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–
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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 Khakis– Levi’s brilliant but failed attempt at creating another in-house icon like the 501 jean.
Steve McQueen and James Dean starring posthumously in the classic Gap ” ______ wore khakis” ads.
For great spreads on iconic American product and looks, Japanese magazines like Free & Easy are a good bet. Photo via 160over90