Always Combat Ready Cargo Pants, a 90’s fashion throwback, origins circa the 1940’s

One of the most prevalent military inspired fashion design feature in the jackets and pants of today, are utility cargo pockets. Originally introduced in the 1990’s as a fashion hit and now a subtle accepted practice. Literally on every street, in every magazine and on every runway, there are military style cargo pockets. The cargo pocket pants or trousers really sparked this entire trend. The history of the cargo pants is one that includes a World War and consistent combat experiences on six continents, spanning almost 70 years.

The first cargo pants were introduced by the British Army in 1938 on their wool battledress uniforms as the United Kingdom was preparing for war with Nazi Germany. However, the British military only placed a single cargo pocket on the left leg of the trousers, this was in the form of a patch type pocket and was not bellowed out. This patch pocket was not all that practical for British soldiers and in fact, British Parachutists during the war were issued special leather lined bellowed cargo pocket trousers. This was similar to the original design, with only a single pocket on the left leg above the knee, facing outwards towards the soldier’s front.

The first “Cargo Pants” on the WWII British P-37 Battle Dress Uniform. *Notice the single patch pocket facing front.

The British may have created and issued the first cargo pocket pants, but the cargo pants that the modern military and fashion world know today were inspired by the United States. The American military’s first issue of cargo pockets occurred early in World War Two, with the specialized M-1942 Paratrooper uniform. The M-1942 Paratrooper cargo pants differed from the British trousers as the pockets were placed on the sides of the trousers and also their were two instead of one. Before this specialized uniform, the American military only issued and fielded all wool shirts and trousers uniforms with a cotton windproof jacket known as the M-1941 Jacket or Parsons Jacket. This would remain as the standard uniform for the majority of the war until the adoption of the M-1943 Uniform late in the war. The M-1943 Uniform would include cargo pockets on the jacket, but cargo pockets on the trousers would not take place till shortly before the Korean War.

An original color photograph from WWII showing the complete M-1942 Paratrooper uniform alongside a set of “What Price Glory” made reproduction trousers.

The M-1942 Paratrooper Uniform was a success and soon after, the United States military began to add cargo pockets to a host of other combat uniforms, including their durable cotton Herringbone Twill (HBT) uniforms. HBT uniforms were originally designed for hard labor or as work uniforms, but soon became the preferred uniform for American soldiers to wear during spring and summer combat. By the end of WWII the American military realized that the future for combat uniform trousers was in cargo pockets.

The Korean War saw the introduction of the M-1951 uniform trousers that also had cargo pockets and these were issued to every soldier. During the Vietnam War, a lighter version of the M-1951 trousers was implemented, over the course of the war these would go through two pattern changes. The Vietnam War is where the cargo pockets really earned their reputation for being completely necessary and practical. During this conflict, the American soldier was now carrying more equipment and gear then they had ever before and this would not have been possible without cargo pants.

After the Vietnam War, there were a few modifications to the American military cargo pants, the most significant being the introduction of camouflage, but for the most part the design stayed the same. The basics were the same with two large cargo pockets on the side of durable cotton “rip-stop” trousers with leg ties at the end of the trousers to assist in blousing boots. The most up to date version of American military cargo pants are the digital camouflage Army Combat Uniform trousers, which are seeing action in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

The evolution of the Modern Cargo Trousers.

The progression from “At The Front” made WWII HBT trousers to the M-1951 trousers to the 1st Pattern Jungle trousers to the last pattern of jungle trousers issued during the Vietnam War.

An American Soldier wearing Cargo Pants during the Vietnam War.

Modern “Cargo Pants” are still being issued to American Soldiers with the Army Combat Uniform (ACUs)

The fashion world was taken by storm in the 1990’s by these rough cargo pants and it was all due to the “trickle up” fashion theory on how trends and styles spread. The “trickle up” theory occurs when fashion from the streCargo pants became popular starting with the hip-hop artists wearing old surplus military cargo pants, and that’s all it took for the fashion world to go gaga for cargo pants!

Because there are so many designers and fashion houses that have adopted cargo pockets in their pieces and lines, I am only featuring a few examples below.

Rag & Bone Carps Cargo Pants $285.00

A Google Search Result for Cargo Pants 

The trend like many things from the 90’s did eventually fizzle out. However, this trend does live on. In modern day fashion, cargo pockets keep making an appearance, and in most cases they are for pure decoration and serve no actual utility on jackets and pants. The cargo pants are here to stay and it was all due to some innovative military minds who needed a cheap way to have soldiers carry more ammunition and equipment.

The practicality of Cargo Pants is not going away any time soon, especially in regards to its place in the fahsion world. One of the most popular features of military inspired fashion, is the durability and practicality that is found in military uniforms and equipment, just as the military fashion trend continues, so will cargo pants.

Cargo Pants are here to stay, if not to carry grenades or rations, to carry our modern day cellphones and Kindles.

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