I'm not ashamed to admit it—when I first heard of the return of cargo pants, I was sceptical to say the least. Like most millennials who wore them the first time around, cargo or "utility" trousers conjur up images of ultra-wide, rustling trousers in camouflage print, covered in pockets and usually some superfluous straps—the kind of thing we confidently wore to the school disco with a sparkly halterneck top. But now, the cargo trouser has undergone a fashionable update. In 2023, there are fewer pockets, softer fabrics and a refined colour palette, and after seeing everyone from Emily Ratajkowski to Jennifer Lopez wearing them, I'm now convinced that there's actually a lot to love about cargo pants.
Most often you'll find me in a pair of jeans or strong tailoring when I'm heading into the office, but cargo trousers are perfect for occasions that require dress-down comfort and business-casual. You may not believe it, but the styling possibilities of these baggy trousers are endless, making them a worthy investment piece. The loose-legged silhouette is currently taking over, and as we swap our skinnies for low-slung boyfriend jeans, the cargo is the comfier, more polished alternative that you can wear with everything from heels to trainers (and, dare I say it, even ankle boots).
The Frankie Shop first grabbed my attention with its seriously chic tailored take on cargo trousers that changed everything I thought I knew about utility styling. Suddenly, denim jackets and baby tees were no longer the only option, and any trousers that work with my full roster of blazers gets my seal of approval. As anyone in the Who What Wear UK office will tell you, I also own a lot of waistcoats, and after influencer Caroline Cook wore her Frankie Shop cargos with a grey vest, I was sold on the high/low pairing of tailoring and casual cargos. Functional and fashionable—what more could a girl could want?
My Go-To Pair of Cargo Trousers
My Go-To Pair of Cargo Trousers
Photo:WHO WHAT WEAR UK
After searching high and low for the right pair that would feel smart enough and flatter a curvy figure, I settled on Alice + Olivia's Cay Low-Rise Cargo Trousers (£622). After wearing these on repeat, I've been singing the praises of utility trousers to anyone who will listen, and there are plenty of other options out there should you have a budget in mind.
So, wondering how to wear cargo trousers in 2023? Keep scrolling to see five ways I'm styling mine for the season ahead, and to shop more of my favourite pairs.
1. TRENCH COAT + WHITE TANK TOP + CARGO TROUSERS
Style Notes: As soon as there is even a hint of autumn in the air, I automatically reach for a trench coat. I would wear one all year round if I could, but nothing says "transitional wardrobe" quite like this classic—especially with wide-leg trousers and the simple tank top I relied on throughout summer.
2. BOXY BLAZER + LOGO TEE + CARGO TROUSERS
Style Notes: Big blazers are the one piece that I always fall back on when I don't know what else to wear. Tailoring always manages to make an outfit feel put-together, and when you amp up the proportions, it can take things to a whole new level. I added pointed shoes to make this look feel a little bit dressier, and hey presto—an outfit I'll be wearing to the office on repeat.
3. COSY KNIT + TRAINERS + CARGO TROUSERS
Style Notes: The weekend is calling, and this outfit just answered. If you need a laidback uniform to take you from errands to brunch and then shopping, allow me to put forward the slouchy-cardigan-and-cargo-trousers pairing. It's low-maintenance in the very best way, and with such cosy layering, you won't need to worry about taking a coat with you.
4. TIE-FRONT TOP + STRAPPY HEELS + CARGO TROUSERS
Style Notes: Just to prove that utility can work for evening too, nod to noughties styling with a ruched top, cargos and strappy heels. Minus copious amounts of butterfly hair clips, this look manages to make reference to the '00s without feeling teenage, thanks to the tonal colour palette and elevated accessories.
5. OVERSIZED SHIRT + MULES + CARGO TROUSERS
Style Notes: It just wouldn't be a comprehensive outfit edit without an oversized shirt, and the same one I wore open over a bikini on holiday now gets the transitional treatment semi-tucked into a pair of trousers. Whether you prefer JW Anderson's maximalist chain loafers or Birkenstock's minimalist Boston clogs, a pair of slip-on shoes are perfect for the laidback attitude of cargos. Wear everything loose, undone and with plenty of slouch.