We explore why this super-versatile style is suddenly everywhere again—and the best ways to style camo pants.
Are you seeing spots? Or leaves? Are three lush green patterns that mimic the forest everywhere you turn? Brusque browns and tans that invoke sandy dunes around every corner?
The very ironic part of the camouflage pattern is that you can see it everywhere you look these days. It’s clear that this trend has made a comeback in a very big way—or did it ever really leave? With some fresh and innovative updates, today’s camouflage is remarkably versatile, accessible, fresh and fashion forward.
Before we explore the best ways to style camo pants, we wanted to explore what gives this iconic look its staying power: from its first days in on the runway in 1931 when designer Elsa Schiaparelli included it in her collection, to Madonna’s 2017 Met Gala dress (in celebration of Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between), and up until this very moment when fashion’s biggest influencers are discovering the way color, texture, and intention can shape a look anchored by camouflage patterning, camo is holding steady.
Prior to gracing the runways and the racks of your favorite stores, camouflage served a very specific purpose: To hide—specifically, soldiers and weapons during war. The pattern was introduced in 1914 by the French military, and the term in French literally means “to make up for a stage.” Camouflage was part of the strategy to protect soldiers and fool the enemy, making them harder to detect as they advanced or set up camp in ground wars.
Once this smart uniform made its debut, the British military quickly followed suit (see what we did there?), and then the Americans took on the stylish strategy as well. Now, you’ll see most standard military uniforms are a camo pattern related to where the troops are serving (tans and browns for sandy regions, greens for more forested environments, and so on).
Camo became a more everyday staple for soldiers returning from the Vietnam War, and at the same time became a favorite pick of the 1960s counterculture, who wore camouflage as an edgy statement piece. Later, it was the focus of one of Andy Warhol’s last works. An iconic element of hip hop fashion, it shaped Tupac’s legendary style. Now, celebrities everywhere have made camouflage a part of their unique looks, whether it’s silky, sequined, or casual.
From your favorite ensemble anchored in camo pants to small pieces of the pattern in your belt, hat, purse, shoes, or other accessories, there are many ways to style camo pants and everything else that comes in the pattern, which has been a stylish and on-trend element since it made its debut.
Camo Pants: What’s Out There?
The options for camo styles are vast. From joggers and wide-legged cuts to shorts, leggings, and hiker styles, camo options are found in the most on-trend styles we’re seeing today, and in every color. While green may be traditional, you’ll find hot pink camo, bright red, yellow, black, and more. What you wear depends on what you’re doing. Camo leggings manage to be both easy and chic, and work with your favorite tailored top for a day-to-night look. Simple, straight legged camo pants or jeans have a go-anywhere versatility that makes them a wardrobe staple, and they are easily paired with t-shirts, sweatshirts, or work-ready blouses. Leading a meeting? Make an impression by balancing your favorite camo pants with a tailored blazer and silk tank.
Camo 101: How to Style Camo Pants
If you’re overwhelmed by wearing your first pair of camo pants, don’t stress. Pairing this bold pattern is easier than you think. First, try this: Think of your favorite jeans and your favorite way to wear them. Now, substitute camo pants for the denim. Does the look work? If yes, great. If no, why not? Perhaps it’s a bold pattern combo that’s throwing you off? If so, consider pairing patterns that are distinctly different (like thick stripes and camo) to make it work.
Because they are so versatile, it’s easy to find ways to style camo pants with much of what’s already in your closet, but who are we to begrudge a shopping spree? Chances are, your wardrobe includes a few easy items that you can pair with camouflage any time you want. For tops, try a denim shirt, some plain t-shirts in solid colors (pink, orange, blue, gray, white, and black), silky tank tops, slim-fitting tops that add a feminine touch, oversized t-shirts for casual comfort, or a bomber jacket to top it off. For shoes, sneakers in a solid color (think classic white or black tennis shoes) and heels or wedges in a simple, solid color work best. Hitting the beach? Pair your bikini top with camo pants and flip flops.
Camouflage: Unisex Appeal
The versatility of camouflage makes it a staple in both men’s and women’s fashion. It works as streetwear and is office appropriate. It can be edgy, funky, tough, or polished. Camo is well balanced with an edge of femininity—a flirty tank paired with wide-legged camo trousers for instance. And it easily finds its place in men’s fashion as an update to the basic denim or khaki options that have long ruled the category. If you’re looking to try camo in menswear, start with the unexpected: a sharp, sleek bomber jacket, for example, in a bold camo print. It will read trendy without dipping over into militaristic and offer an instant upgrade to even the simplest jeans-and-tee ensemble.
Camo Is Here to Stay
Has there ever been a pattern like camo? It’s been universally worn by every gender with equal aplomb, been to the battlefield and the runway, and played equal parts edgy and sophisticated. It’s versatile enough to go from the Met Gala, to the office, to the beach, while coming in every fabric and color under the sun. Camo is at once classic and innovative, and its consistent evolution means we’ll keep seeing it in new and exciting iterations for a long time to come.