We know what you’re thinking. Cargo trousers? Really? As in those baggy trousers with actual pockets on them? Seriously? Are you drunk? You must be drunk.
No, we’re not drunk (unfortunately), merely observant. The fact of the matter is cargo trousers – those divisive britches first worn by the British Armed Forces in the 1930s, then co-opted by teenagers and girl bands a few decades later – have made it back onto the menswear radar thanks to the likes of Brunello Cucinelli, Hardy Amies and several other designer brands intent on reviving the military stalwart.
“Cargo trousers have been something of a trend for several seasons now – [but it’s one] that works for some people and not for others,” says stylist and creative director Samuel Smith. Get it right, and you’ve got a look that’s part-military, part-streetwear, all-style; get it wrong, and you look like off-duty Putin.
Find Your Fit
Fit is everything when it comes to this style of trousers. But unlike tailoring, it’s not all about a tailored fit. Sure, you can pull on a modern pair of cargo trousers: slim, tapered and fine of fabric – but it’s only the slightly bulkier, straight-leg variant that can lay claim to OG status.
“I’m not a believer in a cargo jean or cargo jogger,” says Dan Lewis, assistant buyer on menswear brands at Urban Outfitters. “A cargo pant by name and nature was always meant to be used as a piece of clothing to carry multiple items, so the idea of a skinny pant or a fleece cargo jogger pant seems alien to me.”
If you’re a traditionalist, side with Lewis; but if you, like some of the FashionBeans team, will never be able to unsee some of the cargo horrors of the late 1990s, then try a smarter, tapered pair on for size.
Alternatively, aim for the middle ground with a straight-leg style you’ve pin-rolled yourself, taking care to land the roll just right. “Being careful with the length of the roll is key,” says Lewis. “Too far and you’re edging towards a capri pant. Keep to just above the ankle showing off a little bit of sock and trainer but no more.”
Pick Your Pockets
“The primary [thing to consider] when selecting a pair of cargo trousers is the pocket size and positioning – proportion is key,” says Smith.
According to Smith, how big a cargo trouser’s pockets are, and where they fall, can play a big part in whether they simply nod to the military, or look like actual standard issue fatigues. “Cargo trousers tend to make your legs look more bulky due to the pocket detail, so the fit needs to complement your body shape,” he says.
Large pockets that sag under the weight of their own material and sit near your knees are faithful to the original cargo design, which is fine if you’re built like a paratrooper, less so if the only cargo you’re used to shifting is the odd receipt and some change. In which case you should opt for neater, more tailored pockets placed closer to your hips than your knees.
How To Wear
Like many military-turned-civilian menswear pieces, styling out cargo trousers is all in the deployment. “If the trousers have more of a tailored silhouette, opt for a slim-fit smart shirt and a chunky Derby shoe,” says Smith. “[But] for cargo trousers with more volume, you can exaggerate the relaxed feel with an oversized sweatshirt or jumper, or even layer up with a neoprene hoodie.”
Don’t, however, kid yourself into thinking a pair of cargo trousers are anything smarter than smart-casual. “Be careful if you’re looking to wear cargo pants in a formal outfit – [smart] button-down shirts are difficult to style them with,” says Lewis. “And always stick to traditional colours when going for a cargo pant. For me, olive, black and navy are the go-tos.”
The Best Brands For Cargo Trousers
You may not have heard of Stan Ray before. That’s because the family-run, Texan company doesn’t make a big song and dance about what it does. It just quietly gets on, producing some of the finest military-grade kit on the market, and has done since 1972. Cargo pants are Stan Ray’s staple garment and it has long been a supplier to the US Armed Forces thanks to its products’ durability and classic, utilitarian styling.
It would be fair to say Carhartt is to workwear what Rolex is to luxury watches. The Detroit-based heritage brand has been crafting some of the finest functional clothing around since 1889 and setting the benchmark for quality in the process. Now the brand’s younger, hipper European sibling, Carhartt WIP, has injected a dose of streetwear styling into the mix, resulting in garments that are just as timely as they are rugged and hard-wearing. For proof, just look to its city-friendly cargo pants with details such as ripstop fabric and bartack stitching as standard.
A fine set of cargo pants needn’t bankrupt you. For wallet-friendly options look no further than Swedish high-street hero H&M. The brand’s signature pair have remained unchanged for several years because, well, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. In short, the fit is great, the quality is just as good as some top-shelf alternatives and last but not least they’ll leave you with enough change to line your newly acquired pockets.
J.Crew’s versatile, preppy, East Coast aesthetic has seen it become the brand of choice for style-conscious men looking to build a capsule wardrobe without breaking the bank. The New York brand made a name for itself crafting the basics to high standards and among them are some subtly stylish cargo pants. Expect no-frills styling, rugged ripstop construction and simple, straight-leg cuts.
For tough-as-nails American workwear that won’t empty your bank account, Dickies is the number one. The brand’s famous chinos and cargo pants have earned it a crossover appeal that sees it being worn by everyone from weather-beaten manual labourers to European urban hipsters. But you don’t have to fall into one of those two camps in order to get involved. Dickies cargos’ stripped-back, classic styling means they’re ideal for the everyman too.
Spanish high-street retail chain Mango is an often overlooked option when it comes to menswear. It’s a shame really, because the brand’s designs are some of the strongest for their price point. Cargo pants are no exception to the rule, with plenty of classic, casual options on offer the year round. Think relaxed styling, flattering cuts and, of course, pockets aplenty.
Mr Porter’s in-house clothing line made a splash the moment it landed, offering parred-back menswear essentials to the style-savvy consumer – all killer, no filler. Mr P.’s cargo pants stay true to the overarching concept of the range: they’re simple, they’re made from premium materials and they keep one foot in the here and now by employing tasteful contemporary touches like slanted side pockets and modern cuts.
Since 1982, Italian luxury menswear brand Stone Island has been pushing the boundaries of what can be done with fabric, creating new materials and inventing ground-breaking dyeing processes along the way. In addition to overshirts, outerwear and denim, cargo pants are one of the label’s staple garments, featuring premium cloth and garment dyeing as standard.
It’s tricky to pin down just what exactly Le Fix is. After all, the Copenhagen-based brand operates as everything from a retail space to a tattoo parlour to an art gallery. Alongside all of that, it also produces its own in-house clothing line, specialising in contemporary staples accompanied by quirky branding. Cargo-pant wise, military styling and European construction are par for the course, while details such as drawstring waists and looser cuts keep things on the stylish side of relaxed.
As a military garment, cargo trousers were designed to be dragged through mud and dirt on a regular basis. With that in mind, spending somewhere around 700 quid on a pair may seem a little counterintuitive. But hey, if you’ve got the money to burn then Brunello Cucinelli should most definitely be your first port of call. After all, where else can you pick up a pair of Italian-made cargos constructed from luxurious stretch cotton? Just don’t take them on your next assault course training exercise.