A brief history of cargo pants, the military’s greatest contribution to fashion


The photographer Bill Cunningham once said: “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.”

For those serving in the armed forces, this statement is much more literal than figurative. As a result, over the years the military has become a driver of clothing worn not only in combat, but also civilian clothing.

From trench coats to pea coats to acetate glasses frames, the military has an often neglected influence on the fashion world. But there is one particular article that is ridiculed by some as the antithesis of sartorial elegance and, more than anyone else, traces its roots back to militaristic origins: cargo pants.

The earliest version of the cargo pants were the pocket type pants worn by British soldiers in combat clothing in the 1930s, according to author Brian Jewell.

“By the 1930s, the War Department became increasingly aware of the need for new and more rational combat clothing, and by 1937 the design of what would become known as the ‘combat suit’ was completed,” it says Summary of “British Battledress 1937-61”.

“Although the uniform change for the British soldiers was disappointing at first, the new combat suit served its purpose well and dressed the soldiers with reasonable warmth and comfort for more than 25 years.”

It was indeed a distraction from the more formal uniforms that made the fashionable British Army a formidable sight for centuries (especially during this period when they wore red coats). But the more relaxed dress eventually caught on with the United States, particularly paratroopers, who also mimicked their WWII-era uniforms.

one German officer, who is suspicious of American troops approaching, commented in his diary on the distinguishable appearance of the US paratroopers.

“American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 yards from my outpost line,” he wrote. “I can not sleep at night; they appear out of nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere. “

It wouldn’t be long before every US military service adopted the utility pants.

“Due to the success of these paratrooper trousers, the two-pocket cargo trousers became the standard issue for almost all branches of the US military after World War II,” GQ reported.

In 1952, the Army adopted the OG-107 – olive green pants with two front pockets tucked into the boots – which were quickly replaced by the always popular and evolving BDU.

Cargo pants flourished in the civilian market in the 1990s. As a matter of fact, complex praised them as number seven of the 90 best trends of the 90s list and wrote: “Cargo pants were like SUVs for the legs. No wonder why both experienced such a boom in the 90s. “

In fact, modern cargo pants are notorious for their baggy fit and “patch pockets. “And although they are now mostly worn by stupid fathers who pair them with New Balance tennis shoes, or by Vet brothers who still step up to tight-fitting jeans or pants, they will always have a special place in military history – and in our hearts .

Observation Post is the Military Times’ one-stop shop for all things off-duty. Stories can reflect observations made by the author.

Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor at Military Times. Previously, she was the digital editor of the Military Times and the Army Times Editor. See National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News for more work.


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