Khaki pants

AKA: chinos (mainly in America)

How to say it: car-keys

Traditional Features: 

These days the term khakis is used to describe a wide variety of smart casual pants in various tones of the original khaki colour. The illustration below is inspired by the Military origins of khakis.

body template

  • straight leg
  • flat front
  • khaki colouring
  • front leg crease


…of the style: The khaki pant origins stem from British Colonial India in 1846. The British Officer Sir Harry Lumsden was tasked with raising a new company of infantry and calvary soldiers in the province of Peshawar. Deciding that the white pants and bright red woollen coat of the British Army was not appropriate in the Indian climate he dressed his company in their native costume, which included a pair of white pajama pants. These pants were then dyed a dusty dirt colour to better blend in with their surrounding and hide stains. The khaki pant was born.

While initially the khaki uniforms were scoffed at, the new style was soon adopted by all British soldiers serving in appropriate climates. The US Military started wearing khaki uniforms in the Spanish-American War in 1898, with the Navy and Marine Corps following suit soon after.

Khakis were worn throughout both World Wars by various armies, with the colour varying from the original dust colour to an olive-green, depending on where the troops were stationed.

The khaki pant transitioned into mainstream fashion after WWII when American troops returning home continued to wear their old khaki uniform pants. This was particularly the case with returning GIs who took advantage of the GI Bill and went to college. Colleges back then often had dress codes (no jeans or shorts) and the cheapest way for the ex-soldiers to dress for college was to wear the smart looking pants they already owned and could replace for as little as 50 cents. Movie stars like Katherine Hepburn and John Wayne also started wearing khakis on and off the screen and by the 50’s the khaki pant was a wardrobe staple.

Khaki uniforms continue to be worn to this day by various parts armed forces around the world due to its versatility. This versatility has ensured that khaki pants survived the changing faces of fashion and remain a classic piece of clothing through the ages. The pant was linked to the rebellious James Dean look of the 50s, was adopted by conservatives and intellectuals in the 60s and 70s, loved by the Preppies in the 80s and crossed into high fashion in the late 80s only to become to the standard attire for casual Fridays in the 90s.

These days the khaki pant can be whatever the wearer wants it to be – slouchy and relaxed for the weekend, slimmer fitting and smart for a day at the office or paired with heels and bling for a night on the town – it truly is a versatile classic.

…of the name: The term khakis comes from the original colour of the pants which is called khaki. The name khaki comes from the Hindi and Urdu work khak which means ‘dust’.

Side Note: There is quite a bit of debate over whether Khakis and Chinos are the same thing. From what I can find out Khakis are the pants that originated in British India and are named for their colour; while Chinos are pants that were worn by the Americans in the Spanish-American war (inspired by the Khaki uniforms of the British) of a similar colour made from Chino Cloth, and thus were named for the fabric. Apparently Chinos were originally always flat fronted, had a tapered leg and few pockets (see the Ivy League Pant), while the khaki pant had a pleated front and wider leg.

In early mainstream fashion, khakis were the Army surplus pants that could be bought post WWII; they were made of a hardier fabric (cotton twill) and were appropriate for casual or work wear. Chinos were a smart casual pant of a lighter weight fabric that could be bought in a store; they were most definitely a dress pant and due to the lighter fabric would not survive manual labour pursuits.

Regardless of where they came from, the two styles seem to have morphed into the same garment over the years; which in itself changes drastically depending on trends, the wearer and the whims of designers.

Right or wrong, feel fee to use the two terms interchangeably. You have my permission.

For more info on Khaki pants Wikipedia, Neatorama, or Subject to Change.

Random Facts

  • There seems to be some many stories as to how the khaki colour was originally achieved in by Sir harry in India. Some sources say they pants were dunked in mud, other say it came from dye produced from the Mazari palm. I have also read that the pants were dyed with curry powder, coffee, tea and tobacco juice. They might all be true as synthetic khaki dye wasn’t patented in England until 1884.

21st Century Elephant Pants

The term Khakis is now very widely used to describe any kind of pant in a neutral colour that aren’t jeans. From the original dust colour through olive-greens and greenish-browns, ‘khaki’ now means a lot of things. Fitted, slouchy, short, long, smart or casual, khakis in all these guises are out there, but whatever they look like one somehow always knows a pair of khakis when one sees them.

asos banana republic

ASOS, Banana Republic

gap NSF

Gap, NSF


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