growing a minimalist wardrobe: hangout shorts.

June 29, 2023

It’s summer. I plan on doing some hanging out. And I’d like a pair of perfect shorts to do that in. Too much to ask?

I have a great pair of cut-offs that I made two summers ago, but having formerly been jeans, they have things like buttons and a zipper that impinge mildly on achieving maximum comfort. If I sit too long in them, the crotch sort of digs in. If I want to curl up on the couch and read a book, I have to remember what Brooklyn park bench/curb/stoop I last sat on with them on.

What I need are hangout shorts. I want elastic waists and pockets. I want something cool and comfy to wear while I work from home or putter around my parents’ backyard, or head to the beach.

Before I dive in, I want to acknowledge that it’s been a long time since I wrote anything for this series. Mostly, as someone who doesn’t do much shopping in the first place, I sometimes felt a little removed from the subject at hand. I wanted to write about things to make and appreciate and generally revel in, not just consume. But this week the news cycle (at least the one circulating around my personal orbit) carried two different fast fashion stories that have been niggling away at me. There’s still a need—maybe more than ever?—to prop up the folks in the industry who are doing things right. Or better. Or at least not terribly. Plus, I really need some comfy shorts.

The leading story this week was about an influencer trip put on by ultra fast-fashion powerhouse, Shein. The goal for the trip, as far as anyone can tell, was a contrived exposé of the brands’ factories designed to discount reporting that’s demonstrated how egregiously Shein, and the influencers hawking their goods, contribute to the fast fashion problem. The other story gained less traction. It was really just a kind of run-of-the-mill shopping post from a mainstream publication and probably one of countless others like it published this week alone. Still, reading it was a massive bummer and I haven’t been able to let it go. Maybe it’s because the story was about shorts, which, as mentioned, I’m wanting, or maybe it’s because the writer of the piece is also a thirty-something writer living in New York, but the ode to brand-new linen/rayon blend shorts from Old Navy that cost fourteen American dollars, well, it just really got my goat. I first saw the piece shared on Twitter where a flood of responses lauded the find. Readers chimed in about how they too had bought multiple pairs of these shorts. They told anecdotes about how they currently had their suitcase headed to Europe filled with them and how they immediately hit purchase and planned to head back for more.

Finding a jackpot clothing item is a triumph. Feeling good in the clothes we wear is important! Fashion is fun and thrilling and buying three or even one pair of $100 shorts is not feasible for many of us. But brand-new fourteen dollar linen blend shorts exist because large fast-fashion companies exploit workers and the environment and in the year 2023 it just feels so disappointing to see grown adults with resources enough to fly to Europe, gobbling up fast fashion without apology. Woof.

The clothing industry is often intentionally and maybe intractably exploitative, but there’s an alternative to glad-handing the fast fashion brands that do not care about us or the people who work for them. In that spirit, I gathered a list of hangout shorts from folks who do things differently—things like making clothes to order, paying living wages, using thoughtful materials and processes and getting serious about waste. All of these shorts cost significantly more than $14, but as always it’s worth repeating that there are many opportunities to find secondhand versions for considerably less than new. May we all get to lounge in comfort this summer.

If you’re curious to learn more about my selections, head to my newsletter for the full TEA NOTES version of this piece.

This week, the TEA NOTES version is free for everyone, but eventually I’m going to start offering these longer pieces to paid subscribers. I’ll still publish some full length pieces here, and particulars might shift as I test the waters and get the hang of things, but I’m hopeful this is a change that will ultimately allow me to spend more time with all of you!

PS. If you’re someone with a current subscription to my blog that you’d like to transfer to the new substack model, send a note to erin (at) and I’ll help get that sorted! Huge thanks to everyone ever who has supported and championed this corner of the internet!

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  • Reply Rachel June 29, 2023 at 4:29 pm

    Just throwing this tidbit out there…As someone who doesn’t have a lot of money but who is also appalled and disgusted by the aggressive consumption of fast fashion in our culture I try to be super conscientious and selective about the amount I buy. So yes, I will buy the $14 old navy shorts but one pair and maybe every couple years. No one needs to own more than 3-5 pairs of shorts no matter where they come from. Slowly as I am able I’ll buy a more expensive “ethical” piece. It I s a journey.

    • Reply Sarah July 7, 2023 at 6:27 pm

      I agree. Long time reader and unfortunately this article left a very sour taste in my mouth. It feels very privileged and elitist to be honest. I have a great paying job (I’m lucky and I work hard) and I do my best to consume consciously and I’m trying to teach my children to do the same. Making a list of shorts where most cost over $100 and some upwards of $300 just seems incredibly out of touch. The added part of making those who can only afford the $14 Old Navy shorts feel awful about themselves for it, really adds some salt to the wound. I urge you to consider how lists like this where the price points are ALL very high might come off to your less well-off readers, especially considering you might be getting items gifted to you and your family and you’re not having the bear the full cost yourself. There are other ways to be sustainable and shopping conscious and it doesn’t have to involve spending an entire paycheck on shorts.

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 7, 2023 at 7:26 pm

        This conversation can be really hard to stomach (for me and for readers!) and it’s a big reason why I paused writing about ethical fashion for so long. Brand new shorts that are made in a way where every person is fairly compensated and a modicum of thought for the environment is considered, are expensive. They just are. ALWAYS, I come from the perspective and lived experience of buying secondhand/living in the same pair of shorts until they’re so threadbare they fall off/making a DIY variation at a lower price point (thought to be honest, I’m currently endeavoring to make my own shorts and feel like the cost should be $200 for the time and effort), etc. I specifically called out the unchecked purchasing of many pairs of $14 shorts while also vacationing in Europe because of the disconnect inherent in those two spending choices. It sucks to feel like we’re part of an inequitable system and it sucks to feel like we can’t afford to make the choices that we know might change that system. I’ve said this all so many times before, but this is why personal responsibility only goes so far. Of course the system itself should be regulated. Unfettered capitalism that exists *because* of exploitation should cease to exist. If folks *do* have the means to buy a new pair of shorts that have been thoughtfully made, this is a list of some that I’ve found. If all of these feel unaffordable, I understand and I have the 1/4-made pair of shorts made from an old sheet to show for it.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 7, 2023 at 7:36 pm

      It is SUCH a journey! This is exactly why that piece and the response irked me so much. Not everyone, including me, can afford a pair of $100 shorts right now. ( Side note: Of course it’s not the cost alone that means a pair of shorts is ethically made, but clothing made by folks being paid a living wage does simply cost more!) Still, as you mention, scooping up many pairs of the same shorts when a different, more measured approach to dressing is available also feels NOT GOOD! For a publication to publish that piece without also acknowledging or addressing the various factors that account for that extremely low price point for newly manufactured goods feels disappointing.

  • Reply Sarah June 29, 2023 at 5:13 pm

    My jackpot find came last year when I was really looking for basic long-sleeve shirts from somewhere a little more ethical, at least? And when I found a couple I liked at Frank and Oak (a B Corp), the shipping from Canada was pretty hefty, so I looked to see if I could hit the free shipping minimum. Lo and behold, I found a pair of clearance pajama shorts in solid black, and I love them– more so than the long sleeves I bought. I wear the shorts as regular every day out of the house clothes. Elastic waist, drawstring, ample pockets. PJs as clothes is one of my favorite tricks.

  • Reply Susan June 29, 2023 at 5:52 pm

    I think your work is so important and I appreciate the folks making clothing sustainably. I feel sad because I cannot support these makers and so I hope I find them in a thrift store in my future! Hemp, linen and cotton shorts sound super comfy.

    • Reply elle July 1, 2023 at 11:55 pm

      Same boat– Poshmark usually has lots of Jungmaven finds!

  • Reply V June 29, 2023 at 8:05 pm

    they don’t really meet your criteria fully, but Primary (which mostly makes kids clothes) had adult “lounge” clothes (tank, shorts, and pants) for a while. At this point, it looks like only the tank is still around (it’s on clearance), but it might be worth watching for the future. They were cotton + 5% spandex (boo to spandex!), with pockets, and came in plus sizes too. They’re not perfect, but they do seem to always be improving things re: sustainable and ethical sourcing. I suspect they’ll have more of that type of shorts in the future.

  • Reply Erin June 30, 2023 at 9:13 am

    Hi Erin! Writing from Ottawa where the air quality is current among the worst in the world today due to forest fires. I was looking for your review of the hepa air filter you use and couldn’t locate it. Could you please direct me to that post? Thank you!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 30, 2023 at 10:05 am

      We have a blueair filter that we really like!

  • Reply Sarah Bates June 30, 2023 at 3:36 pm

    I love the brand PO-EM by Carla Osborn. Her clothes are handmade in small batches, using nontoxic dyes and materials and sustainable practices. She makes very cute and comfy shorts in lots of prints: All of her clothes are fabulous (she makes great roomy and beautiful dresses, pants, tops, etc) and they get even better with age. They’re a bit spendy, but you get what you pay for, etc. (And I haunt her sale section). I hope you check out her stuff — I think you’d love it, too!

  • Reply Sid June 30, 2023 at 4:31 pm

    Erin from Ottawa – I’m also in Ottawa and bought the Blueair based on Erin’s endorsement. I’ve had it for about a year now and I think it’s definitely helped with both the smoke and the multi-seasonal valley pollen/allergies. Might have to invest in a second one…

  • Reply Anna June 30, 2023 at 5:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing! My goal is to continue improving my sewing skills to the point where I can make most of my clothing (and hopefully for my kids, as long as they will wear it!).

  • Reply Styletyx September 20, 2023 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks for the article! These images are simply wonderful!

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