Men’s Fashion Guides
How To Wear Cargo Trousers With Surplus Style
Bin the boyband memories – the 1990s favourite is back. Here’s how to wear themWe 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.”