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What Are Cargo Shorts Made Of?

What is the substance that makes these pants so dependable, durable, and comfortable to wear? If you've ever wondered what kind of fabric is used to make cargo trousers, we have the answer to that question and more below.

Close up view of short cargo pants for the man.

Whether you love or hate the casual multi-pocketed tan military-style shorts, you might be wondering what cargo shorts are made of. After all, these shorts can feel as cool and breezy as cotton or as structured and stiff as canvas, depending on the brand and type you get.

Cargo shorts are the cropped version of cargo pants. In the 1940s, cargo pants were invented as a practical, sturdy solution to World War II soldiers’ clothing needs. Today, cargo pants are considered a casual, comfortable style of pants that is popular among a wide range of people. 

From college-aged frat dudes to retired men putting away on the golf course to women who want to ditch the purse on vacation and carry their essentials in their pockets, cargo shorts fit the needs of many people.

The question is, what is the material behind these pants that makes them so reliable, durable, and easy to wear? If you’ve ever been curious about what type of cloth constructs cargo pants, we have the answer to this question and more below.

What are cargo shorts made out of?

A man wearing short pants, army printed.

Cargo shorts, also known as “combat shorts” and “safari shorts,” are the short version of cargo pants. They can be made out of a range of materials, but usually, cargo short manufacturers stick to lightweight materials and avoid heavyweight materials such as denim. Since cargo shorts are so structured, they also usually are not made out of stretchy materials that would easily lose their shape, such as jersey fabric. 

While cargo shorts sometimes have a streamlined silhouette, they are normally made to wear loosely and hang off the body. Because of this, cargo shorts are also never constructed out of spandex or other clingy, restricting material. Now that we know what cargo shorts are not made of, we can discuss what materials usually make cargo shorts into the beloved style they are.

As explains, “Usually, cargo shorts are made with cotton or a cotton/poly blend that wears well. Cargo shorts are made to be durable and machine-washable because these are considered casual shorts that can be worn for everything from camping to hiking to yard work to a grocery store run.” 

Although cargo shorts are typically machine washable, it’s important to read the label and follow drying and washing instructions carefully. Since cargo shorts are supposed to be loose, washing them at too high of a temperature or drying them at too high of a heat setting could shrink them and make them fit differently than their original intention.

If you are trying to sew your cargo pants (or having a friend with sewing skills whip up a pair of handmade cargo pants), you should opt for a similar type of material as the ones manufacturers choose for cargo shorts. 

As shares, “Spandex gives you a stretch that is comfortable and easy. You should be able to move freely without getting in a bind. Spandex can be blended with polyester and cotton so you have a good choice of which style of pants you wear.

100% polyester is a top fabric to use as well. It is comfortable to wear dries quickly and lasts a long time. Or you can go with a poly and cotton blend. Your style will look better and your body can breathe because of the added cotton fibers.” 

A strong cotton and nylon blend would also work well if you are making your cargo shorts. No matter what fabric you choose to use for making your cargo pants or the type of fabric you prefer for store-bought cargo shorts, you should look for fabrics that balance durability with breathability and structure.

What are cargo pants made of?

Since cargo pants are just the longer version of cargo shorts, they are usually made out of the same materials. Sometimes, if cargo pants are made for a specific type of job or a specific role such as military duty, they will be made out of a specific fabric. Cargo pants that are designed for jobs where high heat and fire are a hazard, for example, will steer clear of flammable fabrics or add a flame-resistant coating to the pants. 

What were cargo shorts made for?

Amazon Essentials Men's Classic-Fit 10” Cargo Short, Light Olive, 42

Cargo pants entered the public scene in 1938 when British Military personnel began to wear them. Cargo pants were one crucial aspect of their Battle Dress Uniforms. At first, cargo pants only had one pocket at the side and a second pocket on the soldier’s hip.

During World War II, the United States army used cargo pants and increased the number of pockets to accommodate the maps and other items held in the pants. Over time, the number, size, and placement of pockets evolved but the basic function and concept of the pants remained the same.

As expands, cargo shorts “introduction into the fashion world, however, came in the 1990s, when there was an inrush of cargo pants in the fashion scene. They were debuted by urban hip-hop performers. Afterward, it became a common trend for civilians and was rocked by everyone although with some variations.”

As for cargo shorts, “some designers saw the need to do away with any fabric below the knee while saving the utility of the oversized pockets. Hence, they were shortened and turned to knee-length cargo shorts.”  And so cargo pants gave way to the cargo shorts we know and love today.