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Do Cargo Shorts Go Well With a Polo Shirt?

Red polo shirt on a white background

Bring up cargo shorts around someone who loves fashion and the conversation is going to get pretty exciting pretty quickly. People tend to have strong feelings about cargo shorts and whether or not they’re stylish or they’re terrible. But if you’re going to wear them, what are you going to wear with them? Do cargo shorts go well with a polo shirt? Is there a right way to pull off this combination or can this look only be wrong? Settle the cargo shorts debate, at least for yourself, by playing around with this truly classic pairing.

History of Cargo Shorts

Cargo shorts and cargo pants are such a good idea, you’d think maybe they were invented a long, long time ago. Maybe it’s one of those things that started with ancient Rome, like so many other things. Maybe it dates back to the 1400s, or some other far-ago time. But surprisingly, the history of cargo shorts is pretty…well, short. Cargo pants only emerged on the fashion scene less than 100 years ago and the shorts came around much more recently than that. The history of cargo shorts is a pretty epic rise and fall that all begins in the 1930s. In England.

This is when and where cargo pants were first created. The pants were designed to be worn by the British military in 1937. These first cargo pants were somewhat loose and baggy all over, but with fitted cuffs around the ankles. The notable feature of the pants was the large pocket on the top of the thigh, just above the knee. This large pocket was perfect for holding ammunition and other small gear, items that were essential for any soldier.

Armed Forces

The design became standard issue for all British soldiers going to fight in WWII and it was such a success, it continued to be worn in this exact design for the next 25 years. American soldiers took notice of the highly useful pants and soon, the U.S. military was creating a similar version of cargo pants for their paratroopers. In the American design, there was a pocket on each leg and it was positioned more toward the side than the front of the leg.

Running in cargo shorts

It worked. The American version of cargo pants worked so well that soon, it was issued to every single branch of the military. Cargo pants became the design of choice for soldiers all over the world. And when they were done serving, they brought their cargo pants back home with them. After all, it’s helpful to have extra storage even when you’re not on a battlefield.

Cargo Pants Reinvented

Military surplus stores sold their cargo pants quickly. In the 1960s, the pants became popular as workwear. They appeared on construction sites and other workplaces where having storage space for tools and other gear is essential. They were seen as streetwear as well. But it wasn’t until the late 1980s that they were seen as shorts. Cargo shorts debuted in this decade, khaki shorts with large pockets that could hold a lot of stuff. But the design didn’t truly find its look until the 1990s.

You might as well call the 1990s the decade of the cargo shorts. They were incredibly popular in this decade, the perfect match for graphic T-shirts, flannel and the baggy, unstructured looks that carried the fashion of the day. Everything was loose and oversized and cargo shorts fit into that mold perfectly.

They had a baggy silhouette with large pockets, often closed with a flap pocket. They hung off the body and they were just the right finishing touch for skateboarders, punk rockers and youth of the era. Whether or not they knew what they were rebelling against didn’t matter. As long as they had cargo shorts to hold all their stuff, they could look cool and angry in just the right way.

Streamlining Cargo Shorts

In the 2000s, cargo shorts lost their bulkiness and got much more streamlined. They were cut and designed to fit closer to the body, with pockets that sat a little flatter. Though khaki shades carried the day for cargo shorts in the 1990s, vivid patterns and colors would rule the updated cargo shorts looks of the next decade.

None of it helped. Streamlining cargo shorts didn’t help keep this fashion item, once ubiquitous, on everyone’s trend list. The shorts that had so gloriously ruled 1990s fashion were headed for a fall.

Crashing and Burning

Around the mid-2010s, everyone suddenly decided that cargo shorts are uncool. They took on a reputation for being the worst style choice out there. Debates raged on social media. Experts on style weighed in. And the final verdict continues to be a matter of opinion. Are cargo shorts hot style or not at all? Try pairing your cargo shorts with polo shirts and create a style that will make anyone think that cargo shorts are a great fashion choice.

The History of Polo Shirts

Polo shirts, like the sport they’re named after, have their roots with horses. Polo dates to 1800s India. The sport was very popular here when it was discovered by the British military, who were stationed in northeast India.

Waring cargo shorts standing by the water

The British soldiers brought the sport of polo back to England when they returned home. The game quickly became trendy with royalty and the wealthy. And at first, people wore long-sleeved shirts with stiff collars. They weren’t very comfortable.

Meanwhile, another sport was also getting pretty popular: tennis. It was common in the early 1900s to wear tennis “whites” on the court, which meant all white clothing. The shirts were long-sleeved, button-down designs.

The Crocodile

But there was this guy Jean Rene Lacoste. He was a famous tennis star and he was known as “the Crocodile,” which is a pretty cool nickname. He won seven Grand Slam titles and so he figured he could wear whatever the heck he wanted to wear on the tennis court. No one disagreed with him. So, he designed his own short sleeve tennis shirt that just had three buttons on the collar, rather than a button-down design. It was also lightweight, not stiff. To finish it off, Lacoste added a little crocodile on the shoulder of the shirt.

Lacoste Men's Classic Pique Slim Fit Short Sleeve Polo Shirt, Bordeaux, L

It was the first polo shirt. He was wearing it in 1926 while working his way toward back-to-back U.S. Open wins. It was enough to make any shirt look cool. When Lacoste retired a few years later, a leading French clothing manufacturer approached him about selling the shirts. They were called “Lacoste” shirts.

The short sleeved shirt quickly became popular with all tennis players but polo players and other athletes also liked them. They made their way to golf courses and in all sorts of men’s fashion looks. But until the 1970s, the shirts were known as tennis shirts or Lacoste shirts, even the polo shirts that were made by other brands.

One designer with a brand of his own was about to change all of that.

The Polo Player

In the 1960s, polo shirts had become incredibly popular. They were being churned out in that new polyester that everyone was loving, polyester. One person who didn’t love it was a young designer. He created his own version of the tennis shirt under his own brand in 1972, using a soft knitted cotton that was closer to the original 1920s design of the shirt. The man, of course, was Ralph Lauren and the brand was Polo.

Polo Ralph Lauren Classic Fit Mesh Pony Logo Polo Shirt (XL, BasicWhite)

His shirt debuted in 24 colors and the tagline “it gets better with age.” It was an instant hit. Lauren’s shirt had the logo of a polo player on the shoulder and soon, everyone was calling it “the polo shirt.” The name stuck and now, of course, all shirts made in this style are called polo shirts by any brand name. Ralph Lauren, as you might know, continues to be a world-famous fashion designer and the Polo brand is still highly successful in the world of fashion.

Color Theory

How can you put together outfit pieces that really work well together? Many stylists rely on basic color theory to create eye-catching and visually pleasing looks. Learn a few tricks that the experts use and you will learn how to mix and match polo shirts and cargo shorts together in a way that’s going to look well balanced and beautifully designed every single time.

Cargo shorts and T shirt outside

The basic color wheel is a simple tool to use that’s very easy to find online. It’s just a ring of rainbow colors and it’s the tool that many designers in all industries use to create pleasing color combinations. The wheel is laid out in a pattern basically like this: yellow, orange, red, purple, blue green and back to yellow. It’s a circle of color, with the colors next to each other in that precise order. Yellow is directly across from purple on the wheel. Red is directly across from green and blue and orange are directly across from each other.

Here’s how basic color theory works: colors next to each other complement each other, colors that are across from each other contrast against each other. Both complementing and contrasting combinations work well. For example, seeing a purple and blue outfit is fairly standard. These two colors look great together and play off each other very well. But purple and yellow together somehow also really works. Though the colors seem almost jarring, they somehow each stand out and work together at the same tie. This is the magic of the color wheel and this is how you can use basic color theory to match your polo shirt colors to your cargo shorts.

Shades of khaki would be within the orange wedge on the color wheel, as shades of brown are in the orange color family. Play around with the wheel and you will find that styling great-looking outfits isn’t so difficult after all.

Styling Cargo Shorts and Polo Shirts

Some say that cargo shorts are out but there’s a simple rule in fashion: if it looks good, it’s trendy. Make your cargo shorts look good by pairing them with polo shirts in a way that’s so fashionable and so stylish, no one will disagree that cargo shorts are a great choice.

Boat Shoes

Sperry Men's Billfish 3-Eye Boat Shoe, Dark Tan, 11

Finish off your cargo shorts and polo shirt with a pair of boat shoes to look classy and carefree. Boat shoes are low-cut shoes, usually with a leather or canvas upper, that have rubber bottoms with a deep-cut tread. The soles are designed to provide traction even on wet decks. Boat shoes have a lacing system that actually laces around the top for the shoes, with the laces appearing at intervals in peekaboo fashion.

Boat shoes are a classic style that is casual and practical. Even if you aren’t boating or hanging out near the water, these shoes have a great look. Wear them with no-show socks to capture that water-ready look. Mix shades of navy and brown or any combination of white, navy and brown to style a more classic, neutral look. Play around with color to create style that stands out a little more. Bright shades of red, yellow and purple work great together when you’re wearing a polo shirt, cargo shorts and boat shoes combination.

Hiking Boots

Timberland White Ledge Men's Waterproof Boot,Dark Brown,10.5 M US

Cargo shorts are prized for their highly functional and practical design that provides plenty of storage space. These shorts are just perfect for styling casual athletic looks and that’s why they’re so great for hiking, picnicking and other outdoor activities. This is also why cargo shorts pair so well with hiking boot styles. Wear them with crew socks or ankle socks.

Shades of white and brown look great on the hiking trail but you don’t want to blend in too much. Try to wear something brightly color any time you’re going to be hiking or being out in nature, just for the sake of safety. Bright orange, red, yellow or blue will stand out well against the natural neutral palette of nature.


Bruno Marc Men's Hugh-01 Black Faux Leather Driving Penny Loafers Boat Shoes - 11 M US

Nothing says casual but elegant style quite like loafers. These shoes look good with just about anything and the combination of cargo shorts and polo shirts is no exception. Wear them with no show socks or they won’t look right. Otherwise, you can slip into loafers and a polo shirt any time you want your cargo shorts to look a little bit more sophisticated.

Pair brown or black loafers with a white polo shirt or get a little more colorful with golden yellow, deep red or dark purple. All these colors look amazing with standard black or brown loafers. You want to stick to classic loafers in black and brown, because the traditional looks are the best.


Minnetonka Women's Kilty Moccasin,Brown,8 M US

Get a perfect lounging look with a pair of moccasins to finish off your cargo shorts and polo combination. This is actually the right shoe to choose if you’re looking for comfort. Moccasins and cargo shorts create a very comfortable, casual look that’s perfect for just hanging out. Finishing it off with a polo shirt adds just the right touch of preppy appeal. This keeps your look from being too casual. Because lounging is great but you don’t want to create a look that’s sloppy.


Women's Cushionaire, Luna Low Heel Slide Sandals Brown 9 M

Need a great look for the beach that’s a little bit polished and just relaxed enough to fit in? You can definitely wear your polo shirt and cargo shorts…as long as you complete the outfit with sandals. A pair of sandals will make this outfit totally beach-ready. This will look great when you’re hanging poolside, at the lake, on the beach or anywhere else there might be water. Any kind of sandals will do. Just remember the main rule: don’t wear them with socks.


Nike Men's Free Rn 2018 Running Shoe, Grey Wolf Grey White White Volt 003, 11.5

Is there a combination that is more perfect than sneakers, cargo shorts and a polo shirt? Possibly no. This look is pretty much just a lock. You can’t go wrong when these three are put together. Wear it with ankle socks, crew socks or tube socks, whatever length you like. Play around with different color combinations but remember to stick to some basic fashion rules so that you end up with a look that’s visually pleasing overall.

Don’t mix different patterns and break up patterns with solids. That means if you’re wearing a patterned polo shirt, say a plaid or a pinstripe, pair this with solid-colored shorts. you can pick up the pattern again in your shoes, if you like, or wear shoes in a solid color that matches one of the colors in the pattern. With khaki shorts, this is a great look. You can also always choose classic white sneakers, which will match anything else you’re wearing.

Do Cargo Shorts Go Well With Polo Shirts?

So do cargo shorts go well with polo shirts? Of course, they do! In fact, this is an absolutely classic pairing that will look great in all sorts of casual situations. Play around with different color combinations and add the right shoes and you’ll end up with lots of head-turning looks you can wear throughout the summer.


Still have questions about pairing cargo shorts with polo shirts? A heck of a lot actually goes into style! It can get pretty confusing and there are some things you might still need to know. Get the answers to the most common questions about this classic fashion pairing and get to know everything you need to know about wearing this look.

Are cargo shorts out of style?

Though cargo shorts ruled the 1990s and found their way into high fashion in the 2000s, they quickly fell out of style in the mid-2010s. Suddenly, cargo shorts were just terminally uncool. Style experts say that cargo shorts make the body look heavy and weighted down. But trends in fashion tend to ebb and flow, so cargo shorts may just come back on the style scene sometime in the future. Cargo shorts can still be considered to be stylish when used as a retro look as well.

Are cargo shorts business casual?

Cargo shorts are definitely casual wear but business casual, they are not. Even streamlined and well-tailored cargo shorts are a little bit too relaxed for any office environment. You definitely shouldn’t wear them to a job interview and they aren’t right for the workplace. If you’re unsure about your work dress code, ask. Most workplaces will have a clear outline of their dress code. Usually, the dress code will state that cargo shorts should not be worn.

Are cargo shorts acceptable golf attire?

While lots of people wear cargo shorts on public golf courses and even some clubs allow it, many people say that cargo shorts just aren’t golf course attire. Golf has always had a bit of a more polished dress code and cargo shorts are considered to be a little too casual for this sport. However, it is something you still see people do all the time so most of the time, you can probably get away with it.

Since polo shirts are so frequently seen on golf courses, it seems that cargo shorts and golf would be a natural pairing as well. Most people do frown on them as too casual for the course, however.

Can cargo shorts go in the dryer?

Will cargo shorts shrink in the dryer? Many clothes, blue jeans included, end up shrinking a little after you machine wash and dry them. So what about cargo shorts? Like everything else, it all depends on what your cargo shorts are made from. Natural fibers, such as cotton and linen, shrink in hot water and hot air. Even when blended with synthetic materials, such as polyester, clothing made with these fabrics can shrink.

Cargo shorts made with natural fibers should not be washed in hot washed or dried in hot heat. Use cool settings and this will prevent shrinkage.

What should you style with cargo shorts?

Polo shirts work great with cargo shorts but what else can you wear with them? You won’t go wrong with a T-shirt and a polo shirt. Dress the look up a little with a long or short sleeve button-down shirt, left unbuttoned. Adding an extra layer can really make an outfit pop. Tank tops and sleeveless tops also wear well with cargo shorts, particularly if you’re wearing sandals.

Whatever you wear, pick out something that feels good and fits well. As long as you feel good in your clothing, you’re going to look good. The main thing you need to wear is a little bit of self-confidence. With this, all your fashion choices will work.


Golf Monthly – What Is The Golf Dress Code?

The Fine Young Gentleman – Musings On Cargo Shorts: Don’t Wear Them, Ever

Heddels – The History of the Polo Shirt From Rene Lacoste Through Ralph Lauren

Outfit Trends – 23 Stylish Men’s Outfits with Shorts For Summer 2021