Fatigue Pants: The Trousers That Never Get Tired

Fatigue pants men's style
Image is my own / All rights reserved

Military clothing is all over our collective wardrobes. Across every proverbial shelf and rail you will find such disparate items as trench coats, chinos, regimental ties, bucket hats, berets, NATO straps, and even class rings. The list is packed, varied, and apparently endless. 

You might consider it a truism in fashion that while trends may dedicate the style and popularity of specific items, militaria as a whole simply never grows old. It makes vintage military wear a perennial favourite among clothing collectors and means that (by and large) you can’t really go wrong wearing milsurp. 

Among the most evergreen options from this long-lasting lineup is a pair of olive green trousers known as fatigue pants, a style that is never near being worn out, despite what the name implies. You might prefer calling them utility-, field-, or even baker pants (as they’re known in Japan), although they initially went by the military title of OG-107.

For all of their aforementioned longevity within civilian wardrobes, OG-107s proved similarly long-lived in their original marshal context. They were introduced into the United States Armed Forces — and subsequently across many other military uniforms around the globe — beginning in 1952 and managed to stick around through the Cold War and Vietnam until as late as the 1980s. That counts them among the longest-tenured pieces of US military issue around.

They were first brought in as a replacement for WWII-era herringbone twill pants (HBTs for short) and would eventually be replaced three decades later during the advent of camouflage. ‘Fatigue’, as it happens, is a holdover from their HBT predecessors. Since those were first called fatigues, the name stuck around even when the US Army introduced new kit that was officially referred to as a ‘utility uniform’.

Speaking of official names, with a pair of OG-107s the colour is particularly relevant since the OG of their official title is short for ‘olive green’, a reference to the updated hue of these new fatigues since HBTs formerly came in olive drab (making these novel fatigue trousers, in effect, the OGs of olive green).

Apart from their signature shade, OG-107 pants are characterised by a handful of other simple details, chief among these being their trademark patch pockets: two button-flap ones round back and another instantly-recognisable rectangular pair with slash openings up front. Another notable spec is the fabric, which originally comprised a durable 8.5oz sateen cotton, later to be replaced with the arrival of the OG-507 by a poly-cotton blend that was less prone to creasing and held its colour for longer. 

The other features vary here and there — the precise cut of the leg, button vs fly closure, some tinkering with the look of the pocket flaps, that kind of thing. But for the most part, the OG-107 was an exemplar of simple and effective design, rendering it largely untampered with throughout its issued lifespan. 

Image credit: Steve Rees / CC BY 4.0

This simple design had a practical purpose. Or, more accurately, its lack of any specific purpose made the design eminently practical. These weren’t trousers built with a very specific job in mind, all covered in drawstrings, cargo pockets, or articulating seams as later combat trousers often were. Instead, their application was universal and their construction uncomplicated. These were comfortable, no-nonsense pants built for everyday use across a wide range of activities, whether those be odd jobs around the barracks, heavy labour out in the field, or even active combat. 

As with so much military wear, civilian adoption was all but inevitable, chiefly via veterans and a flurry of surplus stores. Fatigue pants were especially popular in the 1960s among anti-war protestors and hippies in North America, who appropriated the likes of OG-107s and M-65 field jackets and turned them from objects of warfare into symbols of peace in the process. Hikers and rock climbers around the same time found them similarly useful, albeit for their robust build and comfortable fit rather than their soldierly connotations. 

Fatigues have since worked their way into many a subculture, from moshing punks through to madras-wearing preps. The adaptability that formed the basis of their popularity in the armed forces has guaranteed a similar kind of universal application in their use beyond the military. They are among the most versatile pants out there, forming a holy trinity of casual trousers alongside jeans and chinos. They go with pretty much everything, especially if it’s vaguely workwear-themed, but pair equally well with trainers and Ts, Sperrys and sport coats, and occasionally even something a little dressier. Jake Wigham, the proprietor of Jake’s London and shirtmaker par excellence, for instance, has shown that a pair of fatigue trousers can even look at home when worn with black tie

If you’re looking to buy some, there are still plenty of vintage military models kicking about on the resale market, but their trendiness in recent years has meant that you can easily find contemporary takes by Stan Ray and Engineered Garments (two particularly longstanding favourites among style enthusiasts) as well as just about anyplace you would usually go to buy casual trousers.

And once you’ve gotten a pair, wear the heck out of them. They were built for heavy use and only look better once they’ve gone around the block a few times. Then patch them, repair them, cut them up into shorts, whatever you please — but rest assured, you’re unlikely to grow tired of them anytime soon.

Sailors wearing fatigue trousers
Image credit: Tullio Saba / Public domain