Revisiting Military Surplus Cargo Pants

February 23, 2017

Revisiting Military Surplus Cargo Pants

At Put This On, we love military surplus. Vintage, deadstock, or reproduction (sort of cheating), surplus offers interesting and purpose-driven design in hard wearing materials, often at a good price and, if vintage, with an interesting provenance. It’s relatively easy to work some of this stuff into your daily wear–M-65 jackets, leather jackets, and plain olive drab pants haven’t looked unusual on the street since the 70s.

But surplus cargos can be a different story. The M-51 and M-65 designs, with the numbers indicating the year of initial release, are big, utilitarian pants. On the positive side, that means tough hardware and design–often Talon zippers, flapped pockets, and heavy cotton or nylon/cotton sateen fabric. On the potentially negative side, they’re big. High rise, cut to fit a range of bodies (each size covers multiple waist sizes but will fit each slightly differently), and roomy enough to fit a cold weather liner inside.

How to Wear Them

First, one piece of militaria is generally enough for an ensemble outside of the actual field–field trousers are best matched with items that maybe have a similar, rugged feel to them but aren’t specifically military or olive drab. Think work shirts, western shirts, flannels, or vintage-styled sweatshirts. Or contrast vibez with trad or prep-influenced items, like an oxford and shetland sweater.

You can try to size down, but APC jeans these ain’t. Nor Mark McNairy slim cargos (side note: photo from 2009!).  You have to embrace the bigness. These pants embiggen the smallest man. But if you haven’t heard, baggy is cool again. And the inherent bagginess doesn’t mean you can’t try different silhouettes with them.

A fitted tshirt or leather jacket, field cargos, and sneakers is a slightly 90s, slightly-skate-influenced shape that may deserve another look. Wearing them with other baggy clothes is a little trickier, but can be pulled off: see the last photo above, with an untucked oxford and full cut sweater. Low-profile shoes, like loafers or minimal sneakers, are not recommended, although a case can be made for, say, Vans slip-ons. They do have drawstrings at the hem that can be tightened to gather the cuff at the ankle, so your shoes aren’t swallowed by the leg.

Where to Find Them

Vintage M-51 and M-65 pants are quite common in vintage shops, like Wooden Sleepers, or online–I recently got a pair from Foundation Vintage. You can search ebay for M-65 pants, M-51 pants, or by manufacturers like Winfield, and easily find wearable vintage versions for $50-$75. Rothco offers an updated version, which is fine and a decent value at around $50, but I prefer to hunt through the crates, both virtual and real, for the real McCoy. Oh, also, military reproduction specialists Real McCoys makes a repro pair, which I have not handled but look great.