My first encounter with cargo pants came in the late ’90s. I’d stolen a pair of my older brother’s pants and styled them with one of his graphic tees. Sure, I had to use a belt to hold up the pants (which were definitely five sizes too big), but I felt too cool for school. After this brief (but intense) obsession, I bid cargos adieu in favor of other timely trends, like hip huggers and Victoria’s Secret track suits.
In 2012, I had my second personal encounter: My then-boyfriend stepped out of his bedroom wearing cargo shorts. Two questions came to mind: Do we break up due to his bad taste in clothing? And, who the hell needs that many pockets? I publicly declared my disdain for cargos and felt affirmed in my decision to leave them in the ’90s—where they belonged.
But fashion has a funny way of being cyclical. Every couple decades, a trend resurfaces—it’s first adopted by fashion designers and sartorial risk-takers, then it trickles down to fast-fashion retailers and, you know, the rest of us. (I mean, did you ever think you’d wear kitten heels, fanny packs or mom jeans again?)
Though I’d consider my style pretty daring, even I’m hesitant to integrate certain trends into my wardrobe. And unsurprisingly, one of the trends I’m most reluctant to embrace is cargo pants—which are somehow making a comeback after years of embodying the worst of bad style.
But in the spirit of adventure and creativity, I decided it was time to cast aside my preconceived notions about cargo pants and take one of 2018’s weirdest trends for a spin. I headed to my favorite fast-fashion retailers (Forever 21, H&M, Zara and Topshop) to score a few pairs to test on a budget. (Why drop my monthly paycheck on an item I might not wear a season from now—or even after my initial trial run?)
At the end of my shopping trip, I had three winners: a high-waisted cargo jogger from Forever 21, a wide-leg cargo trouser from Zara and a standard cargo pant from the Zara men’s section. Below are all three pants and how I styled them—plus, some notes about what I liked (and disliked) about them.
Tie-waist twill joggers, $23 at Forever 21
Pant 1: The Cargo Jogger
I found these joggers at Forever 21, and I’m convinced they’re the perfect beginner cargo pant. I paired mine with a velvet crop top, oversized vintage denim vest and Dr. Marten boots. I loved the high waist—and the scrunched ankle makes them great for any height. Plus, they were super roomy and comfortable.
What I didn’t like? Though these pants were cute, affordable and well-fitted, they were missing the classic cargo pockets along the side. I mean, one of the perks of cargo pants is their utility, right?
Flowy cargo pants, $100 at Zara
Pant 2: The Cargo Trouser
They might not be traditional cargos, but these flowy pants are the perfect summer office trouser. They’re basically a super lightweight, versatile and elevated take on the classic cargo, and I’m into it.
I paired my pants with a white pinstripe cotton blazer, black blouse and cheetah print mules. And downsides? There are none (though these were much more expensive than the other pairs I tried out).
Wide-leg cargo pants, $50 at Zara
Pant 3: The Classic Cargo
I was struggling to find a true cargo pant, so I took things into my own hands and headed straight for the men’s section. I found these wide-leg cargos, grabbed a larger waist than I needed and cinched them with a belt—just like I did with my brother’s pants in the ’90s.
I cuffed the ankles, threw on a ribbed tank top, slipped into white sneakers and topped my look off with a fanny pack. I didn’t expect to like or even fit into the men’s pants, but they ended up being my favorite pair of the bunch. I plan on wearing this look—and these pants—on repeat for the rest of the year.
Well, it happened. I’ve officially crossed over to the dark side and joined Team Cargo Pants. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with pants for as long as I can remember; they typically run too long for my 5’3″ stature, don’t fit both my hips and waist or are downright uncomfortable. I’m a skirt-and-dress girl through and through, but this cargo pants experiment has me ready to reconsider.
Since cargo pants fit high-waisted, they’re super flattering. Plus, the relaxed fit makes them comfortable and roomy—easy to slip over my tush and thighs. Not to mention, many of them come with scrunched ankles, so if a pair’s too short or long, you can just slide them up or down and call it a day (rather than tailoring them or cuffing the bottoms). In other words: They address all the qualms I have with regular pants.
I’ll be honest: I never would’ve guessed that I, a once-cargo-hating lady, would feel so cool and sexy in a pair of baggy pants from the men’s section. Who knows how long the cargo pants obsession will last this time around—but you can bet that when it resurfaces again in 2048, I’ll hop on the trend train just a little earlier.