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Scott Pruitt isn’t the only one spending thousands on “tactical pants”

They’re basically glorified cargo pants, and they’re beloved by preppers and gun owners alike.

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Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

Among the numerous ethical scandals plaguing Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt are a suspiciously sweet deal on a rental townhouse in downtown DC and using his 24-hour security detail to track down a $37 bottle of lotion. Now it’s tactical pants.

According to expense reports obtained by the Intercept, Pruitt has spent more than $4.6 million in public funds during his tenure, including $24,115 on body armor, protective vests, and “tactical polos and pants.”

Tactical clothing, which made up $2,750 of Pruitt’s overall protective gear spending, isn’t all that expensive on its own, however. An average pair of tactical pants won’t set you back more than $50; ditto for polos. They’re a bit like cargo pants in the sense that they’re loose enough to move around in and generally come with specialty pockets and belt loops, but they’re made with lighter materials like ripstop polyester and cotton canvas. Some are even reinforced with Teflon and padding in the knee or back pockets.

Though they’re typically worn by law enforcement officers, EMTs, and mountain climbers, tactical pants have also gained popularity among a different group: people who carry concealed weapons. From the outside, the concealed carry market may be more closely associated with clothing and accessories that appear as inconspicuous as possible. But when it comes to tactical gear, the motive is to signify that there’s a decent chance they’re armed.

Tactical pants by Tactical Gear (left) and Propper (right).

“They’re trying to project a military style,” explained a sales account manager at Explorer Bags at the National Rifle Association’s first-ever fashion show in August 2017. “I guess it gives you that tough image.” There’s even a slang term for clothing that looks like it serves a military purpose but doesn’t: “tacticool.”

That’s part of the reason tactical clothing has gained popularity among preppers. The growing subculture has embraced the lightweight protective garments not just for their versatility and functionality — what else would you wear in a zombie apocalypse or a nuclear showdown? — but because wearing them makes you look like you can withstand a zombie apocalypse.

Not entirely surprisingly, preppers tend to be obsessed with clothing in general, partly due to the fact that if you’re on the go, all you’ve got is whatever’s on your back. But there’s also the matter of crafting your prepper identity: Who will you be in the apocalypse?

“These clothes have very little utility, of course, because survivalism, prepper behavior, is not a practiced trade,” said Richard Mitchell, professor emeritus of sociology at Oregon State University and the author of Dancing at Armageddon: Survivalism and Chaos in Modern Times. “It’s imaginative role-playing. People aren’t doing it. They’re talking about it. They’re imagining that this might happen in the future.”

In the EPA’s case, however, the tactical clothing and body armor were strictly for the agency’s criminal investigators and security detail — not for Pruitt personally — as the agency stated Thursday. But it wouldn’t be totally out of character for Pruitt to spend extensively on protection. Over the past year, he cost taxpayers nearly $3.5 million on a 19-person, 24-hour security team to accompany him to places like Disneyland and the Rose Bowl, as well as $42,000 on a secret phone booth in his office and $5,800 on biometric, fingerprint-reading locks, surfacing concerns that the EPA administrator is unusually paranoid. But, judging from the prepper community, Pruitt isn’t alone.

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