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What are Khakis?

Updated May 21, 2024
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Khakis, sometimes called chinos, are a popular style of pants for both men and women. Their casual look, comfortable fit, and durability have held them in good stead for more than a century.

The name khaki is a Hindi word that literally means "dust-colored." The term first referred to the color of dye used for the cloth. But as the term evolved, it also took on the meaning of the closely woven material that many khaki pants were made of, and their distinctive styling. While all khakis are tan in color, the shades of tan vary from lighter to darker and the hues can range from gray to brown, and green. The neutrality of the khaki color makes them easy to dress up or dress down.

As the story goes, khakis came about in India during the 1840s when British Army officers took to soaking their white uniforms in tea, mud and curry powder in attempts to blend in with the landscape. Apparently those attempts succeeded because by 1914, certain branches and ranks of American servicemen had adopted khakis as approved uniforms. The acceptance of khaki uniforms continued to spread, and today khakis are a regular part of the U.S. military attire.

Khakis crossed over to the general public in the 1950s. They were popularized by the likes of writers, rebels and intellectuals, such as Jack Kerouac, a cultural subset weary of dressing like beatniks. The versatility and easy care of khakis soon made them a must-have fashion item. These qualities have not changed since then, but styles and fabrics have.

Today's khakis range from the very casual to haute couture and can take the wearer from a day at the park to the office boardroom. Khakis are designed by top designers and bulk manufacturers alike, available off the runway, or off the rack at discount stores. They are commonly made of natural cotton or linen, and sometimes from cotton blends augmented with chemical treating to cut down on wrinkles, retain shape, and reduce stains.

The popularity of khakis has remained constant through the years and clothing manufacturers expect that the trend will continue into the unforeseen fashion future. Savvy shoppers and fashionistas with flair will continue to wear khakis because of the casual look, easy care, and comfortable fit that started so long ago.

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Discussion Comments

By stolaf23 — On Dec 10, 2010

@widget2010, that is very true. Classic as they are, pleated khakis are not exactly timeless. Mens' khakis especially just look so much better with a flat front; the pleats and bulk, which looks like added weight, which is flattering on pretty much no one.

By widget2010 — On Dec 09, 2010

I am glad khaki pants are not only a light khaki color these days, but can be found in all sorts of shades of brown, and likewise in lots of different styles. As classic as they are, white khakis and pleated khakis just do not look good on most people.

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