what are cargo pants

Comfortable, durable, and completely multipurpose, cargo pants have been a mainstay of casual wardrobes since the 1990s, often showing up in elegant runway shows and edgy streetwear collections. But, what defines cargo clothing? Is it just the iconic design, or does it also have to do with fabric, fit, or details?

We’ll answer the question, “What are cargos?” by taking a deep dive into this clothing staple’s history and evolution. Then, we’ll look at contemporary styling options that’ll make your cargo pants outfit really pop. 

The Everyday Style of Cargo Pants

Cargo pants — also called cargo trousers or combat trousers are functional pants with a loose fit designed to allow for freedom of movement, especially at the knees and hips. Cargo pants fabric is traditionally sturdy cotton or cotton-wool blend that can withstand rigorous wear and harsh elements. 

The most recognizable detail on cargo pants is the signature square patch pocket attached to one or both outer legs between the hip and knee. These pockets often feature accordion folds or bellows to expand their capacity. Generally, these pockets close with a zipper or a flap secured with buttons, snaps, or Velcro.

What are Cargo Pants Made Of?

what are cargo pants made out of

Cargo pants are crafted from durable fabric and stitched with rugged strength. They are increasingly constructed using fast-drying synthetic materials or blends of cotton and synthetic fibers. Additionally, they often include larger belt loops to fit wide webbing belts.

Today, however, cargo pants are as much a fashion statement as utilitarian wear, so you can find trendy styles in light-weight or luxury fabrics that are cooler and more wearable. Updated designs also feature elastic waistbands or cuffs, jetted side pockets (pockets that open into the interior of the pant leg rather than being sewn onto the exterior), and extra slim or baggy fits.

Cargo Pants: A Brief Overview

When Were Cargo Pants Invented?

You may think that cargo pants are a recent invention, but these popular pants have been around for almost a century. They were first worn as battle attire by soldiers for the British Armed Forces in 1938. Shortly after, this iconic clothing hopped over the Atlantic Ocean to the U.S.

Cargo Pants History

Designed to be worn by British forces during the Second World War, cargo pants had ample pocket space that allowed soldiers to carry necessary items like field dressings, maps, and other vital supplies on the battlefield while keeping their hands free. 

American paratroopers fighting in Europe in the early 1940s saw the innovative design and copied it, using the pockets for ammunition and radios. Soon, cargo pants became part of the basic battle dress uniform for the entire U.S. military.

What are Cargo Pants Like Today?

After decades as standard military uniform, cargo pants started entering civilian mainstream fashion in the 1990s as hip-hop streetwear. The style soon became ubiquitous in casual clothing chains and high-end fashion shows. The iconic patch pockets became more decorative than functional, and fabrics have moved away from military-grade to lighter cotton or quick-drying synthetics to make cargo pants more practical for everyday wear. However, the basic silhouette remains the same. 

Who Can Wear Cargo Pants?

Cargo pants may have hit the red carpet, but these functional and durable pants are still a fundamental piece of military battle dress. They are also used for many police, firefighter, and EMS uniforms, and even medical scrubs. 

Outside the workplace, you’ll find many types of cargo pants that you can wear for both casual and dressy occasions. Classic cargo pants for men are a go-to for informal office wear and socializing, but you can pair more tailored styles in soft fabrics with a blazer and dress shoes for a night out. Women can also wear relaxed-fit cargo pants to a casual workplace or out with family or friends. Additionally, trendy slim-cut women’s cargos with sleek side pockets and elastic or tapered cuffs worn with high-heeled pumps or boots make a fashion-forward evening look.

Cargo Pant Styling Tips

You may be asking yourself, “What are cargo pants best worn with?” 

Classic, casual cargo pants like UNIONBAY’s Survivor Cargo Pant for men or Lilah Convertible Cargo Pant for women look great with other timeless, straightforward pieces. 

For men, pair relaxed-fit cargo pants with slim button-down shirts or t-shirts and canvas tennis shoes; distressed hoodies and boots worn with cargo pants create a younger, edgier look. Women can balance the loose cut of cargo pants with a fitted top or t-shirt or go full bohemian with a flowing gauzy blouse. Either way, sleek sneakers or pretty sandals are a laid-back way to complete the style.

Now that we’ve answered your questions about what are cargo pants, it’s time to update your look with a pair of classic cargos from our collection. Browse our cargo pants for men and women, or contact us for more information about how to choose the perfect pair of cargos to suit your personal style.