How to Wear Cargo Pants and Not Look Like You’re Living in 1991

PureWow editors select every item that appears on this page, and the company may earn compensation through affiliate links within the story. All prices are accurate upon date of publish. You can learn more about the affiliate process here.

Everything that’s old is new again. See: combat boots, slip dresses and even claw hair clips. Perhaps you picked up that most of these are all trends from the ‘90s? That also might explain why cargo pants are seemingly everywhere these days. Replete with the necessary excess of pockets, the utility-chic trouser has received quite a few tweaks and refreshes to make it modern enough to wear in 2020. With the addition of tapered cuts, exaggerated wide-legs and unexpected fabric, here’s how to wear cargo pants without looking like an extra on Friends.

The 11 Best High-Waisted Jeans, from Jeggings to Wide-Leg Crops

cargo pants tie dye
Hanna Lassen/Getty Images

1. Add Color With Tie-dye

If you really want to ensure your cargo pants outfit is peak 2020, all you need to do is pop on a tie-dye accent. A top, a bag, a face mask, you name it, it’ll work. And here’s why: The most prevalent pattern of this year is guaranteed to elevate any outfit into trendy territory.

Get the look: Sourcery Label top ($198); Blue Revival pants ($105); By Far bag ($358; $251); ASOS Design heels ($51)

cargo pants leather
Christian Vierig/Getty Images

2. Try Out Slick Leather

Worried that cargos might be too rough around the edges for your style? Test them out in sleek leather (or faux-leather). The smooth fabric will add a feminine touch to the military silhouette—whether you try it out in sand, black or even fiery red. Add a pouf-sleeve blouse for an extra feminine touch.

Get the look: Sister Jane blouse ($157); Frankie Shop pants ($210); JW Pei bag ($99; $62); Gola sneakers ($110)

cargo pants combat boots
Melodie Jeng/Getty Images

3. Go For Combat Boots

On paper, the combination of combat boots and cargo pants sounds like you’re dressed and ready for war. But when the aforementioned pants are tapered at the ankle and the boots come with an ample (but still walkable) heel, this pairing looks chic and refined. Just pop on a shearling coat and you’re dressed for dinner.

Get the look: Superdown coat ($108); Commando bodysuit ($78); Madewell belt ($45); BlankNYC pants ($88); Tory Burch boots ($458)

two tone cargo pants
Christian Vierig/Getty Images

4. Try An Unexpected Detail

If you treat your cargoes like you would any other pant, you’ll get the most wear out of them. So don’t shy away from a pair that makes a statement, like these two-tone trousers. The trick here is to keep everything else in your outfit very simple—nothing more than a white T-shirt and heels to match—so your pants can do all the talking.

Get the look: Richer Poorer T-shirt ($38); Bouguessa pants ($525); Sam Edelman heels ($130); Les Specs glasses ($69)

cargo pants sweats
VCG/Getty Images

5. Turn Your Sweats Into A Statement

Admit it, you wear sweats 99 percent of the time these days. But rather than slipping into your threadbare pair from college, reach for a slightly trendier silhouette that will make trips to the grocery store (or even to the kitchen) just a touch more stylish. If you rock these with some cool sneakers and an incognito baseball cap, no one will even suspect that you’re wearing loungewear in public.

Get the look: Adidas hat ($26); ATM Anthony Thomas Melillo T-shirt ($68); Athleta joggers ($42; $35); The Marc Jacobs bag ($375); Alexandre Birman sneakers ($425)

wide leg cargo pants
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

6. Try A Wide-leg Cut

While these are technically a wide-leg pant with a cargo pocket on them, they still fit into the category, wethinks. And how effortlessly chic do they look when paired with a plaid blazer and simple black boots? Hello, easy, new work outfit.

Get the look: Everlane blazer ($180); Rivet & Thread shirt ($50); Helmut Lang pants ($520); Rag & Bone bag ($525; $262); Vionic boots ($180)

cargo pants graphic top
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

7. Pair Them With A Graphic Knit

Show the world that you’re not afraid of cargo pants by wearing them with a super loud sweater, like this poppy landscape number or even a bold floral print or abstract pattern. Loud sweaters not your thing? You can also just test out an unconventional color combos—like trying green cargoes with a bright purple or light blue top.

Get the look: Vye sunglasses ($70); Anthropologie sweater ($128); Ksubi pants ($220; $110); Jeffrey Campbell boots ($150; $113)

cargo pant jumpsuit
Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images

8. Slip On A Cargo Jumpsuit

To really max out those utilitarian vibes, try a one-and-done jumpsuit that’s loaded up with pockets. Just be sure to dress up your ‘fit with some decidedly glamorous accessories, including heeled booties and a luxe-looking bag. If you’re worried about getting lost under that roomy silhouette, simply layer a solid T-shirt or turtleneck underneath to easily emphasize your figure.

Get the look: Grey Lab jumpsuit ($138); Mansur Gavriel boots ($750); House of Want bag ($68)

cargo pants leather jacket
Matthew Sperzel/Getty Images

9. Show Off Some Ankle

It’s not just the cropped fit of these trousers that we love; it’s also the addition of jewel-embellished buttons on the pockets. And yes, they match her gem-encrusted heels to a tee. The theme here is wearable glam that doesn’t go overboard. The black turtleneck and leather jacket help temper the sparkle of this look, meaning you could confidently wear it out of the house at 9 AM without looking like you’re just stumbling home from the club.

Get the look: Karen Millen jacket ($556; $397); Everlane turtleneck ($28); Paige pants ($199; $120); Livhò sunglasses ($10); Dolce Vita heels ($135; $81)

cargo pants leopard jacket
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

10. Pair Them With Leopard Anything

We’re always claiming that leopard print is a neutral, but this outfit is undeniable proof of that fact. The spotted blazer looks so casually thrown on over two basics—a simple tee and cargoes—that you almost forget it’s there. Okay, so it might not totally disappear but this loud jacket does have the proven ability to gracefully share the spotlight with the other facets of this outfit.

Get the look: The Kooples blazer ($395; $119); Daydreamer shirt ($69); Sanctuary pants ($129); Rag & Bone boots ($595; $327)

non coventional cargo suit
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

11. Build A Not-so-traditional Suit

Listen, a suit isn’t for everyone. And if your style skews a little bit more alternative than a buttoned-up blazer and matching trousers, why not try a makeshift cargo suit? All you need is trousers with pockets (duh) and an oversized blazer. Preferably one in leather. Add on a T-shirt and, if you’re feeling it, a colorful button-down for an additional pop of texture. Voilà, you’ve got a suit that totally reflects your personality...and is still HR-approved.

Get the look: Express blazer ($158; $95); J.Crew T-shirt ($15; $8); By Malene Birger shirt ($530) Marc Jacobs Heaven pants ($225); Circus by Sam Edelman boots ($99); DLYP bag ($449)

cargo pants button down
Melodie Jeng/Getty Images

12. Add A Refined Touch With A Button-down

This is the sartorial equivalent of raiding your mom’s closet as a teen—stopping short before running out the door with her pearl necklace. So long as you keep your button-down top and slingback pumps as the most polished pieces of this outfit, it will remain balanced.

Get the look: Uniqlo button-down ($30); RtA pants ($325; $130); Off-White bag ($855); Vaneli heels ($150)

cuff cargo pants
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

13. Cuff The Hems

Feel like your cargoes are just a smidge too long? Rather than bringing them directly to the tailor, consider cuffing them once. On a tapered fit, this adds a bit more balance to your bottom half and looks oh-so-good when paired with strappy sandals.

Get the look: Jonathan Simkhai jacket ($595); Levi’s shirt ($15); Alex Mill pants ($125); Raye heels ($168)

dena silver headshot

Fashion Editor

From 2019-2021 Dena Silver held the role of Fashion Editor covering product recommendations, trends, and what you should be shopping this season.