Developed by the British Armed Forces in 1938, cargo pants have come a long way from their single-patch-pocket origins. Over the decades, they’ve been adopted by everyone from US paratroopers to rappers, fishermen to off-duty actors. But in recent years, partly thanks to their practicality, they've developed a rep for being the kind of thing a man wears when he can't be bothered to think about what to wear.

Partly, that's because as the rest of menswear grew trimmer, cargo pants stayed resolutely baggy. But there's a new breed of cargo pants in town that are cut like chinos, which means you can wear them like chinos. And like chinos, they wouldn't be seen dead in camo. Instead, you'll find them in dark green, navy or khaki, which means you can dress them up with an unstructured blazer or play it down with a hoodie.

With brands of all budgets bringing out cargo pants in this modern, tapered style, the utilitarian staple is set to become an everyday option once again. So long as you get the fit just right.

Waist

Army surplus versions feature a higher waist, but because you’re probably not going to be tucking anything into them, the most civilian-friendly style is one that sits between the hips and the belly button. As cargo pants are casual, they look good with a belt, so you don't need to worry if they won't stay up by themselves. Having said that, anything too low risks you looking like you're in a nu-metal band.

Thighs

“You don’t want a skinny fit for cargo pants,” says fan, and Thread stylist, Luke McDonald. But the other direction is, arguably, even worse. If in doubt, err on the slim side; Luke suggests aiming for an inch of excess fabric when you pinch the sides. In essence, they should be as tight – or as loose – as you'd wear your chinos.

Ankle

Choose a pair that tapers from the thigh, so they’re slimmer at the ankle. Remember: the era of cargo pants doubling as parachutes is over. You're looking for a shape that echoes that of the legs inside.

Length

Neither cropped, nor puddling on your shoes. “They should be long enough to allow for turn-ups if you’re wearing boots,” says Luke. To get it right, roll the hems twice, keeping the fold about an inch wide, so it sits at the opening of your footwear. That way, you can show off your boots without the need to tuck anything in (always a no-no). If your chosen trousers feature drawstring or elasticated hems, they should sit above your ankle bone.

Pockets

As the defining feature of cargo pants, pockets should be well-considered in your search for the perfect pair. One extra pocket per leg is plenty, and they should sit at mid-thigh, says Luke. These new, slimmer cargo pants bulge in very obvious ways if you overload the pockets, so don't use them to store anything thicker than a cardholder. 

Shop all cargo pants


Words: Theresa Harold
Photography: Jon Cardwell
Styling: Freddie Kemp