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My Journey Inside the Incredible 'Wall Street Journal' Article About Cargo Shorts and the Women Who Hate Them

Normal pants have four pockets. When do you need more pockets than that? How many hybrid multitools are you dads carrying around at once?
Images by GreggMP via Flickr

"Dane Hansen, who operates a small steel business in Pleasant Grove, Utah, says that throughout his 11-year marriage, 15 pairs of cargo shorts have slowly disappeared from his closet. On the occasions when he has confronted his wife about the missing shorts, she will either admit to throwing them away or deflect confrontation by saying things like, 'Honey, you just need a little help.'"

OK, so this is in the Wall Street Journal. It is the best newspaper article of the year or possibly ever, and I am only on the first paragraph. There is so much to love about the passive-aggressiveness of 1) A husband buying 15 pairs (15 pairs!) of cargo shorts, 2) A wife throwing them out behind his back, and 3) This bizarre cycle continuing for more than a decade. So you knew that your wife was throwing your cargo shorts out because she hated them so much? And you kept buying them? Also what is a "small steel business" because I am a coastal elite and cannot really picture that?


"Relationships around the country are being tested by cargo shorts, loosely cut shorts with large pockets sewn onto the sides."

This is a good description of cargo shorts that nonetheless falls short of capturing the garment's soul. It's not just that they are baggy and sort of shapeless, it's not just that there's nothing less suave than digging your wallet/phone out of a pocket on your leg, it's that cargo shorts have been known for years to be empirically ugly, yet men—only men, these things are the most male clothing item since the codpiece—insist on wearing them. Normal pants have four pockets. When do you need more pockets than that? How many hybrid multitools are you dads carrying around at once?

"Fashion historians believe cargo pants were introduced around the 1940s for military use. In the U.S. Air Force, narrow cockpits meant pilots needed pockets in the front of their uniforms to access supplies during flight. British soldiers climbing or hiding in high places found pockets on cargo pants more effective than utility belts for storing ammunition."

Well, now I feel bad for insulting the shorts that helped beat Hitler. Sorry, everyone.

"They exploded into mass fashion in the mid-to-late 1990s… The pockets filled a utilitarian need as cellphones became ubiquitous."

What? This is insane. It can be annoying to carry a phone around when you're a woman whose clothing doesn't have pockets (thanks a lot patriarchy… not!) and have to put your phone in a bag you then have to dig through when it buzzes—but men? We have, as discussed, four pockets on your standard-issue, non-Hitler-defeating pants: one for your keys, one for your wallet, one for your phone, and one freestyle pocket for gum/a pen (really this can share a pocket with other stuff)/drugs/headphones (if you don't keep them wrapped around your phone)/loose change/condoms/a pad of paper/a gaming device/a Swiss Army knife/a small book (you can do this with your bigger back pockets). WHAT DO YOU NEED THOSE EXTRA POCKETS FOR?


"'Those teenagers are now married, and they don't get rid of their clothes. They don't evolve,' said Joseph Hancock, a design and merchandising professor at Drexel University's designer merchandising program, who wrote his Ph.D. thesis about cargo pants."

That is one hell of a thesis. When he says "teenagers," he means "male teenagers," of course, and probably "straight male teenagers." His thesis, by the way, is more than 300 pages long.

"Many upscale golf courses have banned cargo shorts in recent years."

That upscale golf courses—where dudes dress like this—are used as a barometer of fashion is a clue you are reading the Wall Street Journal.

"In 2012, Michael Jordan was playing golf in cargo shorts at a Miami country club when he was asked to change his pants, according to news reports at the time. He reportedly refused and left. His agent released a statement afterward saying Mr. Jordan had previously worn cargo pants at the club without incident."

I would watch an HBO series about the way the dynamics of race, class, celebrity, and Jordan's own personality played out during this incident.

"Jen Anderson, a 45-year-old freelance writer in Brooklyn… said she doesn't like the idea of being seen in public with her husband when he's wearing [denim] cargo shorts, which make him look like 'a misshapen lump.'"

"'It's a reflection on me, like, "How did she let him out the door like that?"' she said."


I feel like the trope of women telling their husbands how to dress is sort of tired and sexist? But I guess someone has to tell these dudes how to dress if they're wearing cargo shorts? I have no idea what the feminist perspective is here, please let me know.

"Despite persistent comments from his wife whenever he wears cargo shorts, [Gareth] Hopkins, [a 36-year-old Brit,]said he's past the point of worrying about whether his clothes are fashionable, especially with his two young children who are always stuffing his cargo shorts pockets. The pockets function for men like purses do for women, he said."

OK, wait, yes, if you have young children who are constantly giving you… shells? Gerber jars? What do children stuff your pockets with? In that case, it makes sense. If you have young children, you can wear anything you like.

"Sales of cargo shorts have fallen over the past year for the first time in a decade, according to market-research firm NPD Group. Still, it says retailers sell more than $700 million worth of cargo shorts every year in the US."

Every time I read a figure like this, I am just boggled. What does $700 million worth of cargo shorts look like? What does $700 million of anything look like? How big and terrifying and wonderful is the world?

"At Wal-Mart, a pair can be bought for $8.50, while Neiman Marcus sells linen cargo shorts for $995 a pair."

This sentence is the most succinct description of America I have ever read.


"[Tom] Lommel, [a 46-year-old actor] who often works from home, seizes opportunities when his wife is away at work to wear his cargo shorts. 'Every time I put them on, I am conscious of the fact that I am now being disobedient in my marriage,' he said."

Out of context, that quote is definitely about some kind of fairly involved kink roleplay. Even in context, well, look, if someone wants to be punished for wearing cargo pants that is his business as a consenting adult.

"There is some good news for cargo shorts advocates."

I am picturing rallies where thousands of dads assemble, their legs swaddled in piles of khaki and denim, demanding that their wives stop throwing their clothes out because they look like garbage.

"Style experts say the cyclical nature of mass fashion means cargo pants will almost certainly become trendy again. 'Everything will return,' said Dr. Hancock, the design and merchandising professor. 'I don't think cargo is ever going to go away.'"

In the Hindu cosmological tradition, the world goes through cycles called Maha Yugas, each of which lasts about 4.32 million human years. At the tail end of each Kali Yuga (the last stretch of the cycle), according to the Mahabharata, "Men with false reputation of learning will contract Truth and the old will betray the senselessness of the young, and the young will betray the dotage of the old. And cowards will have the reputation of bravery and the brave will be cheerless like cowards. And towards the end of the Yuga men will cease to trust one another. And full of avarice and folly the whole world will have but one kind of food. And sin will increase and prosper, while virtue will fade and cease to flourish."

So that is bad! But then the cycle we are in comes to an end, and at the beginning of the new cycle, everything is nice and everyone is extremely tall and lives an extremely long time. Over the next 4.32 million years people get shorter and die faster and everything basically goes to shit again, then is reborn. This happens 1,000 times—so 4.32 billion years—and that's just a single day in the life of the creator of the universe, Brahma. When that day ends, all life on the world is wiped out and the planet is made uninhabitable for another 4.32 billion years—that's Brahman's night. He lives for 100 years of 360 days and nights each, 311,040,000,000,000 human years if you're counting. After that, the universe is destroyed as the supreme being, Vishnu, exhales. Until then, no, I don't think cargo is going to go away.

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