Why I’m Pro Cargo Pants—Yes, Really!

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We all have fashion moments that, in retrospect, were a huge mistake. Whether you succumbed to a short-lived trend—remember harem pants?—or wore a risky accessory that just didn’t quite pay off, fashion regrets are par for the course when experimenting with your look. And that’s fine: We all make errors in judgment! I still cringe when I remember how I would mismatch my shoe laces and wear leg warmers as bracelets (yes, really) in middle school. Another favorite look of mine during the 2000s were cargo pants. At the time, I was convinced I was a goth, and I would wear extra-baggy Tripp cargo pants that had gigantic pockets on them. I even remember wearing them to an Evanescence concert. These were simpler times, but my pants were not: You practically needed a degree to navigate the 10,000 pockets and chains that adorned them. 

I was recently reminded of my cargo pant obsession while going through an old photo album at my parents’ house this month. I must burn these, I thought to myself of the photographic evidence. But, then again, cargo pants are also having a bit of a comeback right now. On the runways, labels Max Mara, Stella McCartney, and Burberry have reinvented the pocketed pant look to be more streamlined. Yes, they’re associated with It guys, frat bros, or just bad 2000s style in general, but I’m enchanted by the new runway versions. They’re still very utilitarian, of course—who doesn’t love handy pockets?—but cut high-waisted or with a slimmer fit along the leg, the rugged cargo trousers add a dash of cool to just about any outfit. 

Bella Hadid in her cargo pantsPhoto: Getty Images

The return of cargos on the runway are indeed drawing me back in, but this time around, I don’t see them as a passing fad. To me, there’s actually something classically appealing to the cargo pant—dressed up right, I think it can become part of a uniform. It helps that style stars such as Marc Jacobs, Bella Hadid, and more have all shown how to smartly wear them on the streets too. They key to pulling them off? It’s all in balancing the cargos with more minimal, unfussy pieces. If you’re committing to the cargo, don’t do like teenager-me and go full goth with it; instead, try to elevate the pants, pairing them with a dressy coat or a simple, clean top. For advanced trendsetters, really lean into the military-inspired vibe à la Hadid (she wore her cargos with a bomber jacket). 

Whatever the approach, remember that cargos do all the work for your outfit, so simply allow them to shine. I myself will be revisiting the cargos this spring, and I feel confident that I can turn them from a faux pas into a must-have. They’re the season’s underdog pant!

Below, eight chic cargo pants to shop now too.

R13 camo-print cargo pants

$495

NORDSTROM

Isabel Marant Étoile Paggy cotton-blend canvas cargo trousers

$460

MATCHESFASHION.COM

Jonathan Simkhai Lianna belted woven tapered cargo pants

$198

NET-A-PORTER

Sea Hildur acid-washed straight-leg cargo jeans

$285

MODA OPERANDI

Thebe Magugu utility cargo pants

$479

FARFETCH

H&M slim-fit cargo pants

$40

H&M

Anine Bing Kennedy cargo pants

$199

SHOPBOP

Stella McCartney acid-wash boyfriend jeans

$238

NET-A-PORTER