They’ve been called masculine, they’ve been called lame. They’ve been worn by soldiers on the frontline and by teenage video game addicts. They’ve come in all colors of the camo rainbow but made equally available in high-end wool. The cargo pant is like the double-agent of the menswear world, simultaneously working for both sides of the field – the cool and the uncool.
You could even say that the cargo trouser’s revival is tied to the fact that it was once uncool, that designers decided to flip the item on it’s head and turn them back into something desirable. Although, when the British military developed the first iteration of the cargo pant in 1938, desirability was probably the furthest thing from their minds–they dealing with was life and death, not aesthetics. As a result, the first cargo was a somewhat sloppy creation. The single-patch pocket that the Brits had slapped on their BDU’s (British dress uniforms) was poorly sized and impractical, which ended up defeating the purpose of the pocket in the first place.
A few years later though, the U.S. military stole this idea and created their version, “paratrooper pants.” Crafted for paratroopers who literally had to jump out of a plane and be ready for battle the second they hit the ground, these cargo pants were perfect because they allowed supplies to remain close at hand. Based on the success of that paratrooper pant, after World War II the dual pocket cargo pant became a standard issue for almost all branches of the U.S. military. Those two pockets made all the difference when a soldier was in a pinch and needed some extra ammo on the double.
Of course, like so many military inventions, it was only a matter of time before we civvies got our hands on the cargo pants. By the ’90s cargo pants were ubiquitous across the country, with mall brand stores selling baggy versions to suburban teens, and surplus stores selling real mil-spec camo pieces to punks and rappers alike. Nowadays though, the cargo pant has now found it’s way to the runway, with slender models showing off what are essentially classic tapered trousers with slim-silhouetted pockets on the side. Neo-prep designers like Michael Bastian have helped to transform the frontline favorite into a utility pant for your daily battles, even if your biggest struggle is simply trying to find something that will actually fit into that minuscule cargo pocket.