Fun, Flirty and... Functional
By Angie Keswani
Move over, military. For the third year in a row, the utility trend is transforming the fashion scene by incorporating large pockets, zippers, and loose cuts into both streetwear and couture.
Utilitarian style is the most widespread trend of 2019, and has seventeen-year-olds wearing Dickies to school. When I was in high school, it would have been social suicide to show up wearing workpants, let alone paired with a tank top and chunky sneakers... But clearly, times have changed, and so has our view of workwear.
Cargo pants were originally designed for British military personnel with pure functionality in mind. Cotton synthetic blends were chosen for their sturdy and quick-drying properties; oversized belt loops were added to accommodate large utility belts. The silhouette, loose and simple, was made for engaging in the most dangerous activities.
The risky backdrop for cargo and workpants continued in the 90s, when these garments emerged in the LA rap scene. The popularity of Dickies came straight out of Compton, where the pants were standard uniform for gangsta rappers and their gangmember friends.
In the late 90s, underground rappers started to wear underground clothes. Brands like Ecko and Triple 5 Soul defined the alternative independent label look, and cargo pants provided a convenient combination. Plus, the large pockets could be used to hold a Discman and headphone set – talk about a throwback!
Despite their exceptionally cool and precarious origins, throughout the 2000s, cargo pants have turned into the thing of lazy weekend dads and overgrown teenage boys. Their utility diminished, their function crushed with the smear of potato chip grease, cargo pants were at the bottom of the bag. Meanwhile, Dickies and other workpants returned to the legs of hospital employees and construction workers, satisfying anything but a fashion statement.
In the past three years, designers have rescued utilitywear and cargo pants from debris. While similar to military-inspired fashions, garments drawn from utilitywear are not as literal as cinch-waist army green coats. Instead, SS17 collections featured clean palettes of ivory, cream, and tan with fresh silhouettes. Bottega Veneta presented casual and sleek looks with functional button detailing; Marni put out a set of ivory and pastel dresses with huge, handbag- sized pockets. The trend continued for SS18, where Gauchère released a collared maxi-dress with cargo- pocket details for ready to wear.
This year, designers are pushing the utilitarian trend even further. Some brands truly brought practicality to couture by incorporating zips, bag-sized pockets, and army green hues into broader looks. For SS19, Fendi introduced a stylish utility belt complete with pouches labelled ‘phone’ and ‘secrets’. Other designers have assumed utility into their arsenals in less pointed ways. At Dion Lee, a deconstructed kahki coat- dress walked the runway complete with breastpockets, metallic zipper detail, and loose-fitting sleeves.
One exciting part of this year’s wave of utility fashion is the comeback of cargo pants. Instead of simply cutting them in silky fabrics, brands this year redesigned combat pants by making them sleeker and roomier. Isabel Marrant sent down a pair of modern cargos in a stiff millennial pink fabric. The pants featured a tight belt, a multitude of pockets, and cuffed ankles for a badass yet feminine look. Givenchy produced a pair in a more traditional camo green, but draped them effortlessly with a front crease and a relaxed fit. Paired with a sharply tailored tuxedo jacket, the model looked a chic and strong Kim Possible. Gone are the days where cargo pants are only for nature boys and unassuming dads!
Off the runway and out of fashion closets, the rest of us can wear this new fashion in any which way. If you’re into streetwear, like our model, then you can pair a loose- fitting pair of combat pants with a fitting feminine top. If you’re more of a modern minimalist, then go for a straight-cut utility pant with a tucked-in, collared blouse. Either way, style with flat shoes for ultimate ease.
Ultimately, that’s what this year’s big utility trend is all about: ease and uncompromisable style.
Model: Laila Abughaida Photographer: Angie Keswani