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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 24, 2003

Lookin' good in cargo pants

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Fashion Writer

Left: Marlon Yasay of Kalihi, a UH-Manoa finance and computer science major, models his own clothes, including these cargo pants ($20) from the Old Navy store in Ala Moana Center, where he works in sales.

Right: Model Wana'ao Watson Eldredge is wearing the latest look from Neiman Marcus: Blumarine's slim silk charmeuse cargo pants ($490). Available online at neimanmarcus.com or by ordering through the Ala Moana Center store.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Style watchers in Europe and the United States have declared the must-have item for spring, for men and women: cargo pants.

"Oh, that's so last year," you might say. Look again. The 2003 cargo pants are slimmed down, shaped up and, yes, even sexy. Manufacturers and designers from Gap to Gucci are turning out cargo pants with an urban edge.

On spring runways nearly every contemporary collection, including Balenciaga, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Armani, Chanel, Ralph Lauren and even Pucci offered their interpretations of cargo pants.

"They're everywhere," said Pam Ross, owner of Ohelo Road in the Kahala Mall. "And I think cargo skirts are soon to come. I saw them in Australia."

It's part of a trend toward clothing with a blue-collar work ethic. Madonna and Avril Lavigne are flaunting utilitarian pants. At the hot, hip Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles, the uniform is a pair of cool utility Dickies Girl pants.

While a plethora of pockets, zippers and other functional details still define cargo pants, many designers are updating the style by slimming down the silhouette, raising the waist and using evening fabrics such as silks and satins.

Low-slung is still in style, but we can look forward to natural waists soon. Some designers, including Balenciaga, Chanel and Gucci, are even showing high-waisted pants.

Asian influence

Ken Downing, vice president of public relations and fashion presentation for Neiman Marcus, defined the trend: "The whole idea of the luxe sport pant was evident in every collection — men's and women's. The Americans, Italians and French all got on board."

Downing said there's a distinctly Asian influence in the current crop of cargo pants. Many top designers have been traveling to Japan, Southeast Asia and India and incorporating a worldly point of view into their collections.

In Hawai'i, of course, island designers have a heritage of drawing from Asian field workers' garments for their inspiration. Past collections by Nake'u Awai, Sig Zane and Anne Namba are among them.

In another nod to Asia, among the hottest accessories this season are obi belts, which Neiman Marcus is showing with cargo pants. They look best worn over pants that are high-waisted or at the natural waist. An embellished, embroidered version can be slung low over a big white shirt, Downing advised.

Who can wear them?

"Anyone can wear them. You really need a cargo pant this season. How it looks is how you decide to interpret it. It's great with a high-heeled strappy shoe or a flat sandal. A wedge platform and tank top make it youthful and fun."

Ross said cargo pants "need something simple, close to the body and small in scale on top." She recommends a lycra knit T-shirt, such as those by Michael Stars, with a scoop neck.

A fuller cargo pant is easier to carry off if you're tall. A slimmer silhouette makes you appear taller without as much volume from the waist down.

For a shorter torso, elongate the waist by pairing cargo pants with a big white shirt or tailored jacket and low-slung belt for a Katherine Hepburn look.

As far as pocket placement, simply avoid problem areas. If your hips aren't your favorite asset, don't have a pocket placed right over them.

Hem lengths are all up and down the leg. Choosing a cargo pant that's cropped above the ankle offers an opportunity to wear the hippest new shoe: a strappy sandal that wraps around the ankle.

For a harem-pant look, they can be tied or zipped at the hem and slouched over the shoe.

A note of caution: Be sure to look at yourself from all directions in a three-way mirror. Those side and back pockets need to be placed just right.

Make all the stylish zippers work for you. If you have great legs, zip up the leg and let it show.

Downing said "Fashion loves the tug of war between dressy and casual, night and day. The trend is to wear evening fabrics for day and day fabrics for evening. Try a shiny cargo pant for day made of a metallic fabric or silk or satin. The opposite also works — a sportswear fabric in an evening style."

John Galliano, designer for Christian Dior, has added a detail to his pants that's sure to be interpreted by other manufacturers: a pair of web straps that hang to the knees like a man's suspenders. Downing said this look was extrapolated from the fringe that was popular during the fall 2002 season.

Where to find them

Locally, cargo pants are already appearing in a variety of styles and at every price level.

  • Old Navy's sell for $20 and come in eight shades, from black, gray and olive to three shades of khaki. They're showing them with skinny hooded sweatshirts or button-down shirts for men and children, but not for women.
  • Wet Seal's denim cargo pants ($42) have a string tie at the low-slung waist and a slightly flared leg. Camisoles are rounding out their look.
  • Hot Topic is still big on wide legs, with plenty of zippers and huge pockets piled on each other. The unisex styles come in black and red, black and yellow, black and blue ($40-$55). They incorporate straps everywhere, hanging from the waist, draping down the sides, coming out of thigh-high pockets.
  • The men's and women's oversized cargo pants at Abercrombie & Fitch are called "vintage fatigues," and have a slouchy, low-slung look. Hems and pocket edges are frayed and fabrics look worn-in. They're showing them with white cotton T-shirts and plaid shirts ($49.50-$59.50).
  • Ohelo Road carries cotton cargo pants by XCVI for $56. They will soon take delivery of evening versions in silks and satins by Rebecca Taylor and Rozae Nichols that will sell for $230-$300.
  • Modern Amusement will receive their cargo pants next month. According to owner Gavin Cook, they'll be tighter in the leg with a flat front, made of stretch fabric ($65-$70).
  • Banana Republic's cropped white cargo pants for women ($88) are the slimmest silhouette of all, with flat patch pockets close to the thigh. They're paired with a matching crisp white jacket and fitted blue T-shirt.
  • bcbgmaxazria has an industrialized stone-washed denim version with a medium low-rise waist and huge patch pockets for $154 and a hip hugger khaki cotton style with a flared leg that has 3 percent Spandex for a snug fit ($158).
  • DKNY goes dressy with metallic cotton sateen ($278) or dressed-down in a light khaki cotton with wider leg and multiple pockets ($118).
  • Neiman Marcus is carrying cargo pants by many designers at a range of prices, including Laundry's low-rise long polyester/viscose pant that's great for the office, and Allen B.'s casual olive green cotton pedal pusher-length cargos.