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What Are Cargo Jeans?

A man wearing cargo pants.
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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2014
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Cargo jeans are a type of denim trouser onto which several pockets are sewed. The style usually incorporates two large side pockets as well as other pockets on both the front and back of the jeans. While cargo jeans are typically in the style of cargo pants and have a slouchy or loose fit, some cargo jeans are styled in a tight-fitting fashion, such as the skinny-jean fit. As a general rule, while the pockets on cargo jeans are typically functional, wearers may seldom actually use them to carry objects.

The inspiration for cargo jeans likely came from cargo pants, which were designed either for wear during outdoor sports and activities, such as hiking or camping, or the camouflage pants worn by members of the military on the battlefield. Unlike battle dress uniforms, cargo pants worn for fashion typically do not close at the ankle but retain their relaxed fit throughout the leg. Cargo jeans and pants are available for both men and women, and there are even cargo skirts available.

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The look of cargo jeans is decidedly casual, as their various pockets contribute to a very functional appearance. As a result, they are usually worn with casual tops and shoes, such as T-shirts, trainers, or open-toed sandals. As their appearance is so casual, some entertainment establishments, such as restaurants and nightclubs, have instituted dress codes against them. Some schools have likewise banned cargo pants, likely because they may be connected with gangs and may be used to hide contraband.

While cargo-style trousers probably peaked in popularity in the United States during the 1990s, they remain a casual wardrobe staple for many people. In fact, designers continue to produce cargo jeans, adapting them to various fabric washes and fits. Some of these fits greatly compromise the functionality of cargo feature of the jeans, as they fit so tightly that there would be no room for objects to be actually be placed in the pockets. In fact, from a fashion standpoint, adding objects to the pockets of cargo jeans would likely add bulk, creating an unattractive silhouette.

Indeed, individuals who are concerned about their appearance may wish to stay away from cargo jeans, as the additional pockets and buttons can make them appear to be heavier than they actually are. For those who are very thin, however, the cargo style can add some bulk and balance. Still, some individuals may find cargo pants to be helpful in securely carrying important items, such as wallets, as their pockets are often closed with a button, providing some protection against accidental loss or theft.

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