Cargo Pants: An American (By way of the British) Success Story

September 18, 2014

Walk any street from Venice Beach, California to Venice, Italy and you’ll find folks wearing cargo pants and shorts. While some say they are a fad that has passed, then why do I have three pairs hanging in my closet?

A little History
First worn in 1938 by British Armed Forces, BDUs (British dress uniforms) had a single pocket that was too small and impractical. When they were introduced to America in the 1940s during World War II the Americans added an extra-large side pocket that was first placed on Paratrooper’s uniforms to hold radios and extra ammunition. After World War II the dual-pocket cargo pant became standard issue for almost all the branches of the U.S. military. Originally made of hard wearing fabrics they come in variable thicknesses these days from heavy duty cotton to quick-drying and cool synthetic blends.

Pockets, Pockets, and More Pockets
A cargo pocket on cargo pants has accordion-type folds for increased capacity. They have a flap which is secured by either a button, a snap or Velcro. The more pockets the better and they usually have two front and back pockets like normal slacks plus at least one pocket with accordion flaps on the side of each thigh right above or to the side of the knee.

Cargo shorts and Zip-Into-Shorts
Cargo pants that unzip at the knee, turning them into cargo shorts have become almost as popular as the long pants. Bringing the functionality of cargo pants and the option to go from long pants to shorts or back to long pants make these a must have on tourist trips where weather or dress codes change from hour to hour. Cargo shorts are everywhere as well and no matter what the fashion mags may say, millions of pairs are sold every year.

Fashion Statement
Though some were worn in the sixties and seventies these were more similar to Army issue fatigues and were more of a niche fashion statement. Cargo pants took off in popularity in the 1990s during the urban trend when not only suburbanites but many rap artists jumped on the fad. Sales are still strong and variations can still be found on the fashion runways today. Cargo shorts and pants are worn by men and women, though the males seem to be carrying on the trend the most. The so-called fashionistas may claim the style is out of fashion but walk any street from Paris, Texas to Paris, France and you’ll see plenty of them.

This One’s for the Ladies
During World War II when cargo pants hit our shores, women who worked in factories began wearing the baggy cargo pants. Pants of any type were not accepted day wear for ladies in those days but the cargo pants helped break down that barrier at least a little. Today you can find ladies cargo pants on runways ranging from Military to High Fashion. The pockets are smaller, the fabric finer and the colors have changed from Khaki and camouflage to every color and fabric imaginable.

They’re Here to Stay
The ubiquitous vision of an American tourist may have changed from Bermuda shorts with dark socks and sandals to cargo pants or shorts with white tennis shoes but is that really so bad? The style conscious may prefer form over function but most of us are practical and prefer to wear what makes sense, and cargo pants, with the pockets and flaps, sure make sense.



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