Details magazine ran a nice six page spread called The Rules of Khaki and I felt it was missing some of the critcal details that every khaki-wearin’ guy should know. Also, the pictures of pouty-lipped, pretty-boys seem better suited as jail-bait for Dateline: “To Catch a Predator” than for a feature on khaki pants in a menswear magazine, but that’s just me. I’m a little more old school–  I like my imagery a little more rugged and iconic.  So where are all the great magazines that guys can turn to for the real deal on menswear these days?  We’re all thinking the same thing, right?  Overseas.

I’m a lover of Khakis, so let me take a stab at it and add my two cents–


khaki pant menswear fashionkhaki pant menswear fashion


1. Color

Sir Harry Lumsden is widely credited with giving us what we now consider the khaki pant.  In 1846 he was commanding a British Army troop of Indian recruits, and according to legend, ordered their white trousers dyed to better blend with the local terrain.  Mazari, a native plant was used to achieve the color called  khaki, also the Hindu word for “dust”.  Khakis were quickly adopted as standard issue military garb worldwide, and from there became part of menswear history.

In regard to chinos– I have been taught that a chino is actually a bit dressier in terms of fit and construction than a khaki– generally tends to be in lighter colors and weights too.  I typically don’t interchange the two terms– in my mind they are distinctly different animals.  But, that was my upbringing.  It might even be a regional thing.

2. Length

Length, and whether to roll-up cuffs or not  is all personal preference– but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.  Details says if they’re too long take them to a tailor.  Ok, just be specific about what you want though– or you may end up with a creepy little jean hem on your khakis, and that dog don’t hunt.  Go for a deep fold-over hem (J. Crew has mastered it), or just cut ’em off and let them fray naturally, if that’s how you roll.  And if you’re vertically challenged or just have shorter legs, beware of rolling your khakis too high– it will only accentuate what God didn’t give you.


khaki pant menswear fashionkhaki pant menswear fashion


3. Pockets

“Most khakis come equipped with four pockets, two in the front and two in the back. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to add some variation, try a pair with slant pockets, which are leaner, cleaner alternatives.”  –Details.

Ok, thanks for the pocket count– I have a few pairs that have a discreet coin/watch pocket added as well. And by slant pocket, I guess they mean the classic quarter-top pocket– the front pocket seam is slanted slightly forward of the side seam at the point where it meets the waistband, sometimes 1/4″ (hence the name) but most of the time more.  When the pocket is straight on-seam, it can tend to bow out and not lay flat– sometimes referred to as “cat ears”.  In general, don’t get too tricky with the front pockets.  Floating besom and continental pockets can come-off as fussy– depending on the style of pant and the look you’re going for.

4. Cut

“By now you know to avoid pleats. To up your game with khakis you’ll need to focus on fit. Straight-leg varieties are the most conventional and comfortable, while slim-cut versions, with a slightly low rise, are the most modern. Both types should skim your hips, and the fly should sit naturally.” –Details

And the fly should sit naturally???  They’re not much help here, aside from the tip on avoiding pleats.

Fullness and rise are the most important aspects of fit that beg your attention.  I like a cleaner fit, but don’t want to look like I’m wearing leggings.  Watch out for too much excess fabric in the seat and upper thigh– not flattering.  I’m usually most comfortable at 10″ at the front rise, give or take a little.  Again, personal preference and body type is key, so go with what looks and feels the best.

One of my favorite khakis ever is the Polo Ralph Lauren “Martin Pant” from the late 90s.  Not actually what you’d think of as a true, classic khaki– it had more of a jean fit, very clean, with great “J” slash front pockets.  The Martin Pant worked with skinny 60s prepster vibe, or could swing with Western attitude too.  I know others that pine for this golden oldie as well.  And since we’re being nostalgic, the old K-1 Cramerton cloth khaki was the best piece of product ever produced under the Dockers label.  Levi was attempting to create an iconic khaki in the same vein as the 501 jean, but I guess the market wasn’t up to speed at the time of the initial launch — also back in the 90s.


khaki pant menswear khaki pant menswear trouser


5. Material

Or should we say, fabric? Material sounds so synthetic and sterile– we’re talking pants, not car seats.

I will give them credit, Details is dead-on about staying with 100% cotton.  No nylon, lycra, or rayon please.  In general, I avoid anything and everything that says– Stretch or Easy Care.  Cotton twills are great year-round and lighter weight poplins are perfect for summer.  You can also try your hand at canvas, bedford cord, etc.

6.  Cuffs

We pretty much addressed this early on.  However, if you’re considering actual tailored cuffs, I would only do this if the pant is pleated (if that’s your thing) –and then you could very well have a pair of chinos on your hands.  A lot of people consider tailored cuffs to be dressier than plain bottoms, but in actuality they have a sporting origin.  The Duke of Windsor popularized the look by turning-up the bottoms of his khakis (called turn-ups, across the pond)– that’s how cuffed bottoms came into popularity.  And surely you’ve noticed that formal trousers and tuxedo bottoms are never cuffed– considered a faux pas, too casual and completely unacceptable.


dockers K-1 cramerton khaki

Dockers K-1 Khakis– Levi’s brilliant but failed attempt at creating another in-house icon like the 501 jean.


steve mcqueen gap khaki adjames dean gap khaki ad

Steve McQueen and James Dean starring posthumously in the classic Gap ” ______ wore khakis” ads.


Free & Easy magazine

For great spreads on iconic American product and looks, Japanese magazines like Free & Easy are a good bet.  Photo via 160over90



  1. Your feature is much more informative and entertaining than Retails Magazine.
    Fashion never tires of reintroducing The Khaki.

    But on a road trip across the USA, say in 1955, most casually dressed men would be wearing chinos.

    I cannot say that this is true today.

  2. “…or you may end up with a creepy little jean hem on your khakis, and that dog don’t hunt.” Hilarious, dead aim. This was fabulous, poignant and spot-on. Worth cataloging for the annals of khaki history.

  3. Bravo, Details has become a huge waste of time- and this was the best article in that issue! Gay porn twin burglars- WTF?! And besides, that was last summer’s news.

  4. Interesting, I always thought that khaki referred to the color, chino – the fabric and that it was a common misconception that the pants were called khakis. Kind of like referring to a pointed collar shirt as a button down shirt because it buttons down the front when the term actually applies to the collar.

  5. Enzo,

    You’re quite right- Chino is used to describe cotton twill fabric, and a style of pant. Khaki is a color, and a style of pant as well. Khakis are typically gutsier and more utilitarian in construction- truer to their military roots. Chinos are Khaki’s little brother- somewhat neutered of his military days, and comfortably morphed into a pedestrian sportswear staple.

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  7. All kinds of love for this. At first I wanted to be like, “wow, dude spent some time”, but then I quickly became stoked you did. More educational than say… an educational video.
    Very cool jp, very cool, indeed.

  8. Thanks Nick. I appreciate that.

    Looking back, I feel that I was a little hard on DETAILS. Sorry guys. I guess I felt that the khaki, a fashion icon, was not getting proper due.

  9. Very thorough write up. Thanks for this and agreed that the Details post adds zero value. I’ve had mixed success with khaki brands. I splurged for a pair of Mason’s at Barneys a few years back – love the feel and color but the euro style cut through the thighs and length is a little severe for my taste. Also went for the GI Lightweight Chino by Polo during an online sale – again love the feel and the “Mountain Khaki” color – but now I’m swimming in those. I’ve heard Save Khaki could be the answer to my problems. Any suggestions for a goto khaki/chino pant currently available? Not too baggy, not too slim, but just right..

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  11. Jamie,

    If you live in NYC I know a great tailor for pants. Bring him a pair you like the fit of and the one you want changed (ie the Polo GI chino) and he’ll remake the pant for around $20. I’ve had him remake every thing from wool flannels to stone chinos as JP would define them. Pretty great. Let me know and I’ll send you the info.

    • Enzo,

      While I am not Jamie, I still have become a fast fan of your advice … That said, I have to know who/ where this maestro of tailoring is. It is so hard to find pants that are JUST right! If you are will to share, please let me know how i can contact this tailor that can ‘remake’ pants, please.

      I would greatly appreciate any feedback you can offer.

      Thanks, in advance.


  12. Good tip, Mr. 13th & Wolf.

    I go to my archives for my favorite old khakis– the Martin Pant, the K-1, old thread-bare G.I. pants with the button-fly, old Polo military wide leg (incredible), old RRL khakis with Hollywood waistband… different fits for different rigs. RRL almost always has a great khaki in the line, or check out Buzz Rickson, their link is on the right under SHOPPING.

    Haven’t had to buy any new khakis (or chinos) myself in quite a while.

  13. It seems wrong, somehow, to see Steve McQueen in sandals (or “mandals” as my friends call them). In my head, he’s wearing those khakis with desert boots instead.

  14. Not to get on a new-media rant, but add me to the chorus. A nice improvement over the original article and I’d forgotten about the K-1 line. Dockers has never gotten much traction from me, but looking back they may have been ahead of the curve.

  15. When J. Crew launched their military inspired chino/khaki last year, I immediately thought of the Docker K-1.

  16. I’ve found that the khaki/chino debate also has regional aspects. Seems like most people in the South (myself included) call them khakis no matter the color,fit, or construction unless referring to a specific product. I like this write-up. I’m a J Crew Essential Chino Classic Fit man myself.

  17. JP,
    Great timing. A co-worker and I had a long discussion about this just two days ago. It’s one of those pet peeves when people call everything a khaki. What about the pinkish red “khaki”? Oh, you mean the nantucket red CHINO?? I sometimes want to tell them not to bother and just stick to wearing a nice double pleated dress slack. Thanks again!

  18. no, don’t feel bad. you gave details what they deserved, and we got what we deserved – a proper article. very useful, thank you.

  19. While I seem to generally associate the chino with that stone colored dressy cotton trouser, chinos can be of any color, where as khakis are just that– shades of neutrals from light to dark.

  20. Great article… Just took a new pair of brushed cotton Polos to the tailor for a good thick cuffing..

    Sizing wise, I like to have a spot on waist sized pair with tailored cuffs for ‘smart’ and two inch oversized pair rolled up mid ankle for sitting around.

  21. A great piece and it just goes to show how screwed up men’s mags are. You nailed it in your intro.

    I’m with Enzo on this one. I go to a tailor with cheap khakis and pay him $20 to tailor them. I have tried Bills (way overpriced), J Press (Berle) nail it for the dressier chino and LLBean’s no iron khaki ain’t bad for travel. Still, I have a huge supply of Duck Heads, most I paid no more than $10 a pr for, and I give them to Mr Peppino where he does a beautiful peg for twenty clams. It makes ’em mine and anyone elses.

  22. JP-

    You should check out the book “Khaki – Cut From the Original Cloth”. You can probably find it on Amazon. It has lots of great images of style icons from the past wearing Khaki.


  23. Great piece, the intro to the breakdowns to the actual information. Thanks.
    Details is very poor, and indeed a waist of time. This is a good example of what they should/could be doing.

    However, I have to say that pleated chinos or khakis can’t be totally ruled out. Mr. Dean has been documented in some pretty cool looking pleated pants. It’s much more difficult to pull off, but it’s possible and can look great.

  24. Ryan-

    I agree, there is a time for a pleatad khaki (or chino). In fact, pleats are actually back in, in terms of fashion.

    I do have a few requirements with pleats though-

    1. forward pleat.

    2. never stitched down- yuck.

    3. double pleat- no more, no less.

  25. JP, great write up. And thanks for the chino/khaki clarification. It absolutely drives me nuts when the two are used interchangeably. They are different animals.

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  32. I have two pairs of Docker K1 Chinos from the late 1990s and I agree Levis was a little ahead of the curve, pity. In hindsight I should have just bought 20 pairs and stockpiled them.

  33. Being female and a little heavier than I used to be, but still the goddess, I wear my khakis with pleats and cuffs. I prefer the lighter color. They are to be worn year round.

    I note that you have another article on pleats or no-pleats. If you have alittle tummy, put some pleat where it counts. If you really want to look well dressed, pleat the pants. They look all wrong without pleats on older adult people. If you are young and look like you could have been part of the British Invasion, music not 1812, then don’t pleat. But you will someday.

    • chino

      type of cotton twill cloth, 1943, from Amer.Sp. chino , lit. “toasted;” so called in ref. to its usual color. Earlier (via notion of skin color) chino also meant “child of one white parent, one Indian” (fem. china ).

      Chino comes from Chicano slang. Dickies have been popular for quite awhile.
      The terms(Khakis-Chinos) are interchangeable. While they may have both been regional terms, KHAKI supplanted CHINO as the most popular moniker when (the) GAP started pushing them( I’m 50 and remember when CHINO was the more common choice.)

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