Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

A nation desperate to think about literally anything other than this year's bizarre election enthusiastically greeted the distraction of the Wall Street Journal's broadside assault on cargo shorts this week.

Men's shorts have always been a touchy subject in the nation's snootier coastal cities. Anti-shorts fundamentalists have long maintained that the only time a man should wear shorts is when he's at the gym or on the beach. This has prompted a backlash from men of questionable sartorial judgment who believe the right to cargo shorts should be enshrined in the Constitution.

While I've long been a believer in Shorts' Rights — especially in the workplace during sweltering Mid-Atlantic summers — I nonetheless sympathize with the views expressed in the Wall Street Journal: that cargo shorts are bulky, aggressively dad-ish, and "like lingerie for not having sex," as Vocativ's Erin Gloria Ryan opined today on Twitter.

The obsession with cargo shorts is all the more puzzling when you consider that there's already a cool, casual, impeccably American option for men's casual leg wear: jorts.

While jean shorts' stylistic advantages over cargo shorts are immediately apparent to anyone with eyes, the true appeal of jorts lies in their evocation of all the things that make America great: warm summer nights, sandlot baseball games, first dates at the drive-in and making out in the back of an F-150 while John Cougar Mellencamp rocks the car radio.

Listen to Mellencamp's "Jack & Diane": In your mind's eye, are the two star-crossed Midwestern lovers wearing jean shorts or cargo shorts? The answer, of course, is jorts. Anything else is unthinkable.

As it turns out, there is a stark geographic divide in preferences for cargo shorts and jean shorts. You can trace the contours of this divide by examining the record of Google searches for "jean shorts" and "cargo shorts" going back to 2004. Take a look:


As you can see, jean shorts are the preferred shorts of America's heartland — from Oklahoma to Nebraska, and over to Iowa and Missouri. In fact, most of the Midwest shares an interest in jean shorts.

By contrast, the nation's coasts are almost exclusively cargo shorts country. But the biggest interest in cargo shorts can be found in the deserts and mountains of the West, running from Arizona and New Mexico all the way up through Idaho and Washington state.

There are some anomalies. Rhode Island stands out as a splotch of denim blue in a sea of khaki brown. The state also has one of the highest rates of adult marijuana use in the country, which may or may not be a contributing factor.

The Gulf Coast also displays a surprising heterogeneity in shorts preferences: Louisiana is deep blue, while neighboring Mississippi is part of cargo country. The hot, humid climate along the Gulf may simply lend itself to a greater diversity of shorts options and, hence, more state-by-state variance in jorts preferences.

I was greatly disappointed this morning to learn that my Twitter followers overwhelmingly prefer cargo shorts to jean shorts — no doubt evidence of coastal elite bias.

More from Wonkblog:

Why Americans dress so casually

The absurdity of women's clothing sizes, in one chart

Why you should always buy the men's version of almost anything