Skip to main content

Khaki isn’t boring – and we can prove it

The pants you think are out of style are still as cool as they've always been

Man in khakis with coffee
Ben White / Unsplash

Men have been wearing khaki pants for nearly two centuries, and even though men’s fashion tends to change, these staples have endured. About 180 years ago, a British soldier in Punjab got sick of sweating in his heavy wool jacket and trousers, so he traded them in for local lightweight cotton. The looser cut and dyed fabric were dubbed khakis, and we’ve been wearing them ever since.

Nowadays, they can feel a little like old-fashioned style, which makes sense given they’re coming up on the bicentennial mark. Many men are beginning to feel like they need to retire their khaki pants and opt for something different, but we’re here to tell you that couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only are they still useful, but these pants are as cool today and as much a part of men’s style as they were in 1846.

Man in khakis with sneakers
Samuel Vrba / Pexels

Khaki pants: Is khaki a color or a pair of pants?

The answer is yes. Technically, khaki pants got their name from the color they were dyed in when the British first started wearing them in the hotter weather. The color of khaki is light brown, or tan, with a hint of yellow. The hue allowed the British soldiers to blend into their backgrounds in India, sparking the name that means “dusty.”

Now, just because it’s a color doesn’t mean it wasn’t just adopted into our lexicon as pants. The original pants were made from cotton with a twill weave that became truly utilitarian in nature. Nowadays, any pants that are thicker cotton twill get hit with the name khakis. So, is khaki a color? Yep. Is khaki a pair of pants? Also yes.

Two mnn in khakis
Mhrezaa / Unsplash

Do khakis come in different colors?

The word “khaki” comes from the Urdu word for dust, which describes the tan color obtained from the area’s native Mazari plant used to dye the fabric. As a result, many feel like that’s the only color available, but that couldn’t be further from the truth; khakis come in virtually any color you can imagine. They may have started out only in tan, but they have expanded exponentially since then. From darker colors, like black and charcoal, to lighter colors like blue and white, you can find any color of khaki you need for your wardrobe.

What defines this style of pants isn’t so much the color as the fabric. These men’s pants are lighter than the heavy wool they replaced, but heavier than what most people call chinos nowadays. While they are both cotton twill, the khaki is a heavier fabric, and therefore, more durable than the lighter-weight chino.

Close-up of men's khakis
Vlady Nykulyak / Unsplash

How do you wear khakis?

Here’s where it can get a little divisive on how or when to wear khaki pants. They were officially adopted by the British military in 1884 and have been considered work pants ever since. Their durability makes them more comfortable, more breathable, and more durable for the demanding tasks you have ahead of you. Mowing the lawn, changing your oil, or simply doing some spring cleaning can be the perfect time to wear those khakis you have in the closet.

However, that’s changed slightly over the last few decades. At some point in the last few generations, men began adopting khaki pants as a dressier option than denim. They protect their khakis from seeing harder work and try to keep them nice so they can wear them with sport coats to their daughter’s dance recital or graduation. The truth is that khakis and chinos have been muddled in the last few years. They are interchangeable with some brands, and some even call them khaki chinos. Here’s how the khaki has changed and how it fits into the menswear world today.

Dress pants made of wool can be either heavy or lightweight, depending on the season. They are reserved for the moments in your life when you could wear a suit but decide to go with a sport coat. Chinos are the ultimate in casual pants that aren’t denim. Chinos have a slimmer profile and pair well with sneakers, boots, or drivers. Khaki pants bridge the gap between the two. They are heavier and have a wider profile than chinos, but they’re not quite dressy enough for big events, so they can be used to dress up a jacketless denim look or dress down a dress shirt.

You don’t have to wear them to work, and you don’t have to wear them with your sports coat. But what makes them as cool as they were in Punjab nearly 200 years ago is that you could wear them for both.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark McKee
Mark is a full-time freelance writer and men's coach. He spent time as a style consultant and bespoke suit salesman before…
An iconic Tag Heuer watch is back, and we couldn’t be happier
The TAG Heuer Carrera Skipper will be the flagship in a series of maritime models
TAG Heuer Skipper watches

TAG Heuer, renowned for its long history in sports timepieces, has an illustrious legacy in various high-level sports, including motor racing, skiing, horse racing, and the Olympic Games. Of course, many horology lovers will know the brand more for its pop culture status, having appeared on the wrist of Jason Bourne, and making a prominent appearance during an episode of Breaking Bad. However, it was the world of high-level yachting that gave birth to one of its most beloved and distinctive chronographs — the iconic "Skipper."After a 40-year hiatus, the Skipper is back; with its brilliant colors and distinctive design, it appeals to both sailing enthusiasts and watch collectors.
A nod to its sailing heritage
After making its debut in 1968, the Skipper immediately gained popularity among both experienced and novice sailors. The earliest models of the Skipper were based on the renowned Carrera chronograph, even if later iterations used the Autavia casing. Today, TAG Heuer pays homage to its maritime past by drawing inspiration for the new generation Skipper from the glassbox Carrera, which was just released.

In sailing regattas when time is of the essence, the TAG Heuer Carrera Skipper's readability is unparalleled. A bezel would have prevented the glassbox from extending all the way to the case's edge, obscuring the clever "curved flange" display and the strategically positioned chronograph counters. This watch performs admirably in all lighting circumstances, enabling sailors to monitor the vital "pre-start" period before the start of the race.

Read more
Can’t get your hands on a Rolex? We may know why they’re so hard to come by
Everyone's favorite watch brand can be hard to source - here's why
Arm with Rolex Submariner on it

Whether you watch movies, listen to music, or read books, you have likely heard that Rolex watches are the pinnacle of stylish luxury in men's watches. Gorden Gecko sported a Rolex when he became the picture of wealth on Wall Street. Elvis Presley got one of only 100 Rolex King Midas watches for selling out the Houston Astrodome for six straight days. The brand has always been the gold standard in men's luxury.

However, that may not be the case any longer, as the brand seems to be losing its grip on the watch pyramid of superiority. 

Read more
Men’s style: 10 fashion influencers to follow who can help elevate your look
These 10 men's fashion influencers have massive style (and Instagram follower counts)
man looking at closet

New job with a different dress code? Just leaving your house to go grocery shopping? Just throwing on “any old suit” or stepping out in the same outfit you just worked out in won’t do for the fashionable man.
However, you may find yourself in a massive men's style rut. Though men’s fashion can often be boiled down to “just change ties,” you may like being more creative with your look. It's a fun way to show individuality and stand out in a sea of people following the "just-change-ties" framework.
Enter fashion influencers. No, they’re not just for feminine style. Many men’s fashion influencers have racked up huge followings for their regular, accessible style inspiration. Browsing just a few of their snaps will help you realize that you do, in fact, have something to wear.

Mariano Di Vaio
Username: @marianodivaio
This 33-year-old Italian blogger has served as a brand ambassador for a who’s who of designer brands, including Dolce & Gabbana and Hugo Boss. His feed is curated with styles for multiple occasions, from casual monochrome tracksuits with white sneakers to sharp-but-classy blue-checkered suit jackets. He’s Italian, so you can catch him sporting head-to-toe white after Labor Day without care, much to the delight of his 6.7 million followers.

Read more