Can Robert Pattinson Save Cargo Shorts?

Fashion
Photography courtesy of Getty Images

If anyone could do it…

Robert Pattinson is not trying to be a fashion figure (emphasis on trying). And yet his outfit choices continue to make headlines, whether it’s the oversized suits he wore to promote The Batman or when he paired leather and red velvet to the 2005 premiere of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The teen hearthrob turned aloof A-list actor doesn’t appear to care too much about what he wears, hence why his choice to wear cargo shorts on a recent outing comes as no surprise.

For many years, I believed cargo shorts were reserved for just two types of people: high school biology teachers and pre-teen playground bullies. The cropped slacks became a relic of my childhood, worn only by what Cher Horowitz in Clueless would call the “ensemble-y challenged.” But seeing them worn by the man whose posters were hung on the wall of my childhood bedroom might be enough to make me change my mind. So I ask: are cargos due for a rebrand?

When walking around New York City with his girlfriend Suki Waterhouse, Pattinson’s fashion crime was on full display. His khaki shorts fell below the knee and had enough pocket space on each side to fit copies of both Twilight and New Moon. They had that signature shapeless simplicity that has made cargo shorts one of the most controversial pieces of clothing in recent history, alongside Crocs and low-rise jeans.

Let’s unpack why the shorts are so loathed. First rising to popularity in the ‘80s, cropped khakis had their heyday from the mid-’90s to the early 2000s. But the dawn of a new decade signaled the untimely demise of the cargo short. From think pieces to Saturday Night Live skits, they became the butt of the joke in the 2010s, deemed ugly, lazy-looking and just plain embarrassing. Since then, the mere presence of cargo shorts has in and of itself been a punchline.

But trends mean nothing when you have your own fashion sense. Enter Adam Sandler, the forefather of sloppy street style. Known for his oversized T-shirts and spacious bottoms, the actor has been a repeat offender — err, wearer — of the saggy cargo short. In sporting so-called “ugly” garments, Sandler has become something of a Gen Z fashion idol. Last year, the comedian beat out the likes of Harry Styles and Lizzo for top searches in celebrity style. His specific aesthetic was lovingly dubbed the “schlub look” by Vogue and has become an emblem for comfortable pandemic dressing.

In a time when menswear is expanding to be more inclusive of gender expression and nontraditional designs, style antiheroes are making the case for once-maligned garments. And that includes Pattinson, who, try as he might, cannot escape his fashion killer status. Like Sandler, his street attire is often oversized, slouchy and deemed “anti-style.” Even still, he somehow manages to always pull it off. So when Pattinson wears a pair of ill-fitted khakis or billowing cargo shorts, he makes an important statement.

By wearing cargo shorts, Pattinson dares us to ask: what’s this long-standing hatred really about? Is it because they’re inexpensive? For roughly $20 a pair, that’s what I call recession-friendly fashion. Is it because they’re completely shapeless? Maybe more clothing should be designed with the comfort-first ethos.

To unlearn our collective disdain, perhaps we just need to accept cargo shorts for what they are. They don’t claim to be stylish. They don’t even claim to fit right. No, these tent-like bottoms are about ease and coziness only. In theory, there’s really nothing wrong with that.

With Pattinson and Sandler as rising fashion stars, it seems we’re in the era of sloppily clad, carelessly casual and utterly unbothered dressing. So, can cargo shorts finally rise above their contentious legacy and resume their place as a menswear staple? TBH, it seems they already have.

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