I’m going about my business, keeping my cell phone, two pens and a food stash in the lower right pocket of my cargo shorts, wallet in the top left and keys, change and migraine pills in the top right, when a copy of “Nice Cargo Shorts! You’re Sleeping on the Sofa,” an article in The Wall Street Journal, shows up in my inbox.
“Fans of the roomy summer staple meet pockets of resistance,” the sub-headline says.
People debating cargo shorts?
I had no idea.
Why in the world would anyone notice something I wear virtually every day from April to October? And why would anyone care, let alone object, to this staple of my utilitarian wardrobe?
It’s shocking to learn that someone – possibly the entire Sisterhood of Wifedom – has an opinion, let alone an uncomplimentary one, about the most comfortable, practical clothing ever created.
I wouldn’t have known had it not been for my wife, who comes across The Wall Street Journal at work, where she and other librarians have also been known to consult the “Chronicle of Higher Education” in order to keep up with the latest developments in comma usage.
Personally, I’d be reading Mad magazine or The Onion, but that’s why I’m a lowly scribbler and cargo shorts devotee, not a keeper of human knowledge.
So there it was, mid-August and prime shorts season, and I’m as happy as a clam in a cargo shell. Then I learn the shorts, having come into style in the mid- to late 1990s, are frowned upon, at least in some quarters.
Can you imagine?
Isn’t it always the case that you find a little slice of paradise and someone comes along and tries to take it away?
Nicole Hong, the author, tells the story of a small businessman in Pleasant Grove, Utah, who, in 11 years of marriage, becomes aware that 15 cargo shorts have “slowly disappeared from his closet.” It seems the man’s wife, so tired of the shorts, was spiriting them away to the Goodwill.
She couldn’t just throw them away at home because hubby would notice and fish them out of the trash, Hong reported.
So the husband, now aware, began hiding the shorts that remained.
You do what you have to do.
According to a historian of cargo shorts – a design and merchandising professor at Drexel University who actually wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on them – the shorts came into being around 1940 in military circles, where multiple pockets were sewn on to store extra ammunition and other wartime supplies.
When Abercrombie & Fitch got wind of them in the 1990s, shirtless male models wore cargoes in the catalog and history was made.
But time changes everything, particularly styles.
As Hong reports, “slimmer men’s shorts started to replace baggy silhouettes” around 2010. Fashion guru Tim Gunn reportedly told an English media outlet that cargo shorts were “a humiliation for any man over 21 and should be sold only after proof of age has been presented,” which only proves it’s possible to be simultaneously funny and totally misguided.
Joseph Hancock, the aforementioned design and merchandising professor, observed that the teens who first latched on to cargoes just never let go.
“Those teenagers are now married, and they don’t get rid of their clothes,” he told Wong. “They don’t evolve.”
I wouldn’t be caught dead getting tips from an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, but come to think of it, I am married and tend not to get rid of my clothes. And, as my wife would point out, I ignore evolution to the best of my ability.
But there are women who keep up with fashion trends who actually feel humiliated when their husbands wear cargo shorts in public.
Jen Anderson, a freelance writer in Brooklyn who spoke with Hong, said she’d previously used “strong mocking” when her husband wore cargo shorts until he brought home a pair made from denim. That’s when she drew the line.
“It’s a reflection on me,” she told the author, “like ‘How did she let him out the door like that?’ ”
Apparently, some couples merge to the point where one decides what the other should wear.
I’d be OK with some minor merging, just not involving the shelf where I keep my stack of olive and khaki cargoes.
There’s not much that’s sacred these days, so just try and rip the cargo shorts from my cold, dead, baggy silhouette.
You can share your fashion observations by smoke signal or in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.