Pants and Shorts

Cargo Pants For Men: 5 Cargo Pants Outfits + 11 Style Mistakes

90 Comments

I think we can all agree with this:

Looking good shouldn’t be reserved for dressy events and special occasions. Why not add style and sex appeal to your weekend look as well?

For that, cargo pants for men are perfect!

They’re not only comfortable, but also versatile and convenient. So if you have a question sounding something like:

‘Are cargo pants in style?’
‘Are cargo pants business casual?’
‘How to style cargo pants for men?’

You’re in luck.

Because in this tutorial, you’ll learn everything you need to know about cargo pants, including five outfits you can wear right now and 11 style mistakes you must know about.

Free Bonus: click here to access the free PDF that shows you the 5 Cargo Pants Outfits and 11 Style Mistakes neatly organised into one printer-friendly list.

But first:

This is When to Wear Cargo Pants to for Men

Cargo pants for men are still in style, but like any other outfit or piece of apparel, wearing them at the right time is crucial.

Take these two examples:

Flip-flops:

They look great at the beach or pool but shouldn’t be worn anywhere else.

Black socks:

They’re great with dark trousers but shouldn’t be worn with shorts, including mens cargo shorts.

You see where I’m going with this?

When you wear something, the key to looking good is timing …

… and cargo pants are no exception.

Cargo pants for men are great for leisure activities and weekends. But no matter how much the fashion industry wants them to be, cargo pants for men are neither dressy nor appropriate for everyday or business occasions.
are cargo pants business casual illustration

Obviously, if you’re walking your dog around the block or having a BBQ in the park, cargo pants would be just as stylish as anything else.

However, if you’re heading down to the pub to watch a game or going in to the office on a casual Friday, better trouser alternatives would be:

  • Jeans
  • Chinos
  • Dress pants

So, just as you would drop the dress socks when wearing shorts and wear flip-flops only at the beach, cargo pants for men are best reserved for weekends or when participating in leisure activities.

Now that we’ve got that straight, it’s time to get to the juicy stuff. Here are five super-easy and stylish ways you can wear cargo pants for men:

What to Wear With Cargo Pants For Men? – Here’s 5 Outfit Ideas

Outfit #1: Summer Casual

Khaki coloured cargos are perfect for daytime activities, while your polo and sneakers make you look handsome and laid-back.

Whether you visit the lake with your GF, hang out with friends, or grab some takeaway, this outfit won’t let you down.
cargo pants as summer casual pants

Outfit #2: BBQ in the Park

Pair your khaki coloured cargos with a V-neck T-shirt, a cardigan, and a pair of sneakers for an outfit that is great for the BBQ’s and the beers that follows.

To those around you, these clothes basically say, ‘I’m having the day off, and I’m going to get the most out of it!’

example of how to style khaki coloured cargos

Outfit #3: Walking the Dog

When your dog is scratching at the door, you need something that’s quick and easy to put on and that also looks good.

Darker cargos like black cargo pants for men are perfect for day and night strolls, while a V-neck T-shirt and leather jacket are sexy and look great.

Combine these items with a pair of your favourite sneakers, and no girl can resist walking over to say hello to your dog (and you!).

using combat trousers when walking dog

Outfit #4: DIY Outfit

Do-it-yourself projects can be a mess and are usually quite exhausting.

That’s why dark cargos are perfect for this.

Stains won’t show as easily on the dark fabric, and the cargo pants themselves are super-comfortable work trousers.

Top them off with a crewneck T-shirt, a hoodie (which is easy to take off if you get hot), and finally some leather boots, which can tackle any weather.

diy outfit with black cargo pants for men

Outfit #5: Taking a Hike

This is the home territory for cargo pants: nature.

For hikes and outdoor activities, practical clothes are key.

Like these pics:

  • A pair of dark cargos — because they’re the perfect, understated hiking trousers.
  • A wool sweater — which will keep you warm even when wet.
  • Ankle boots — so you can cross streams without worrying about getting wet.
  • A watertight jacket — in case there should be any sudden downpours.

using cargo pants as hiking pants

The 11 Style Mistakes of Cargo Pants and How to Avoid Them

Mistake #1: Wearing Cargos With These Clothes

Cargo pants were originally worn as combat trousers, and they’re still super-casual.

That’s why you should never wear them with collared shirts, blazers, or suit jackets, or any type of dress shoes, such as Oxfords or bluchers.
man with cargos, blazer, shirt, tie
The easy fix:

Wear these casual pants with sweaters and polo shirts; denim, leather, or outdoor jackets; and sneakers or boots only.[/box]

Mistake #2: Choosing This Pattern

So we know that cargos are casual, but we need to draw a line between hunting gear and leisure attire. Even though camouflage pants (camo pants) are in fashion from time to time, you should never wear this pattern.
camo cargo pants for men as fashion fail
Naturally, hunters wear it when hunting, but sporting camo cargo pants for men around your neighbourhood will just make you look like a paramilitary nutter …

… not exactly the sexy, casual look we are aiming for.

The easy fix:

Instead of camouflage, wear solid neutral colours such as navy blue, khaki, charcoal, and olive green.
colours to wear instead of camo pants (camouflage pants)

Mistake #3: Doing This With Your Cargo Pockets

The roomy pockets were originally there to let military personnel carry as much equipment as they could handle.

The ironic thing with cargo pants today …

… is that from a style point of view, the cargo pockets should never be used, since a bulging side pocket will ruin your silhouette (read: make you look stupid).
empty vs full cargo pockets
The easy fix:

Leave all your manly gadgets at home—or at least don’t stuff them into your cargo pockets—so your empty side pockets can lie flat.

Mistake #4: Having Lots of Loose Straps

This look isn’t as common as it was during the raving ’90s and at the start of the millennium; however, loose straps are still a detail on some cargo pants.
wide leg trousers with loose straps
If you’re a carpenter—wearing your pants at work—having loops for your tools makes perfect sense …

… but for the casual cargo pants we’re talking about here, straps and loops are just too much.

‘A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I’m not saying cargos are perfect, but they can certainly do without the loose straps and loops.

The easy fix:

Buy cargo pants that are free of straps.

Mistake #5: Cargo Pockets Missing This Detail

One thing that really completes cargo pockets …

… is pocket flaps.

They make the pockets look good, are functional, and give the pants a proper casual vibe.

Today, there are lots of pants on the market whose designers have replaced this nice original detail with zips or no closures at all.
cargo pants for men cargo pockets without flaps
Manufacturers do this in an effort to make the pants stand out and look dressier, sportier, or more modern.

The easy fix:

Make sure your cargo pants have cargo pocket flaps that close with press studs or ordinary buttons (not Velcro).
khaki cargo pants for men with press-stud pocket flap

Mistake #6: Going Retro With Your Cargo Pockets

In an effort to get a cut of the market, designers constantly try to find ways for their products to stand out.

Unfortunately, cargo pockets haven’t been spared from or benefited from this.
cargo pants for men with cargo pockets on front
All though cargo pockets on the front of the thighs are true to the original look from 1938 …

… this design isn’t as good-looking or practical as side mounted pockets.

The easy fix:

Only buy cargo pants with cargo pockets on the side of the thighs.
cargo pants for men cargo pants close-up.001

Mistake #7: Cargo Pants in These Materials

Designers have certainly overdone it with this idea:

Cargo jeans—or in other words, cargo pants in denim.
cargo pants for men cargo jeans fail
What happened here? Who came up with this nonsense? I can only wonder what they are going to create next … cargo sweatpants?
cargo pants for men cargo sweatpants
OMG …

Okay, so there are a lot of cargo pants out there in dodgy materials that you shouldn’t buy, and here’s how to get it right.

The easy fix:

Cargo pants should either be made out of twill fabric—which is the same texture as khakis and chinos, but oftentimes a bit rougher for cargos—or …

… a rip-stop fabric (popular for hiking pants), which is more durable than twill.
CARGO PANTS FOR MEN cargo pants fabrics.

Mistake #8: Too Small Belt Loops

What’s the use of cargo pants if you can’t wear your wide canvas or leather belts to hold them up?

Cargos should have solid, oversized belt loops that can accommodate any type of belt, especially your wide, rough belts.

I elaborated on why you should wear wider belts with casual pants in my belts for men tutorial.
wide belt vs narrow belt
Basically, besides looking more casual, these belts are often cheaper and tougher than narrower belts.

So oversized belt loops on your cargo pants will keep you from wearing out your expensive dressy belts while walking your dog or taking a hike.

The easy fix:

Make sure you can fit a wide belt (1-1/2″ or 3.9 cm) in the belt loops.
cargo pants for men tall belt loops

Mistake #9: Wrong Size Cargo Pockets

Despite what you may have heard, size—of cargo pockets, that is—does matter.

No, seriously, pockets that are too big will make any cargo pants for men look way too sporty and juvenile …

cargo pants for men too large pockets

… while too-small pockets can make cargos look overly dressy and posh.

Remember, we’re not going for sporty or sophisticated with these pants; we’re going for casual and laid-back.

The easy fix:

Choose cargo pants with modestly sized pockets that don’t have an expansion fold on the bottom edge.

These pockets will lie closer to your thigh and look more low-key.
flat pocket for mens cargo shorts and pants

Mistake #10: Skinny Cargo Pants for Men

Skinny cargo pants really defeat the whole purpose of wearing casual and comfortable pants.

I mean, isn’t the purpose of these wide leg trousers to be comfortable and loose-fitting?

example of skinny cargo pants for men

For those who can pull it off, skinny-cut trousers are great—just not for cargo pants.

The easy fix:

If smart is what you’re looking for, and you’ve got the physique of a marathon runner, go for skinny chinos, khakis, or jeans—not cargo pants. Otherwise, the best thing you can do is to choose ordinary, loose-fitting cargos.

regular cut cargo pants

Mistake #11: Too Many Cargo Pockets

It’s easy to understand the designers’ thinking on this:

‘If two cargo pockets are cool, 14 cargo pockets are totally rad!’

But rest assured, two cargo pockets are more than enough.
cargo pants for men with too many pockets
The easy fix:

Don’t take your chance on ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ cargo pant designs.

Instead, choose classic styles with two well-proportioned side pockets.

What to Do Now?

You have just seen 5 awesome cargo pants outfits …

… and 11 common style mistakes you need to avoid. Now it is time for you to start looking good in cargo pants.

The first step?

Click the image below and enter your email to get your FREE cargo pants PDF. The printer friendly PDF includes all the 5 cargo pants outfits … and the 11 cargo pants for men style mistakes neatly organised.

Click on the button below and download the PDF now:

Reader Interactions

90 responses to "Cargo Pants For Men: 5 Cargo Pants Outfits + 11 Style Mistakes"

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    • Hi James,

      You can wear you white cargos pants the same way you wear your other cargo pants.
      I might be able to give you more concrete advice. Could you tell me what the occasion and time of year youʼll be wearing your cargo pants to is?

      Cheers,
      Vegard

    • Hi Shobhit,

      With a red shirt I would have worn green cargo pants, as green is the complementary colour of red.

      As for shoes, if the shirt and pants are warm coloured I would have picked dark brown …
      … and cordovan (dark red), or black if they are cool coloured.

      Learn more about how to find clothes that looks good with your outfit in my eBook.

      Cheers,
      Vegard

  1. Great article, but I feel like if you’re not extremely good looking, cargo pants should be avoided entirely. At the very least, all other parts of your outfit should be on point – fitting perfectly. Would you recommend that, given all of these dangers, men should just avoid them entirely?

    • Hi Dylan,

      Thanks for commenting.

      Wearing cargo pants for men is tricky indeed and you need a steady hand to pull it off successfully.

      If the occasion is anything other than sporty, or youʼre going to be in public, itʼs usually better to wear a pair of jeans or shorts.

      Cheers,
      Vegard

    • Hi Denzil,

      Olive cargos are great to wear with beige, yellow, warm reds, and oranges.
      Also, I would have picked brown, beige, or burgundy shoes or boots, as this usually looks best with green.

      Learn more about which colours to wear and match in Style Genesis

      Cheers,
      Vegard

  2. Hello, Nice pants ideas.

    I want to ask you, whatʼs the best top to wear with cargo pants?

    I like t-shirts. But if you could recommend something else that looks cool and kind of dashing, it would be appreciated.

    • Hello Ankit,

      Thanks. I like to wear T-shirts with cargo pants too. It looks great.

      Another good alternative to T-shirts, is henley shirts. They are long sleeved, collarless shirts, with three buttons in the neck.
      They can be worn under a hoodie or any casual jacket and is perfect for cargo pants.

      To learn more about underwear options you can check out my style course.

      Cheers,
      Vegard

  3. My shirts button down my waist aren’t comfortable. What should I do?

    The shirt is expensive, so can’t throw it away. I could do one thing – tuck it – but it doesn’t seem good.

    The shirt have black and grey checks and I wear it with dark blue denim jeans?

    Please suggest.

    • Hi Yash,

      Iʼm not sure if I understand your question.

      If your shirt is to tight, thereʼs not much you can do. If it is because the thread that fastens the buttons rub against your skin, I would try to wear a sleeveless undershirt under the shirt. Perhaps that would work.

      Cheers,
      Vegard

    • Hi Adam,

      No there shouldnʼt be a need to do that. Instead of folding the cargo pants, I simply tie the draw sting at the hem tight.

      Cheers,
      Vegard

  4. Hey,
    I know it’s used as a bad example for camp pattern, but what is the brand for the camp cargo pants image you use on here?

    • Hi Stephan,

      I would simply have worn them with a t-shirt and leather jacket, like the “Walking the Dog” outfit.

      Also, I would have opted for the grey cargo pants, as they look better with black boots than the khaki cargo pants.

      Cheers,
      Vegard

  5. eh. you must operate on such a large scale of anxiety, to care so much about how you are viewed by other people… how’s this for an opinion:
    Dress in what makes u happy, and who cares what other people think because one can never please everyone – please yourself. Dress happy and comfortable, and you’ll probably come across … happy and comfortable.

    there is nothing casual about contrived clothing rules to make you seem more casual and chill.

    • Hi Lewis,

      I love your opinion on this. I agree, I probably am anxious, but arenʼt everyone?

      When I dress in an outfit that makes girls want to date me, I dress in what makes me happy.
      Itʼs the same at when I dress in an outfit that makes my colleagues and leaders at work respect me and recognise my true potential. Then too, do I dress in what makes me happy.

      If I had never bother learning about style and how to look better, I might have been happy and comfortable today …

      … but I can tell you that I had gotten far less dates, far less respect and recognition at work, and ultimately been far less happy and comfortable in the long run.

      How do I know? I have tried both and I have never regretted becoming more aware of how I present myself to others.

      Cheers,
      Vegard

    • Hi,

      Personally I don’t tuck my cargo pants inside my boots.
      That’s because it can cause water, sand, and other stuff to get into your boots …
      … a problem that’s avoided if you wear your cargos on the outside of your boot shaft.

      Cheers,
      Vegard

  6. 1) If I’m not supposed to use the pockets, why does it matter if they have flaps or are “functional?”
    2) Properly made cargo pants intended for actual use and not as a fashion statement (e.g., VertX or 5-11brands) are tailored to still look fitted even when the pockets are actually used to hold items.
    3) Many LE and EMS are required to wear collared shirts (polos) when wearing cargos. It looks fine.

    • Hi Malav,

      Since cargo pants for men are mostly associated with the outdoors, leisure and military, I don’t think they belong in a college where you want to look aspiring and on the ball.

      Therefore, at college, I would have worn jeans or chinos instead of cargo pants.

      Cheers, Vegard

  7. Hello Vegard,

    I would like your opinion on what shoes to wear with a black cargo (one with a blueish hue).
    Occasion is mostly casual, hanging out with the guys, bike rides, nothing formal.

    Would a pair of black converse do the trick, or something else?

    • HI Dhrubajeet,

      Cargo pants sounds perfect for those occasions:) Yes definitively! Black, navy, and even dark red converse would be a great colour to combine with those cargo pants.

      Cheers, Vegard

  8. Hi,

    Thanks for the cargo pants advice. It was exactly what I needed!

    My thighs are larger than the average guy, so I always wear cargo pants.
    Reading this article has made it a lot easier for me to wear them stylishly.

    • Hi Mohit,

      I would say that depends. If the occasion is strictly casual or sporty, go for it!

      If you intend to shop, dine, or generally be in public, I would suggest chinos and loafers instead 🙂

      Cheers, Vegard

    • Hi Raymond,

      I see you point. If you’re hiking or hunting, combat boots if most likely fine.
      For any other occasion, I would wear the shoes and boots suggested in the article. That way, you look more smart-casual than hunter 😉

      Feel free to post a link to the combat boots if you want me to check them out 🙂

      Cheers, Vegard

  9. Not sure what you’re on about, but if you’re never ging to use the pockets on your cargo pants maybe you’re better off just getting different pants? The pockets do look pretty good, though.

    Plus, part of the point of cargo pants is the military look – that includes camouflage patterns. I don’t know what world you inhabit but camouflaged cargo pants aren’t some rarity worn only by basement-dwelling nutters, they’re at least as popular as solid colors, if not more so. And on top of that, it’s pretty normal for people to wear boots similar to combat boots with them. Because that’s just how the look works; people wear them to emulate the military style.

    Maybe it’s time people stop trying to judge the way other people wear certain types of clothing; they may not always fit your definition of style but that’s no reason to make it seem like they shouldn’t wear it that way.

    • Hi Luis. I would wear some sort of wool or technical socks that reaches just above the top of the boot shaft (to avoid chafing).

      Cheers, Vegard

  10. Would really like to know what you think of Dickies cargo (not really lose ,easy care).

    I drive Uber and felt that tan pants are okay to wear. Calif, white shirt but that is maybe not best choice. Uber most likely want slacks and a shirt, but most drivers wears a polo. The top paid Uber Black drivers (BMW and Mercedes) are obviously dressed, since customers are paying for it.

    I really believe jeans are ok, but what shade of blue? You buy light blue but then find out darker seems a little cleaner look.

    Is there a way to give me some short feed-back, this is new to me. Thanks

    • Hi Jerry,

      After reading this post:
      http://uberpeople.net/threads/what-do-you-wear-while-driving-for-uber.204/

      I get the feeling that you should minimum wear dark blue jeans – or chinos which is even better – and a solid coloured polo shirt (with no or very small logo).
      If it’s cold, you could always wear a button from shirt underneath a sweater (that way you won’t have to iron the shirt because only the collar and cuffs will show).

      For shoes, I would wear black leather shoes as they look semi dressy and matches your dark blue jeans.

      Good luck getting those 5-star ratings!

      Cheers, Vegard

  11. So what should be the exact dimension of slit cut cargo pockets?
    I am about 5 ft 6 in, medium built. waist 33.

    • Hi Dr. Abu Sayeed Galib.

      It looks like we’re usig roughly the same pants size.
      My cargo pants have slit cut pockets that are:
      10 inch high and 7 7/8 inches wide.

      Cheers, Vegard

  12. Hey Vegard,

    Do you think that some twill navy blue/khaki cargo pants (slightly baggy) will match with leather chelsea boots?In your post, you mention to match them with boots to avoid mistake 1, but being that chelseas are an in-between, I’m just wondering if it would be a good option. I’ve read that with casual pants, it’s better to match them with suede boots.

    I have to change my shoes but I’m in a tight budget, so I can only afford a pair of shoes. I thought that leather chelsea boots would be a good option to switch between a casual style and a more dressy style. I don’t think that some suede chelsea boots would allow me this, since they don’t match with a suit. But at the same time, I want to continue wearing my cargo pants. What do you suggest? Thank you and sorry for the length.

    • Hi Nick.

      You’re right about Chelsea boots, are sort of a semi-dressy/semi-casual boot.

      I think they would work nicely with cargo pants, but have you considered to buy them in plain leather, rather than suede?

      This might be a good way to sidestep the suit dilemma, since they then will look good with both dressy and casual pants.

      Cheers,
      Vegard

  13. You may have saved me. I have seen some MAJOR brands selling Cargo Sweatpants. I initially thought they were cool. But after reading your work I must admit that I must reconsider. Oh and one thing I have discovered is that in style and out of style is subjective. You can pretty much pull off anything if you put it on RIGHT!

  14. Who paid you to write this? Is this some sort of JOKE? Cargo pants and shorts have been out of style for at LEAST five years.

    • Hi JustTellingTheTruth,

      I agree with you, cargo pants have been out of style for a long time and is not regarded as smart casual in any way …

      … and should therefore only be used as hiking pants, casual pants, or as work pants while refurbishing or renovating.

      Cheers,
      Vegard

  15. Thanks, this is valuable information about cargos.

    I didn’t know that one has to look for such details while choosing a cargo pants. I will now buy my cargos keeping all the information provided

    Thanks.

    • Hi Cass,

      That really depends on three things:
      1) Are your cargo pants baggy? Baggy pants will balloon out over the edge of the boots in an unattractive way.
      2) Are your boots baggy? Very bulky boots and regular or slim cargos, can make the boots look out of proportion and too big.
      3) Are you going for a street style or classic style? With street-style, I don’t see any problem wearing you cargos and boots in that way – if you like the look and have answered “no” to question 1&2. If you would like to achieve a classic style, pants are most practical (and classic) when they fall on the outside of the boot shaft, where they can stop water, dust, and insects from entering the boot itself.

      Hope this answers you question Cass.

      Let me know if there’s anything I missed 🙂

      Cheers,
      Vegard

  16. cargo pants are cool, your review makes it look like an ad from some unidentifiable brand in a german mall.

    • Hi,

      I’m glad you like them so do I.

      I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t like the design. With style on my mind, I would really like your input on how I can upgrade my posts design to better please you and meet your needs 🙂

      If you’d like to leave me a private message, here’s my personal email vegard (a) apparelillustrated.com

      Cheers,
      Vegard

  17. Ran across your article while searching to see if it was even legal to wear cargo pants anymore. 🙂 Old Navy discontinued my painter pants with big cell phone pocket, so I am in search of new attire. As the site you recommend is out of dark beige, can you suggest other brands? Can you suggest also brands to stay away from? I do not have any fashion sense, but your article does help out.

    • Hi Mota sab,

      That’s a common question and with cargo pants I generally say leave your shirt untucked.

      However, if you’re wearing anything over your shirt, always tuck it (no matter what pants you’re wearing) 🙂

      I’ve made a post about when to tuck your shirt called The Rule of 2.

      Hope this helps.

      Cheers,
      Vegard

    • Hi.
      I fly airplanes for a living.
      I need to carry my wallet, IDs/credentials, keys, cell phone, and one more item.
      My checklist is 5 items when I leave my domicile.
      Those blue jeans stile pants my girlfriend likes are worthless when it comes to carrying anything in your pockets.
      To me, my cargo pants are a tool, not a fashion statement. Form vs function, I need function!
      My complaint about cargo pants;
      The side pockets are too low, You carry or walk around with anything metallic in them, your knees will pay the price, annoying!! Of course in a world where you are not supposed to use your cargo pants legs pocket, then it does not matter, the lower the cargo pockets are located, then the more added to the “Coolness Factor”.
      I’d like to see a manufacturer do a high pocket set up nearer the hips, like the old WWII cargo pants. These had no front pockets, just the side hip pockets. They could offer the option of several styles.
      Cargo pockets should also have a zipper facing the front, so you can pull stuff out when seating in car/airplane.
      Some cargo pants are just too sloppy!
      I do not see any advantage to a cargo pant if you are not supposed to use the cargo pockets, you’d be better off with other style pants that would get more versatile usage.
      Thanks.
      Capt. Joe

      • Hi Capt. Joe,

        It’s great to hear your input on this. I fully understand you!

        When I was in the navy, we too used “impractical” cargo pants and I had the exact same problems as you’re describing here.

        As an example:
        If I ever needed my notebook while seated, I had to stand up in order to be able to pry it out of my cargo pocket.

        Not to big of a problem for me, but if I was sitting in a cockpit it would quickly become a real peeve 🙂

        Although cargo pants for men generally looks casual and good …

        … they could definitively be more functional.

        Cheers,
        Vegard

    • Glad to hear that Alica.

      If you want access to my exclusive tips and info …

      … don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter as well 🙂

  18. Hello! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new apple iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the outstanding work!

    • Hi Dale. Thank you.

      I don’t recommend the RSS feed, because then you only get updated when I post or update articles on https://apparelillustrated.com.

      Instead, you should join my e-mail newsletter. That way you get access to exclusive content that I only share with my email subscribers and get notified about new articles.

      Just fill in your email in the sidebar form above.

      Cheers,
      Vegard