How to Wear Cargo Pants

September 23rd, 2009

Q: I noticed [cargo pants] are making somewhat of a comeback, especially simpler and better fitted (read, slimmer) versions. J. Crew has a couple out this fall that I bought and am in love with. Rugged, military, and go with a lot of stuff.

A: Cargo pants are indeed making a comeback, what with the military-inspired trends we’re seeing for men this Fall.  The good news?  The more fitted versions of cargo pants that you’re seeing today are a far cry from the oversized, stuff-your-pockets versions that were popularized in the 1990s.  What we love about cargo pants is that they’re a great substitute for khaki pants and the dark-rinse jeans you have in heavy rotation.  And they do work with a wide variety of looks.  Here’s three looks that show you how to wear cargo pants:

Look 1: Shawl Collar Cardigan + Collared Shirt + Skinny Tie + Cargo Pants + Boots

How to Wear Cargo Pants, Look 1
Feeling the love for this outfit?  Here’s more information about it.

Why does this outfit work?  We love the mix of casual and formal, tailored and relaxed.  The shawl collar cardigan acts as a casual version of the blazer - and takes the edge off of the collared shirt and tie combo.  The rugged boots, which feel at home with the cargo pants, finish off the look with a casual flourish.

Look 2: Bright Polo + Cargo Pants + Casual Belt + Sneakers

How to Wear Cargo Pants, Look 2
Feeling the love for this outfit?  Here’s more information about it.

Why does this outfit work?  The masculine cargo pant gets a shot of fresh air with a bright yellow polo.  The unexpected shot of color breathes new life into the look - and we love the mustardy yellow paired with a neutral khaki.  The casual look is belted with a canvas belt and finished off with a pair of stylish sneakers.

Look 3: Henley + Cargo Pants + Casual Belt + Boots

How to Wear Cargo Pants, Look 3
Feeling the love for this outfit?  Here’s more information about it.

Why does this outfit work? The fitted henley exemplifies casual elegance, and it adds an air of relaxed sophistication to the otherwise rugged look.  Tuck the henley into the cargo pants and complete the look with a casual canvas belt.  Rugged military-inspired boots help keep the look grounded as well.

Last thoughts about how to wear cargo pants?
(1) Cargo pants are weekend-only pants.  They’re a substitute for khakis and jeans, but unless your office is pretty casual, save them for the weekend.
(2) Because cargo pants have a rugged, military vibe to them, pair them with the appropriate style of shoe: boots or sneakers.  No fancy oxfords or loafers.
(3) Please, please, please don’t stuff your pockets with extraneous items.  A slim-fit wallet, yes.  But if your pockets are bulging, that’s too much.  Just because cargo pants feature extra pockets doesn’t mean that they’re meant to be functional.

Have a great tip about how to wear cargo pants? Share it with us in the comments!

Entry Filed under: Men,Men's,Q&A,Ready Made Outfits

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. William  |  September 23rd, 2009 at 7:55 am

    It would be really great if you provided tips on where to find this stuff, like what shops to go to or (ding $$$) actually sold this stuff from your own blog.

  • 2. Trisha  |  September 23rd, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Hi William,

    All of the cargo pants shown in the post are currently available at American Eagle. If you click on the link below each look, you’ll be taken to a page that shows you where to get each item. Most of the items are currently available. And that shawl collar cardigan is selling at Topshop for only $60!

    As for your idea of selling clothes from the blog, the thought has crossed my mind. Just need to find the right manufacturers to be able to provide great quality at decent prices :)


  • 3. Gary  |  September 23rd, 2009 at 11:17 am

    The shawl cardigan’s a great idea, Trish. When the weather turns cold enough, I’ll be pairing up my cargos with my shawl collar cardigan.

  • 4. Trisha  |  September 23rd, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Excellent. Glad to help, Gary!

  • 5. Sarah  |  September 24th, 2009 at 7:58 am

    How about ways for ladies to wear cargo pants?

  • 6. Gary  |  September 25th, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Sarah, I would think you could almost the same kinds of combinations, only in women’s equivalents.

  • 7. Austin  |  September 26th, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    The looks are not bad, but heres my tip – Cargo pants died with Morgan Fairchild and Old Navy back in ’99 may they rest in peace. And can we let shawl collar cardigans rest, they’re not very flattering on most men.

  • 8. Gary  |  September 28th, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Austin: Sorry, maybe cargo pants died but they’ve certainly been resurrected. And I just flat out disagree re your statement about shawl collar cardigans. They’re classic.

  • 9. Kaustav Bhuyan  |  April 8th, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    I just wanna now what to wear with Yellow Cargo Pants

  • 10. N. Bennett  |  June 8th, 2010 at 1:25 am is a great place to get military cargo pants. Great durability and a *slightly* formal look.

  • 11. bayu  |  August 1st, 2010 at 1:57 am

    Thank you Gary for bringing cargo pants as part of the fashion world.

    I myself and I believe there will be more men reading this article who will thank you for bringing something practical and comfortable like the cargo that real people can wear.

    Not all men favors the skinny jeans, and cargo pants are very convenient when traveling, camping, hunting.

    They’re not stylish especially back in the era where most cargo pants are so baggy that makes me look like I’m borrowing a pants from a guy 5 size bigger than me, but nowadays some brands are creating cargo pants that fits without restricting movements.

    And speaking of which, some cargo pants are made with fabric so light, but durable yet respire well, and quick-drying.

    For me cargo pants are made for men, not just any men, but real men.

    Which is why no army guys I know are into skinny jeans.

  • 12. HELEN EDEM EYO  |  April 21st, 2011 at 4:37 am

    The above combination is cool.

  • 13. HELEN EDEM EYO  |  April 21st, 2011 at 4:46 am

    Thanks Gary for the advice you gave Sarah. i have already started pairing them.

  • 14. rick  |  June 17th, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    what about white cargo pants.??????any suggestion on how to best wear or pair them with?????such as; color combo????

  • 15. rick  |  June 17th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    does wearing a diffence color cargo ,mean wearing a diffence type /style of shoe ,shirt ect .ect….e.g. tan,brown,white,blue,black…most advice centered around khaki & green pants but not other colors…..would you wear rugged boots with white cargo????this advice would be beneficial to some of us.??????????

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