Despite Pockets Of Popularity, Are Cargo Shorts Gauche?

Aug 3, 2016
Originally published on August 4, 2016 4:00 pm

Cargo shorts are a staple of men's summer wardrobes.

But the actor Matthew McConaughey, always one for existential questions, had this to ask: "Are they long short pants or short long pants?"

Craig Ferguson, talking to McConaughey in a 2014 episode of The Late Late Show, piled on.

"Just like who are you trying to kid, man, you're not doing any maintenance," Ferguson said. "You don't need pockets for tools."

Recently there's been a backlash against cargo shorts, and not just on late night talk shows.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the shorts are ridiculed by the partners of people who wear them, and they've even been banned at golf clubs.

"It seems that guys have had enough," says Marshal Cohen, a chief analyst with NPD Group, a market research firm. "With this movement towards the more athletic look, well, cargo shorts are the ones that are paying the price."

And over the past year, sales are down for the first time in a decade.

"When you're taking your significant other out to a dressier barbecue function, the last thing that they need to be doing is wearing a cargo short, right?" says Joseph Hancock, a design and merchandising professor at Drexel University.

What started out as a staple of military clothing became a trend that saw its peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Hancock, who wrote his Ph.D. on the re-branding of cargo shorts, suggests their popularity can be boiled down to two things: "With the rise of gadgets, cargo shorts became really popular, because not only were they fashionable for the time period, they were functional."

In recent years, slimmer shorts have replaced cargo shorts in fashionable circles.

But for men who aren't interested in being fashionable? Cargo shorts will always be in.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's take a moment now to mark a dramatic turning point in men's fashion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRAIG FERGUSON: Cargo shorts.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: The crime of are they long short pants or short long pants?

FERGUSON: Just, like, you know, who you trying to kid, man? You're not doing any maintenance. You don't need pockets for tools.

INSKEEP: That's former late night host Craig Ferguson with actor Matthew McConaughey talking about those long shorts with baggy pockets known as cargo shorts, a staple of men's summer wardrobes. The Wall Street Journal has now announced a backlash reporting these shorts are ridiculed by the partners of people who wear them. Maybe you already knew that.

The shorts have even been banned at golf clubs. Joseph Hancock is a design and merchandising professor at Drexel University.

JOSEPH HANCOCK: When you're taking your significant other out to a dressier barbecue function, the last thing that they need to be doing is wearing a cargo short, right?

INSKEEP: Some people would disagree. But sales of cargo shorts are now down for the first time in a decade, according to The Journal. Marshal Cohen is a chief analyst with NPD Group, a market research firm.

MARSHAL COHEN: It seems that guys have had, you know, have enough. And with this movement towards the more athletic look, well, cargo shorts are the ones that are paying the price.

INSKEEP: Cargo shorts started out as military style clothing. They were a big trend in the '90s, which is not in this century, by the way. Joseph Hancock, who wrote his Ph.D. on the rebranding of cargo shorts, suggests their popularity can be boiled down to two things.

HANCOCK: With the rise of gadgets, cargo shorts became really popular because not only were they fashionable for the time period, they were functional.

INSKEEP: Now in recent years, much slimmer shorts have replaced cargo shorts in fashionable circles. But they remain fashionable with men who are not interested in being fashionable. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.