Classic Cargo Pants Are Getting A High-Fashion Upgrade

Cargo pants are a historically divisive trend, but this season, they're coming back in a new way. According to Olivers, the style dates all the way back to 1930s British military uniforms. They were developed as a way to allow soldiers to carry extra ammunition and necessary supplies while on the battlefield, but this military essential, once seen as exclusively utilitarian, was coopted by fashion trailblazers. The pocket-heavy design hit it big in the '90s and early '00s and has seen a recent rise in popularity alongside the return of Y2K fashion.

Nowadays, the cargo pant silhouette is popular with everyone from avid hikers to streetwear influencers. The pockets add a fun, ornamental twist on the traditional slacks, and the long military history helps to bring a masculine twist to even the most feminine of outfits. This season, however, designers are moving away from the slouchy, stolen-from-your-boyfriend's-closet look that took over in the '90s in favor of a more experimental, structured approach.

Structured designs

In the past, the streetwear iteration of cargo pants was frequently worn loose and low on the hips as a contrast to the more buttoned-up military look that they were commonly associated with. Now, however, the uniform vibe is coming back into style. After the past few years of sharp suiting and professional-meets-casual looks, this is no surprise — cargo pants are just the next item to get the tailoring treatment. The once-rebellious skater style might even go so far as to dip into business casual territory, bringing a new twist to the classic workplace-appropriate trouser.

Non-traditional fabrics and colors

Designers may be returning to a more traditional, military-inspired interpretation of the cargo pant, but they're still having some fun with the fabric and color choice. In addition to the classic khakis, you can expect bold colors like pink (thanks, Valentino), satin finishes, and luxurious organza. Utilitarian glam might seem like an oxymoron, but it's hitting the runways in a big way, and will likely show up on the shelves of your favorite stores in the coming months. Try taking cargo pants on a night out; luxe fabrics provide a great contrast to their masculine silhouette.

Pockets and zippers

An abundance of straps and zippers are taking the stage as utilitarian fashion continues to rise in popularity, and cargo pants are the perfect canvas for designers to play around with functional accents. The typical cargo pant features an extra pocket or two along the thigh, but look out for designs with zippers to customize fit, large pockets lower on the leg, and seaming that enforces weak spots. If you want to take the hiker look down a notch, try pairing it with a piece on top that reads more club than trail.

Matching sets

Adding a matching jacket or top to a pair of pants is by far the easiest way to create a cohesive outfit, and cargo pants are no exception. Off-White, Valentino, and Act Nº1 all went matchy-matchy with their recent runway looks, so if you're planning to follow suit, you'll likely see some pocketed coat and cargo sets hitting shelves soon. Keep it simple with a basic tank underneath and boots, or amp it up with glam accents like pointed-toe heels to balance out the utility vibe for a date night.

Jogger silhouettes

Cargo pants in an array of silhouettes have been hitting the runway this season, but the most unexpected is the humble jogger. This style — loose throughout the leg, tight at the ankle — has seen quite the transformation from casual sweats to an elevated part of our wardrobes. This design is slightly less formal than the classic wide-leg or tapered trouser, so keep it in its comfort zone for a model-off-duty airport look, or style it for a night out with heels and a structured top to elevate it.

Denim galore

Just when you thought they had run out of new ideas to transform a classic pair of jeans, denim cargo pants are hitting the scene. Instead of the comically-wide legs and massive pockets of the JNCO jeans of the past, however, think more comfortable and vintage-inspired. Distressed, worn-in fabrics, accented with a collection of pockets, offer a casual and approachable take on this trend — the perfect way to elevate your classic white tee and jeans look for the upcoming season.