Dressed-Up Cargo Pants Are Fashion’s Going-Out Look Du Jour

The utilitarian staple can be surprisingly chic.

Originally Published: 
alyssa in cargo pants
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Not to state the obvious here, but Y2K fashion is the comeback that just won't quit. Anyone born after the millennium, of course, can enjoy all the styles they missed out on the first time around (Juicy Couture tracksuits, butterfly clips, and low-slung jeans are all currently Gen Z favorites). But for those who lived the early aughts as teenagers and adults, this style resurgence most likely triggers a cringe reaction because, let’s not sugarcoat it, some of the looks back then were a tad questionable. That said, the era did have its redeeming wardrobe staples — and pants with utilitarian pockets count as one of them. So it’s little wonder that the dressed-up cargo pants trend seems to resonate across multiple generations. It’s a nostalgic nod to the casual Delia’s versions of yore, but feels far more elevated and fresh.

“Cargo pants were featured by almost a quarter of all designers who showed during fashion month,” NET-A-PORTER Market Director Libby Page tells TZR of the buzzy silhouette. Colorful silk iterations at Fendi and Tibi were standouts, as were the romantic floral pairs spotted at Dries Van Noten and Dior. That said, designs made from eye-catching fabrics or unexpected colors are only part of the equation — there are also so many new outfit combinations to try. “Pants that were originally made for utility, comfort, and convenience are being styled in new and fun ways,” points out Megan Gokey, the North American head of B2C marketing and brand partnerships at shopping app Klarna.

Dries Van Noten Spring/Summer 2023Estrop/Getty Images Entertainment
Jonathan Simkhai Spring/Summer 2023 Giovanni Giannoni/WWD/Getty Images

Take, for example, Jonathan Simkhai and Tibi’s Spring/Summer 2023 shows: Both brands presented cheery monochrome ways of wearing the design that felt less like a casual weekend uniform than dinner party-ready. And over at Dries Van Noten, a mauve-tone option was artfully elevated with the help of a ruffle-embellished blazer. All of this to say, even if you associate cargo pants with low-key dressing, the coming months have something splashier in store.

So, if you’ve been wearing your cargo pants with a casual top and sneakers up until now, that’s great. But just know you can translate these bottoms to dressier occasions, too — let the roundup of looks ahead steer you in the right direction.

Go For The Statement Pair

When you’re short on sartorial inspiration for a dinner date or party with friends, nothing beats a pair of statement pants — especially if they are of the cargo variety. Look for pieces with a unique texture, like metallic or silk, and ground them with a neutral-colored sweater and snakeskin print boots.

Make A Match

Christian Vierig/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Coordinating sets are like the pantsuit’s fun-loving cousin — and if you can score one that includes big pockets? Even better. While you can wear this look to the office, it also translates to after-hours when teamed with statement glasses and jewelry.

Rethink Your Denim

Jeans are a relaxed wardrobe staple but when crafted in a cargo silhouette, they can look a bit more like a trouser, making them a bit more polished. Wear yours with brightly colored pieces, like a neon top and pastel heels, for a striking effect.

Just Add Color

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If you’re not quite ready to invest in technicolor silk cargo pants, rest assured there are still ways you can dress up your classic khaki pair. Rather than pairing them with a hoodie and sneakers, reach for something more eye-catching, like a multicolor intarsia sweater, to bring the look to life.

Turn Up The Volume

For a high-impact look you’ll return to time and again, consider a roomier fit, as demonstrated by Pernille Teisbaek shown above. While the playful pink allows for a lighthearted vibe, a black jacket and top tone down the Barbiecore factor.

Tie Those Drawstrings

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Should you purchase a design with utilitarian toggles, why not make use of them? Try scrunching and/or tying the bottom of your pant legs for a tapered effect. Up top, a streamlined shirt and classic blazer will prevent things from looking too busy.

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