how to style cargo pants

How to Create the Perfect Cargo Pants Outfit

Long thought of as utilitarian and shapeless, cargo pants are making a comeback! From New York runways to Hollywood red carpets, cargo pants style has gone from tired to trendy. If you’ve been waxing nostalgic about this 1990s wardrobe staple, now is the time to revisit cargo pants as more than just a casual go-to for weekend errands. This year, invite them over to the party side of your closet.

The trick to bringing your cargo outfit into the 21st century is mixing and matching the right pieces to create a next-level contemporary look. Read on for our up-to-date tips on how to style cargo pants.

Cargo Pants: Trending Through the Ages

Cargo pants have been around for almost a century: they began as part of the military uniform for the British Armed Forces at the beginning of the 1900s. By World War II, U.S. soldiers had also adopted these functional pants, and soon, they became part of civilian wardrobes. People discovered that those roomy side pockets, which were invented to hold K rations and ammunition, were also handy for everyday items, like wallets and car keys. In the mid-1990s, cargo pants made their first debut on the fashion scene as a favorite of hip-hop stars and urban designers.  During this time, they were almost as popular as jeans or sweatpants.

Cargo Pants Outfit Ideas

Today, cargo pants are back. But to keep your style fresh and on point, you need to know what to wear with cargo pants. Here are a few pointers on how to create a great cargo pants outfit:


  • What to wear with skinny cargo pants: Slim-fitting cargo pants are very much in style and look great with loose tops. Try pairing them with an oversized sweater, a flowing blouse, or long blazer.
  • What to wear with loose cargo pants: Also called harem cargo pants, these pants are cut similarly to their 1990s counterparts. Just as you should contrast skinny cargo pants with loose-fitting tops, try pairing harem cargo pants with a form-fitting sweater, t-shirt, or crop top.
  • What to wear with cropped cargo pants: This modern twist on cargo pants looks great dressed down with a pair of sneakers or dressed up with high-heeled pumps or boots.

Best Shirts to Wear with Cargo Pants

Since cargo pants are no longer limited to casual wear, you can get more creative when creating your cargo pants style by pairing them with a variety of top options. A good rule of thumb when putting together a fashion-forward cargo pants outfit is to contrast the fit of your cargo pants with the fit of your shirt.


Try pairing loose cargo pants with a form-fitting sweater or t-shirt, making sure to tightly tuck it in to give you a flattering shape. Crop tops are also a fun pairing with loose cargo pants, and you can throw on a mid-length leather or wool jacket to take you through the cooler temperatures.


Skinny cargo pants are all the rage and look great with oversized button-down shirts or chunky sweaters on top. If the weather is chilly, pair your skinny cargo pants with an equally-fitted shirt or sweater and throw on a full-length coat for a chic contrast.

How to Dress Up Cargo Pants

One of the biggest innovations in cargo pants style is its move from day to night: this once casual wardrobe staple is now common at dressy dinners and evenings out on the town.  Here are some pointers on how to wear cargo pants for a night out.

First, make sure your cargo pants are crisply ironed with none of that 1990s slouch. The side pockets should be flush and not sagging.

Second, don’t be afraid to sparkle! A great way to dress up cargo pants is to pair them with a sparkly top or a neutral crop top under a sequined jacket.

Finally, make sure you finish your look with a pair of high-heeled pumps or boots!

What to Look for in Cargo Pants

The most important detail of contemporary cargo pants style is the fit. While these pants were once known for their bulky shape and straight cut from the waist to the hem, today’s trend leans toward a more flattering silhouette around the waist and hips. The iconic cargo pants pockets also tend to be flush to the leg rather than bulging out to the side, creating a more streamlined look.

A new generation of fabric choices has allowed for more cargo pant options. Instead of the traditional heavy twill, today’s pants are made of light cotton fabric and even denim for a more updated style.

Find Your Best Cargo Pants Outfit at UNIONBAY

If you’re not sure which cargo pants style is right for you, contact our experts at UNIONBAY. We can help you choose the perfect pair of cargo pants for women as well as cargo pants for men.