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Why so many people — including right-wing pundits — hate cargo shorts

The latest iteration of cargo shorts discourse has right-wing Twitter divided.

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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.

In the latest example of right-wing figureheads arguing over topics that were litigated on the internet a decade ago, the cargo shorts debate is back.

Thanks to a steady stream of tweets over the past few weeks by men like alt-right activist Jack Posobiec and now a full-on fashion advice thread by Pizzagate theorist Mike Cernovich, once again, the validity of cargo shorts as an acceptable garment is up for discussion.

Daily Dot politics editor David Covucci compiled some of these tweets, which included one by Posobiec lamenting the replacement of midcentury bowlers and suits with cargo shorts, and another arguing that the offending item is worse than blasphemous.

It’s not that they’re wrong: Cargo shorts have been arguably the most maligned clothing item of the 2010s, right alongside leggings and tiny sunglasses. Nearly every mainstream men’s fashion publication declares them utterly unacceptable, yet the Wall Street Journal’s 2016 article called “Nice Cargo Shorts! You’re Sleeping on the Sofa,” about women who’d finally had enough of their husbands’ baffling love of them, sparked such a backlash that the original author had to write a follow-up piece.

Over the past decade, there have been so many condemnations and subsequent defenses of the cargo short (Mel Magazine even ranked them all) that it’s become something of an internet cliché, much like debating whether a hot dog is a sandwich.

So why is the cargo discourse getting resurrected now, in 2019? One reason is likely that it’s spring — if one were ever to wonder whether they should throw out their cargo shorts, now would be the time.

But it’s also because cargo shorts are a useful avatar for a growing division among right-wingers on the internet. There are the pundits who declare cargo shorts the stuff of incels who can’t get laid, and then there are the reply guys who argue that they’re useful and can hold a whole bunch of stuff and actually, they’re the real men.

To add another layer to this living, breathing Spider-Man meme, there are also the pundits who hate cargos on the basis that they’re the purview of “soy boys,” or men deemed insufficiently masculine or conservative, such as, for some reason, WWE wrestler turned Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista. Although, of course, plenty of men online have also argued that those who hate cargo shorts are the real soy boys and offended by the inherent masculinity of cargo shorts. Do not think too hard about this!

Regardless, the renewed interest in such a particularly dull topic is a sign of the division among right-wing figureheads on how a man should present himself. There are those who argue it should matter that a man dress “well,” and others who fall back on the tired and somewhat oxymoronic notion that considering one’s appearance at all is antithetical to manhood.

Perhaps the most famous example of the former is Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist and right-wing celebrity whose best-seller 12 Rules for Life encourages young men to “sort themselves out” by doing things like cleaning their rooms, eating healthy, and dressing like the person they want to be. Peterson himself is known for adopting not only the postmodernist jargon of the liberal academic elite but the uniform too: He wears tweed blazers, crisp suits, and a well-groomed salt-and-pepper stubble while often presenting what many call sexist ideologies.

Do men need to be told how to dress, or do “real men” wear what they want? A debate!

Cernovich is another such right-wing commentator encouraging his followers to dress better: In a lengthy Twitter thread on April 16, he posted a stream of photos of himself wearing outfits like plaid button-downs with jeans and pink blazers while boasting about the ways women react to said ensembles. “Cargo dorks won’t understand,” he captioned a photo of himself in a navy suit with white piping.

I asked Cernovich over Twitter DM what his main beef with cargo shorts was. He said it was because they were boring, like Dockers and a polo shirt, and agreed that “cargo dorks” clung to their wide-fit utilitarian shorts because they were probably concerned with seeming feminine.

I also asked him why so many right-wing pundits were suddenly spewing their hottest fashion takes for their followers. “There aren’t many traditional male spaces left anymore,” he said. “Even men’s magazines like GQ or Esquire have turned far left. Young men don’t have mentors. Men’s magazines alienate them.”

“The broader trend is going to tend towards fashion/lifestyle [content] that’s apolitical,” he added. “Just a place where you can talk cigars or fashion or other bullshit without *any* politics. Everything is political today, and people (myself included) are sort of over it.”

I found this curious, considering that Cernovich has built his entire reputation around heavily politically charged commentary. But he argued that political affiliations on the right or left — he describes himself as an economic populist — are confining labels, and that people should show more personality online.

Which brings us back to his hatred of cargo shorts. “It’s a ‘clean’ trolling,” he explained. “I still like getting a rise out of people but don’t want to be a bad person or deliberately hurt people on sensitive topics.”

Perhaps this is the real root of the cargo shorts discourse among right-wing Twitter: Cernovich et al. probably know that about half of their followers are “cargo dorks,” and the shorts have already proven themselves to be a reliable lightning rod conversation starter online. It’s the same as asking your followers what silly thing they believed to be true as a child or the correct pronunciation of “GIF” in an attempt to go viral.

Demonizing cargo shorts makes particularly good business sense for right-wing firebrands who delight in provocation. Despite what many on the internet would argue, cargo shorts are as morally neutral as any other kind of shorts, which is likely why people insist on constantly relitigating whether they’re good or bad, and whether they’re for “real men” or “soy boys.”

That cargo shorts are actually kind of cool now, at least if you’re into the sleazecore aesthetic pioneered by people like Jonah Hill and Jason Segel’s character in I Love You, Man, adds an almost unnecessarily complicated layer of irony to the whole thing. Personally, I dread the day that right-wing Twitter discovers Hawaiian shirts are back.

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