Ben Werner

Behold the Cargo Short, Minivans of Men’s Apparel

Ben Werner’s latest from South Korea as a stay-at-home dad with a military wife and three kids; are cargo shorts dead?


“In fiscal 2016, our objective is to improve sales performance through a more consistent, on-trend product offering and a compelling customer experience in stores and online.” —from the Gap Inc. annual report released earlier this year


Reading this sends shivers through my loins. Will my three-decades, go-to source for khaki trousers, ill-fitting but relatively inexpensive button-up shirts, and now my dad-apparel du jour—cargo shorts—fade from the mall landscape imbedded into my shopping DNA?

The Gap has steadily shuttered stores—121 since May 2013, or 12 percent of what had been the chain’s 983 North American retail locations. Sales have also fallen during this period, and now I hear cargo shorts are under fire.

So yeah, I’m worried. I’m a father of three kids under age five, and a Navy spouse currently working from our apartment in Busan, South Korea. When we return stateside, and I presumably rejoin the Monday through Friday workforce, will I be able to purchase moderately-priced and generically-styled clothes?

See, Korea is the land where cargo shorts and jean shorts or “jorts” are an essential part of the young wardrobe. Window displays showcase a veritable muted rainbow of white, khaki, blue, and black cargo shorts and jorts of varying lengths and distressed fabrics. Add the inevitable collarless shirts to display mannequins and perhaps I should cue up Soup Dragons on my iPod, pretending I never left 1990.

As a side note, older folks in Busan appear determined to remain blanketed head-to-toe in performance gear, with no regard for the dire extreme heat warnings blasted to everyone’s mobile. Actually, I’m only guessing we’re getting weather advisories. Nobody ever seems overly concerned by the government alerts we get simultaneously, so I’ve long since accepted we’re not being informed Godzilla was detected off the coast.

But growing backlash in the States against cargo shorts, the two-plus-decades-old men’s fashion staple, is both bemusing and befuddling to me, as I sweat through this summer, and the few pairs of cargo shorts reluctantly added to my wardrobe.

Bemused because my wife has yet voice any of the anti-cargo shorts complaints recently detailed in The Wall Street Journal.

Perhaps her apathy towards my shorts is due to her reality, spending most of the week donning battle fatigues; cargo shorts inspirational source. Plus, no matter how poorly my cargo shorts fit my frame, her outfit—an extra small men’s uniform—will forever be baggy and snug in the wrong places. It’s as if the Navy refuses to concede female sailors have chests or other curves. And don’t even get me started on the absurdity of her combat maternity uniforms (yes, they exist) which fit her like a camouflaged tent top covering the stretchy fabric kangaroo pouch built into the pants.

Befuddled because I’ve yet to find a realistic alternative to cargo shorts since they first appeared in my wardrobe three years ago. I have mixed feelings about the man purse. Call it parenthood creep, but my view of clothing forever changed after our little family’s infamous art opening/Exorcist baby vomiting incident at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Since then, prized and fashionable articles of clothing have increasingly been left in the closet as I’ve opted for easier to clean and cheaper to replace ubiquitous items from The Gap and Old Navy.

I suspect the author of a recent Business Insider article, stating why no man should wear cargo shorts, has never spent an hour unsuccessfully scrubbing puked curdled breast milk from a shirt or worried about the origin of a sudden, warm wet spot on the thigh of his trousers.

And here’s the rub, I get it, and even agree with the cargo short backlash. It’s lazy fashion and an assembly line approach to filling my closet. But the generic mall clothier’s interchangeability and total disposability is too luring. So into this new reality of my attire enters cargo shorts, the minivans of apparel.

They’re bulky, misshapen, unflattering, and will never be accused of having sex appeal—all valid reasons stated for never wearing them. But cargo shorts, like minivans, get the job done—containing the various toddler flotsam and jetsam. On any given day, the cast of Disney’s Cars, half-eaten cookies, juice boxes, Iron Man, Spider-Man, sanitizer, and wipes join my Ray-Bans in easy-to-reach bulging pockets.

So while I fear the brands in the Gap Inc. family may finally adjust to the cargo short backlash, I’m relieved options will likely always survive. Based on the L.L. Bean and Land’s End catalogs received in our APO box, with pages upon pages of cargo shorts, I’m satisfied dads worldwide will always have bulky-pocketed options.

Plus, does it really matter what I’m wearing, even as I type this? Seriously, with absurdly expensive utility prices in Korea limiting my air conditioning usage when the kids are at preschool and my wife is at work, my summer home-office attire is basically designed to preserve modesty. If only I could find boxers with cargo pockets.




Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a writer currently living in Busan, South Korea, where he, his wife, and three small children made the decision to root for the Lotte Giants, perennial cellar dwellers of the Korean Baseball Organization. Stateside, the family pulls for the Washington Nationals. Along with being a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines, Ben has previously been a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

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