Wearing Cargo Pants For a Grown Up Look


I recently had to accept a difficult truth about myself; I’m a grown up. Not that I am one of those late thirty-something guys who actually think they are still 22. You know the ones – always talking about college and how great it was, best time of their life, king of the party, etc. They don’t want to get on with life and eventually start looking a little sad. I’m not saying that life shouldn’t be fun, and for the record I had some great college years, but that was a while ago and my current life is pretty darn good too.

No, my reality check came in the form of a pair of cargo pants. I saw them on the sale rack at J. Crew and instinctively reached in. They were very cool; kind of beat up and baggy with big leg pockets and a vintage military feel. I took them to the dressing room, tried them on and that was when it happened.

They looked wrong on me. Not that the pants were wrong, they were great; fit very well actually. No, they just didn’t work on me. A month ago maybe, but not now. They were meant for someone younger, hipper; someone who is in college and doesn’t have to dress for an office. They were made for that guy and I had just realized that he was not me. Nope, apparently I’m an adult.

As it turns out, I already had the solution at home. Several years ago, my wife gave me a pair of L.L. Bean cargo pants for Christmas. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate them, they were a little too grown up looking. No ties at the ankles like military pants, the leg pockets were functional but trim and they looked more like khakis than adventure wear. Now I wear them regularly; how times change.

This prompted me to sit down and think about what makes a good pair of grown up cargo pants. This is no small issue. If there is any one article of clothing that screams youth, it is the cargo pant. Inherently casual, designers are increasingly filling them with extraneous pockets, ties and other doodads.

It may take a little effort, but more refined versions are out there to discover. If you are going for a more grown up look, maybe even for a casual work outfit, avoid overly military inspired designs. There is really no good way to dress these up. Look for more of a safari style; these tend to be leaner, more function than flashy. Keep the leg pockets on the smaller side and avoid ankle ties.

Your pants should have a more polished appearance and work well with a range of tops from summer polo shirts to fall sweaters. Some designers like Ralph Lauren make dress versions of cargo pants in nice flannels, Loro Piana corduroy, and even Harris Tweed.

As I happily discovered, there is life after you outgrow your baggy, laid back and often dirty university wardrobe. Being an adult does not relegate you to the life of the man in the grey flannel suit. Rather, it opens up new options to reinterpret your youthful wardrobe through a different set of eyes.


Chris Hogan, an association executive based in Washington, D.C., blogs at OffTheCuffDC.com. A lifelong interest in style and clothing led to sales and management positions at several Ralph Lauren stores and an active wardrobe consulting practice


  1. What are the three types of pants in the image?

  2. I gather you are referring to the set of three pictures.

    The first and third are from Ralph Lauren. The pants in the middle are flannel cargos from Banana Republic.