male sales clerk said during a phone interview.
He said he sees male shoppers between the ages of 15 and 21 looking for shorts all the time. For winter, cargo shorts are in style, he noted.
That’s what Zach Calderon had on last week — tan ones, paired with black ankle socks and a white T-shirt. The 16-year-old Scotia-Glenville High School student, who’s been wearing shorts during winter since elementary school, said he won’t wear them until the temperature gets up to around 25 or 30 degrees.
Even though he’s more practical than some shorts-wearers claim to be, he draws the line when it comes to pairing shorts with a winter coat.
“If I’m going to wear a winter jacket, I’d wear it with pants, because to wear shorts with a heavy winter jacket just seems sort of backwards,” he said.