One of the running themes in menswear design is its close relationship to the military. In previous articles I discussed items such as the Desert Boot, T-Shirt, and the Field Jacket. Items all of which can trace their origins to the military uniform.
In this article I want to introduce you to yet another item of clothing that draws its origins from the standard military uniform: khaki trousers.
For those of you who don’t know, khakis (also known as chinos) first originated with British Army in the late 19th century. The khaki uniform was invented by British Lieutenant Sir Harry Lumsden in 1846 as an alternative to the traditional British army uniform. Lumsden was in charge of a group British Indian recruits and was of the view that the troops were best served in their native uniform, which consisted of a smock and white pajama trousers made of coarse home-spun cotton. The cloth was eventually dyed with mulberry juice which gave the garments their trademark yellowish drab shade, allowing the army to better camouflage themselves with their surroundings in Northern India. In fact, the word khaki itself is derived from the Hindu-Urdu word for “dusty” or “earth coloured”. It was only a matter of time when all regiments, whether British or Indian, serving in the region adopted the khaki dyed uniforms for summer dress. The khaki trouser has since become a staple in military uniforms around the world, not to mention a popular fabric used for a variety of different garments in contemporary menswear.
Unfortunately, the khaki trouser has fallen a long way since its military origins. Today, khakis have more or less been relegated to the stodgy and unimaginative realm of men’s business casual wear.
As always, the problem is that most men have no idea how to properly wear a pair of khaki trousers. The vast majority of men wear khakis that are least 1-2 sizes too big. The baggy khaki trousers have become all too common and are about as flattering as a pair of dad jeans.
As you can see, this is far from a flattering look. Remember that fit is king and this is no different for a pair of khakis. That’s why when you are selecting a pair you want to ensure that there is not an excessive amount of fabric in the seat and thigh, giving you the much dreaded “soggy diaper butt” look. You also want to make sure that the khakis don’t pool around your ankles. A lot of these issues have to do with the excessively generous cut of most modern khakis.
Fortunately, there are now several different brands of khakis on the market that come in much slimmer cuts. Not too long ago, Docker’s came out with a “slim” cut line of khakis called Alpha Khakis. These khakis have a much more streamlined look. There is less room in the seat and thigh and the leg opening is tapered. I highly recommend them to guys looking for a great pair of slim fitting khakis at an affordable price. My only word of caution for men with larger thighs is to size up in the waist. This means that you will have to take the waist in, but considering that these trousers can be had for around $40 when on sale, the extra cost for tailoring is not a big deal at all.
Also, remember that you don’t have to stick with the basic tan colour. As you can see from the image above, khakis now come in a wide assortment of different colours. As we transition into fall, look at colours such as olives and browns. Personally, one of my favourite colours for fall is burgundy.
These are an excellent choice for those men who don’t want to wear tired old tan khakis like every other guy out there, but also want to say somewhat conservative in colour choice. The burgundy khaki will allow you to experiment and add some flare to your wardrobe without going too far “out there”. It is the happy medium between bland and boring and loud and ostentatious.
The great thing about khakis is that they can also be worn year round. The only thing that will change is the weight and colour of the fabric. In the spring and summer you will want to choose a lighter weight cotton in more bright and vibrant colours. As you transition into the fall and winter a more heavier weight cotton in a muted tone will be more appropriate.
The khaki fabric has a rich history in menswear dating as far back as the late 19th century when it was primarily used for military uniforms. Since then, the fabric has transformed itself into a staple that is used for various garments in the modern day menswear industry. Among these garments, the khaki trouser has come to dominate the realm of modern day business casual wear. Unfortunately, many men simply don’t know how to wear a pair of khakis, favouring excessively baggy renditions that are neither rugged nor masculine. My hope is that this article has inspired some of you to recapture the former glory of the khaki trouser and make them cool to wear once again.