The most enduring designs are the ones that just work. No fuss, no frills. It’s the reason you still eat your soup with a spoon, enter your house through a hinged door and sit down on a four-legged chair.
It’s also the reason why fatigue pants haven’t changed in over 70 years. The designers got it right the first time. It’s a casual trouser stripped back to its most basic form – no decorative details, quirks or fanciness – just pure utilitarian function.
Fatigue pants feature a straight or slightly tapered leg with trapezoid patch pockets to the front, flap patch pockets to the rear and a few belt loops to the waist. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less, because that’s all they need. This, combined with their comfortable cotton construction (traditionally sateen, although they can be made from twill, drill or, less commonly, linen), makes them an excellent everyday option.
The best thing about fatigue pants? Despite their versatility and practicality, they’re still far less popular than other types of trousers like jeans and chinos. That means you can use them to style looks that are simple and understated, but still a little bit different.
Fatigue Pants vs Cargo Pants
The terms fatigue, cargo and combat are often used interchangeably when talking about legwear, but they’re not all the same. Cargo and combat are two names for a type of military legwear that was originally designed to be worn on the battlefield. In fact it still is, and the style has carried over into civilian life too thanks to its practicality.
The key difference between cargos/combats and fatigues is that the former feature lots of extra pockets. Usually there’s a large flap pocket to each of the outer legs and possibly more. Another difference is that the pockets on a pair of fatigues are always patch pockets. In cargo/combat pants, this isn’t always the case.
Fatigue Pants Buying Considerations
Fit is always important, and it’s no different where fatigue pants are concerned. These pants are supposed to have a comfortable fit for full range of movement, but you shouldn’t be drowning in fabric either.
Avoid slim cuts if you want to stay true to the style. It’s also worth noting that traditional fatigues have a high waist, so take this into account when thinking about what size to get if you’re buying online and can’t try them on.
Those classic military fatigues are always olive. It’s their trademark. That being said, there are plenty of colour options out there and you’ll be hard pressed to find a neutral colour that doesn’t look great on a pair of fatigues.
For maximum versatility, we’d suggest going for navy or black.
Fatigues are usually made from cotton sateen, twill or drill. These hard-wearing fabrics are great for daily duties as they’re durable, resistant to creasing and breathable. However, they are all relatively thick.
If you live somewhere hot or need a pair of pants for summer, try a linen blend instead for an extra bit of airiness.
The Best Men’s Fatigue Pants Brands
American workwear label Stan Ray is one of the best in the game when it comes to classic fatigue pants. Over the years, this style has become one of the things the brand is best known for and it produces them in a range of fits.
The OG Loose Fatigue has a roomy leg for a relaxed fit, but there’s also a tapered option and a slim option for those who prefer a more streamlined look.
Fabric wise, you can pick from classic sateen, twill or ripstop.
British label Universal Works is known for its unique blend of workwear, military, sportswear and soft tailoring influences.
Fatigue pants are a key part of the legwear lineup, available in a number of colour options and featuring a classic straight leg and buckle adjusters to the waist.
Hailing from South Korea, Uniform Bridge brings oversized fits, boxy silhouettes and bagginess to military, outdoor and sportswear-inspired designs.
The brand’s Cotton Fatigues offer a loose-fitting take on this classic piece, featuring all the key details in a slightly baggier package.
They’re also available in a paint-splatter option for those seeking something a little bit different.
Hailing from New York via Japan, Nepenthes brand Engineered Garments isn’t exactly famous for its restrained approach to pockets.
Nevertheless, the label does dabble in fatigue pants as well as overzealously pocketed cargo pants.
They’re made in the USA and feature both belt loops and a drawstring waist.
The Real McCoy’s
If you want a pair of military fatigues that are as close as possible to the original artifact, made from quality materials using authentic manufacturing equipment, look no further than The Real McCoy’s.
This cult Japanese label reproduces American classics from sportswear, workwear and the military, making them as close as possible to the original thing.
The brand’s cotton sateen fatigues aren’t cheap, but they are incredibly well made, durable, and they look great too.
Carhartt WIP is always a solid option for mid-rage wardrobe staples. The brand’s Council Pant is a loose-fitting fatigue with a relaxed, baggy cut.
It doesn’t have flaps to the rear pockets, but it does have patch pockets to the front, an adjustable waist and a small logo patch to the rear.
Taking inspiration from vintage American military wear, workwear, sportswear and Ivy League style, OrSlow creates premium casualwear using traditional techniques.
The brand’s bestselling legwear option is the heavily tapered New Yorker pant, but it also makes fatigues.
OrSlow’s take on the classic US Army style comes in a slim fit with a button fly and a durable cotton twill construction. It’s handmade in the brand’s native Japan too, just like the rest of its garments.
A Brief History Of Fatigue Pants
Fatigue pants were first designed for the US military in the 1950s. While most standard-issue military legwear was built with a specific task in mind, fatigues were built for general duties. They were the Army’s do-it-all pants. Something that could be worn for odd jobs, but also in combat should the need arise.
In the US and British militaries, fatigue pants have been replaced by camouflage ‘BDU’ (battle dress uniform) combat pants. Thankfully the design lives on in the civilian world as an everyday casual option that goes with everything, is comfortable to wear and ages well.