The history of a humble cargo trouser

Over the course of the history of workwear, some core garments have managed to break trends to become a standard presence in current fashion. The cargo trouser has to be one of the most enduring and popular items of workwear which have been accepted into modern fashion, and been accepted as great casual wear, as well as ideal for many industry sectors’ operatives. Durable, practical and always stylish, cargo trousers have enjoyed steady popularity both with workers and fashionistas. But, what is the history of the humble cargo trouser, and how did it break the barricades into mainstream wear?

A long and colourful past

Cargo pants were first launched as the trouser of choice in 1938, where members of the British infantry recognised their practicality in terms of being able to store kit close to the body, without restricting movement or reducing agility. After being popularised by the British army, American soldiers soon also adopted them, as the perfect solution during World War 2. The Americans modified them slightly, widening the pockets especially for US Paratroopers, to enable them to store maps, their ration boxes, and additional ammunition. As soldiers were required to carry more and more kit, the cargo pant evolved further to provide additional storage for crucial items.

Following the end of the war, soldiers returned to their home countries with their cargo trousers, and it was inevitable that as time went on, these useful and practical garments began to be adopted by the front line of fashion, as people began to shop at army surplus stores.

Over the next four decades, cargo trousers maintained a steady and understated popularity, with styles remaining relatively similar to the original pairs first sported by the British army.

Moving with the times

It wasn’t until the 1980s that cargo trousers (and shorts) really enjoyed a surge in popularity. Fashion designers created shorts which dispensed with the lower leg of the trouser, but maintained the practical pockets. They began to be taken up by outdoor workers, and then made the transition into sport, with golfers and hikers realising their potential for comfort and casual wear. Khaki became the favourite colour for these stalwarts of fashion, perhaps as a nod to their military origins.

As cargo trousers began to enjoy full inclusion in mainstream fashion, via sports, outdoor workers, and finally as the ultimate casual trouser, they gained a different sort of reputation. Over the course of the next two decades, cargo pants became associated with the ultimate in casual attire, adopted by young men and women as a fashion statement, coupled with trainers and t-shirts.

The pockets became in the main, more of a fashion statement than a practical inclusion, and mainstream manufacturers including Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch adopted the style of trouser as core items in their enduring collections. AT this point, cargo trousers and shorts were in demand for college students, and backyard gatherings. When paired with some flip flops and a t-shirt, you had an immediately-recognised uniform for summer. At a time when more and more people were adopting mobile phones, the cargo trouser suddenly has a renewed purpose – to allow young people to keep their mobiles close, in the spacious pockets. For the past twenty years, cargo trousers have maintained an understated, but steady popularity. It is this segue between workwear and fashion that allows brands like Rokwear to create durable, comfortable garments which combine style and practicality – such as our own popular cargo trouser – and spill over from work to leisure with ease. Hardwearing, stylish, comfortable and practical – it’s understandable that cargo trousers have endured over the decades, as one of the core components of any self-respecting work kit!

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