(Dow Jones) Men's shorts don't have to be simply casual. Menswear designer Robert Geller enjoys working polished shorts into dressier outfits, calling them an unexpected element that can make a look "fresh."

Pulling off the style can take a little thought, says Geller, who designed at menswear line Cloak and at Marc Jacobs before launching his own label in 2006. When picking a pair of dressy shorts, "it's important that there's a certain weight and shape to it," he says, noting that he likes materials such as cotton twill, which has some structure. "If the fabric is a little more drapey, then the shorts become more casual," he adds. The shorts should be well-tailored and form-fitting without being tight.

Dressy shorts should generally end at the knee when standing. "It starts to look a little too beachy if it gets too short," Geller says. When it comes to color, he likes to "stick to the classics," choosing colors like black, gray or khaki.

Geller, whose clothes are sold in Fred Segal and other high-end stores, sometimes wears shorts to business meetings or dressy social events-though he notes that shorts probably won't work for the office "unless you're working for an ad agency."

For a relatively formal look, he pairs shorts with a well-fitted blazer that ends at his hip. Often, the shorts are beige or khaki, and the blazer is dark gray. The jacket, he says, "shouldn't have too many details, like gold buttons or anything like that, or you're going to look like a captain." And the shorts and blazer shouldn't be in the same fabric. "It's going to look like a suit with the pants cut off," he says.

He'll usually pair his jacket with a washed-cotton dress shirt. "You want to unbutton the top few buttons of the shirt" and leave it untucked to strike a balance between the casual style of the shorts and the formal feel of the blazer, he adds.

For a more casual but still polished look, he wears tailored shorts with just the dress shirt or with a neat T-shirt and a cardigan. Sometimes, for variety, he rolls up the shorts' cuffs.

With these ensembles, Mr. Geller avoids casual footwear like sandals, instead choosing "classic lace-up shoes." He stresses, though, that he wears "nothing too shiny, or it's going to look too formal." He often wears socks that are too short to be visible. "I don't like the look of shorts with socks-you look like you're a tourist," he says.

Mr. Geller doesn't abandon his shorts when fall arrives. "It's difficult to pull off, but it's really fashion-forward to wear shorts in the fall," he says, noting that he makes sure to choose shorts that are on the long side-even slightly below the knee-and made of a thicker material.

He'll sometimes even pair them with dark, knee-high socks and a simple sweater- but keeps that look simple by avoiding scarves, hats or blazers. "It can start to look a little bit too costumey," he says.

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