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A Controversial Stand



I don’t think there’s anything wrong with cargo shorts. I know the Great Cargo Shorts Controversy of 2016 is a bit last week, but but bear with me; something just happened to me that prompted this revelation. Just as foods can’t really be evaluated as “healthy” or “unhealthy” without considering them in context of a diet, articles of clothing can’t be evaluated outside the context of a style. I think people observe the correlative relationship between men with an undeveloped, poorly-thought-out style and the wearing of cargo shorts, and think cargo shorts are causing the problem, but if someone is wearing some oversized polo shirt, cargo shorts, and sandals with socks, giving that person a slim cut pair of shorts is not going to solve anything, and further, cargo shorts can look good—I just witnessed it yesterday. This man greeted me on the street and I was admiring his unusual hat (at least unusual for these parts, maybe it’s a common style elsewhere). It was made of straw, basically panama style, but painted in colors and with a kind of knob shaped like an inverse teardrop emerging from the crown. He was also wearing a white ribbed tank top, black flip flops, maybe some wooden earring situation (I didn’t quite catch it before he disappeared into the store) and olive green cargo shorts. It looked like some of the straps that would normally seal the pockets were unbuttoned, to create an overall flowy, draping effect. This was clearly a person with style, and I tried to mentally substitute any other pair of shorts to see if they would look any better, and I could not. He was wearing the ideal shorts.

Let me be clear as to my argument: I don’t claim that it doesn’t matter how you look, as long as you have a place to put your cell phone. I think it does matter. I have a mild preference for environments where people tend to care about fashion and self-presentation, at least on some days, both because I tend more to how I look in those environments, and also because they are more visually interesting and offer more to admire. The ideal environment, in my opinion, encourages making a bit of an effort but does not punish its absence. The ideal environment also does not enforce one normative style, but encourages expression that can borrow from lots of different sources. To the extent to which cargo shorts are symptomatic of people not caring, or of men caring less than women, I, again in a mild way, share the sense that it would be nice if median man cared more about prettying himself up. (Though I must acknowledge that just as diversity in paths toward a personal style is appealing, diversity in values about effortful and creative fashion allows some self-sorting into environments that feel comfortable.)

But individual articles of clothing don’t constitute style or lack thereof, and just forbidding them because they are supposedly ugly doesn’t promote independent thinking about how to develop a style. So I think people should stop demonizing cargo shorts and instead come up with positive ways to teach and encourage self-expression through clothing. Just telling people to ditch some practical and comfortable item of clothing isn’t going to solve any problems.

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