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Financial Times

Do cargo pants come with too much baggage?

Hannah Marriott

October 22 2021

I don’t know about you, but I came of age wearing combat trousers. I was 12 in 1994, when TLC released CrazySexyCool, and 15 in 1997, during All Saints’ pomp, when pop culture was saturated with images of women in giant utilitarian-looking slacks. I wore mine very long, over flatforms, from my teens until I graduated from university in the early noughties. I can still feel the tug of their fraying hems, which continually required disentanglement from some object on the floor, and the swish of fabric that made my body issues moot. It’s safe to say they were a formative garment.

Not everyone will delight in their return, however, because cargo trousers carry a lot of baggage. Twenty years ago they were so omnipresent, worn by cheesy TV talent show pop groups and sold by the truckload at Gap, that when the zeitgeist shifted they became an emblem of bad noughties style. Cargo trousers — and their abbreviated cousins, cargo shorts — were skewered in movies such as Superbad (2007) and a 2014 episode of sitcom New Girl.

Much of the comedy centred on the pockets, which could look bulky if wearers used them, but seemed unnecessary — even inauthentic — if not.

“It’s that idea of redundant functionality,” says Andrew Groves, professor of fashion design at the University of Westminster. “Why have you got all of those pockets if you don’t need them? Why are you wearing the dress of someone you’re not?” It’s a bit Walter Mitty, he points out.


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