Pockets of frustration: the debate over cargo shorts

There’s a sartorial fashion choice that’s dividing men and women across America: cargo shorts.

Brandon DeVine, left, and Eric J. Lawrence have opinions about cargo shorts.
Brandon DeVine, left, and Eric J. Lawrence have opinions about cargo shorts.

There’s a sartorial fashion choice that’s dividing men and women across America: cargo shorts. The much-hated article of men’s clothing made a comeback and sales are still booming – but why? And is there a connection to women’s embrace of yoga pants?

We sought answers from New York Magazine senior writer Drake Baer, author of “What Fashion Anthropologists Think About the Relentless Cargo Shorts Boom.”

His article quotes Brent Luvaas, an associate professor of anthropology at Drexel University, who argues that cargo shorts are, as Drake writes, “the kind of thing you wear if you want to be comfortable and truly do not care what people think of how you look — which itself is a kind of privilege.”

“Women hate it when their husbands or boyfriends wear cargo shorts, because it’s a garment that that says, ‘I no longer care what you think of me, I’m comfortable where I am, I’m not trying to change,’ which is not an exciting proposition… It does not signal striving. Maybe this is why people wear it on weekends or days off; it’s not associated with work, even though it’s supposedly utilitarian.” – Brent Luvaas

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“Although they may keep me single for life, cargo shorts are clearly a large part of my wardrobe.” – Eric J. Lawrence

DnA decided to put the question to KCRW’s resident menswear “experts,” Eric J. Lawrence and Brandon DeVine. You may remember their recent conversation on DnA about eSportswear, athletic wear for gamers.

For Eric, cargo shorts “have been not so much a choice based on fashion, but utility.”

But for Brandon, “four pockets are enough to carry my belongings.”

Could there be a correlation between the return of cargo shorts and the popularity of populist candidates like Donald Trump? Drake Baer thinks there might be.

“I would not be surprised if, upon donning a pair of cargo shorts, one were to have the feeling, I know that these are not fashionable, and I love that they’re not fashionable. It’s like a kind of trolling,” he said.

Listen to the entire discussion and weigh in with your thoughts about this important fashion debate.