Men’s Cargo Pants Outfit Inspiration: 18 Stylish Looks For 2022
An excellent alternative to your trusty jeans and chinos, here's wow to wear combat pants without looking like you're going to a military re-enactment.
If you’re looking for an alternative to your trusty chinos or jeans, cargo pants may be for you. A casual trouser with links to the military and classic workwear, they’re practical, easy to style and – thanks to their current popularity among both affordable and luxury fashion brands – come in a wide array of designs.
You can go the classic olive green route, sure, but these days there are also contemporary, minimalist versions better suited for smart casual wear, as well as looser fits that allow you to channel a more streetwear-focused, skate-inspired aesthetic.
However you want to wear yours, we’ve got you covered. But first…
What are cargo pants?
Like many of menswear’s most iconic garments, cargo pants (also known as combat trousers) were born in the military – specifically as a part of ‘battle dress’, which was introduced to the British Army at the start of World War II.
They were part of a new uniform designed for ultimate practicality out in the field, and came complete with a mid rise and large buttoned pockets on each thigh. These pockets were designed to hold everything from ammunition to maps to rations, freeing up space in soldiers’ jackets and Bergens, allowing for more capacity when on the move.
Here in 2022 the pockets remain a practical and welcome addition, even if your own daily arsenal only consists of a wallet, phone and keys.
Tips on how to wear cargo pants
Don’t go too tactical
Unless you’re planning on attending a historical re-enactment, we’d advise against going full-on militaria with your cargos. That means swerving high-waisted, olive drab, ripstop cargo pants that would look more at home on the shooting range than they would the streets.
If you must tap into the military aesthetic, tone down the rest of your outfit and avoid bomber jackets and leather boots to keep it from looking like you’re playing dress up.
Strip it back
An easy way of avoiding overt military connotations is to opt for a pair of minimalist cargo pants. Instead of large bellows pockets, look for more subtle detailing; skip the wide, relaxed fits your dad wears and go for a sleek, tailored cut; and choose smarter, more comfortable fabrics like stretch cotton and wool.
Essentially, go for a pared-back, more sophisticated take on the combat trouser. The upshot is they will be much more versatile, slotting seamlessly into your everyday rotation.
Mix up the colour palette
Search online for ‘cargo pants’ and chances are the first 10 pairs you see will be olive green. This is of course the colour they’re predominantly produced in, but it’s not always the most versatile choice.
Indeed, retreat from the shade and your styling options will start opening up. For example, a timeless navy pair looks smart and is easy to wear with everything from OCBDs to knitted polos to roll necks, while an off-white pair can arguably replace your stone chinos come spring.
Cargo pants outfits
Technical cargo pants
For a sportswear-inspired take on the cargo pant, look for a pair made from lightweight, technical fabrics as well as details like cuffed hems and drawstring waists.
These combine to instantly give cargos a fresher look and feel that finishes off hoodies and sneakers with stylish flair.
Grey cargo pants
Grey is a surprisingly easy to wear shade when it comes to chinos and jeans, and the same can be said of cargos. A light grey tailored pair is ideal for smart casual looks, playing nicely with classic shades of navy, beige and brown.
Keep the fit on the slimmer side and wear them with outdoorsy pieces such as roll necks, gilets, flannel shirts and hiking boots for a stylish yet practical fall outfit.
Tailored cargo pants
While traditionally a casual trouser, cargo pants can work with tailoring. There’s just a couple of things you need to consider. The most important is the fit, which should be slim and tapered and nothing like the baggy cuts of classic military versions.
Secondly, the pockets should sit fairly flat against the legs, giving the silhouette a more streamlined appearance that better complements a blazer and shirt. Speaking of which, you need to narrow the gap in formality between your top and bottom half, so try switching your dress shirt for a polo and ensure your jacket is unstructured and in a relaxed fabric, such as cotton.
There are no two ways about it, white is a tricky trouser colour to wear. With cargos though, the casual nature of the trouser, as well as the extra pocket detailing, softens the harshness of the shade, making it ever so slightly more wearable than sharper chinos or tailored trousers.
Blank canvas cargo pants
If you’re unsure which colour cargo pants to go for, default to black. Neither too smart nor too casual, black cargos are the ideal blank canvas for a multitude of looks.
Wear them as part of an all-black fit or play around with the monochrome scale, combining them with contrasting shades of grey and white.
Black and green
Black and green is a classic colour combination, whether you’re creating business outfits for the office or dressing down at the weekend.
So if you want to reference cargo pants’ military heritage in a subtle way, try combining a black pair with olive green staples – think sweaters, hoodies, overshirts, puffer jackets and the like. You can’t go wrong.
While we want to avoid slipping into the world of cosplay when wearing cargos, an olive green pair shouldn’t be avoided altogether. Go for a regular fit with a slightly cropped ankle and you can channel a classic American sports aesthetic by teaming them with a crew-neck sweatshirt and canvas high-tops, as shown here.
If you don’t want to go quite so retro, why not try a more contemporary, athleisure-inspired approach?
Here, a pair of navy cargos in soft stretch cotton with a drawstring waist sets the tone, while the long-sleeved polo and minimal sneakers give the outfit a crisp, sporty finish.
Keeping cargos simple
Sometimes all you need is a crisp white tee. Find a tapered, slimline pair of cargo pants, tuck in a boxy T-shirt and finish with rubber-soled Derbies, as above, to create a clean smart casual look that works for all manner of social situations.
Workwear-inspired cargo pants
Tap into the cargo pant’s workwear heritage and combine them with a chore jacket for maximum utilitarian practicality. You won’t need to carry a bag with the amount of pockets this combo offers up.
Go for contrasting shades or find a ‘workwear’ suit, with a matching top and bottom half, for a fashion-forward approach. Finish with simple Derby shoes, a striped tee and luxe cashmere beanie.
Slimline military cargos
Here we see a smart, sophisticated approach to military-inspired dressing. To get the look, opt for a pair of tailored cargos, replete with cuffed hem and mid rise, and combine them with an equally sharp tailored bomber jacket, which has more in common with a blazer than a traditional nylon MA-1.
Grey on grey cargo pants
Forget black on black, grey on grey is an underrated menswear move. It’s not quite as sombre as the former, but it’s just as easy to wear – whether you’re dressing up for the office or down for a weekend city visit.
Aim for something in between with this smart casual combination of grey cargos and a tonal chunky roll neck.
Stone cargo pants
Khaki pants might be your spring/summer trouser staple, but find a pair of cargos in this adaptable shade and you’ll be able to wear them year-round.
They of course work well with classic neutrals like navy or bottle green, but try combining with tonal shades of cream and off-white to create a stylish warm-weather look.
Dial it up a notch
While undoubtedly harder to find, a pair of pleated cargos might be the trouser style you didn’t know you needed. Smarter than regular combat pants, with their high rise and traditionally formal pleats, they will work in any tailored look.
You can add cargos to that list, too. Their rugged nature perfectly complements this hardy fabric’s workwear roots, as proven above. We particularly like how the light wash stands out against the all-black base.
The tuck in
Tucking anything into cargo pants is risky business. But with the right style of shirt, it can be done. To successfully pull it off, you’ll need to go for a casual design rather than a dress shirt.
A half placket, long sleeve polo is ideal, as proven here. A smart casual staple, when combined with a pair of tailored, minimal cargos in a sophisticated shade like off-white, the balance is just right.
Corduroy cargo pants
Combat pants are available in a dizzying array of fabrics these days, from lightweight cotton and linen to heavyweight twill and flannel. And one of our favourite options for fall/winter 2022 is corduroy.
Bringing an unexpected tactile element to cargos, you can create outfits of real depth by teaming them with other textured pieces, such as flannel shirts and ribbed or cable knit sweaters. Finish with hardy leather boots and a technical rain jacket for a contemporary take on outdoorsy style.
Cargo pants and winter knitwear
When it comes to casual fall fits, it’s hard to go wrong with chunky knitwear. From fisherman knits to roll necks to cardigans, nothing is more satisfying to throw on when the weather turns.
A simple fair isle crew neck makes the ideal finishing touch for a pair of slim cargo pants and sneakers, resulting in an alternative take on smart casual wear.