Men's capri pants have gone from being a fashion joke to being a mark of mature man secure enough in his masculinity to combine comfort with style.
"Capri" refers to the Greek island where this style of pants originally became popular. Also called "clamdiggers", they weren't really on the style radar in the U.S. until the 1960's when the wife in the Dick Van Dyke Show wore them. She caused quite a controversy, as well, since they were not only revealing of the ankles and calves but also very snug around the rest of her body. They fell out of favor for a couple of decades, but when Uma Thurman wore them in the hit Pulp Fiction they came back with a vengeance - not only for women, but also for men with the guts to wear them.
The Bravery of Men's Capri Pants
It may seem strange to equate wearing a comfortable garment with courage, but in a way it is true. For no particular reason a generation or more of men were raised to ridicule and even disdain capri pants - possibly because they were typically worn by TV characters who seemed to be somewhat shallow or materialistic characters.
Of course it's never good to make fun of someone based on their clothing, especially clothing as practical and comfortable as capris. But even though women have been quoted in men's fashion magazine as thinking that cutoff jean shorts are "100,000 times worse than capris on women", some men still feel that they'd rather wear some savaged Levis rather than take the stylistic leap into a pair of men's capri pants.
Defining the Cut of Capri
Capri pants, for men or women, are defined fairly easily as pants that come down to approximately mid-calf. Lower usually just looks like the pants are too short, and higher may give the impression of shorts. In fact, often men who wear Bermuda shorts have them confused with capris - however, the difference is simply in the knee. Bermuda's come about an inch above the knee; capris are at least an inch below.
Another difference between capris and other kinds of shorts are the pockets. Aside from the regular front and back pockets, men's capris also often have "cargo" pockets which add to the masculine cut of the pants. Incidentally, in the view of most fashion designers, these pockets are really not meant to be used - they ruin the line if they bulge out. However, if the goal is function over style, the pockets come in very handy
Going High-Tech and Hard-Core
One sport that has found great use for men's capri pants is rock climbing and hiking. Athletes have found that having their knees protected but still allowing the air flow and flexibility of the ankles and feet makes for an excellent set of outdoor pants. REI has marketed this with their "Arc'Teryx Palisade Cropper Capri Pants" and the "Mountain Hardwear Ridgetop 3/4 Pants." Both of these are marketed as good for outdoor wear, with solid construction, gusseted crotch, water proofed stretch fabric, a chamois-lined waistband, and even UPF sunlight-resistance.
It's interesting to read the reviews of the former pair, though, to see where some of the stigma of the "capri pants" still seems to be going on. The first two reviews are quite positive, from a hiker and a rafter (who notes that the zippered pockets are very handy for "unexpected" dips in the river). They like the material, the feeling, and even the style of the pants, noting that "these are pants I will be wearing for a long time."
Then the third reviewer - who may or may not have actually tried them - simply states "Men do not wear capris." His tone is almost offended as he offers the correct masculine term for this kind of garment: "climbing knickers."
Whatever they're called, capri pants can be both a functional and stylish addition to any man's wardrobe, as long as he has a thick enough skin to withstand the occasional critic.