For most guys, their go-to pants are jeans. They’re comfortable, easy to wear, and go with most everything. But I’d like to suggest that there’s another kind of pant that’s even more versatile and comfortable than denim: khakis.
For many men, khakis are saddled with some unfortunate associations; perhaps they remind you of the school uniform you used to wear, or your mom forcing you to get semi-dressed up for church. Or they likely make you think of office managers and other cubicle-dwelling Dilbert types.
It’s true that as workplace dress codes began loosening up during the 90s, a lot of guys made baggy, pleated khakis and polo shirts their default “Casual Friday” get-up, and these unflattering ensembles left a lot to be desired.
But the history of khakis goes back a lot longer than that, and their origins couldn’t be farther from the sedentary. Khakis started out as the uniform of the fighting man – cool, comfortable, rugged pants that could look sharp, allow for mobility, and hold up on many an adventure. Today, khakis retain the potential to be both handsome and functional, as long as you pick the right style and wear them well. How to do that is what we’ll be discussing today.
Khakis are every bit as easy to wear as jeans, and offer several benefits over denim: whereas jeans are stiff, tightly woven, heavy, and hot in the summer, khakis are soft, lightweight, comfortable, and cooler. Khakis are also more versatile than jeans; while both kinds of pants can be worn with everything from a t-shirt to a sports coat, with their neutral color, set-in pockets, smoother fabric, and straightforward, tailored style, khakis will allow you to go another step up in the formality of your outfits. You can wear khakis for chores around the house or a walk in the woods, or to the office or on a date. You can even sleep comfortably in your khakis, whereas no one would ever want to sleep in their jeans!
Khakis are all-season wear, though they’re especially essential in the spring and summer as the temperatures start to rise. Pretty much anytime you’d wear shorts, you’d look a lot sharper in khakis, and won’t be that much hotter. Khakis are thus an easy way to upgrade your style in the warmer months.
Khakis are relatively affordable as there’s not much difference in quality between middle and higher-end brands. They’re also generally durable and last a long time. Functional, comfortable, hard-wearing, and good-looking: it’s hard to go wrong with khakis – especially if you wear them right.
How to Wear Khakis With Style
Fit/Style. Khakis need not be high-waisted, pleated, or baggy. Instead, opt for a more modern style: flat front, with a straight leg, or a little taper from thigh to ankle, and an all-around more fitted and tailored look. The pants should have a mid-rise fit that sits around your hips rather than up over your belly button. And while khakis are meant to be a little roomier than other pants, you don’t want them to be baggy. They should offer a look that’s both relaxed and athletic.
Pockets. A pair of khakis should have four pockets — two in the front and two in the back. A small horizontal coin pocket is an acceptable addition on more casual khakis. Pockets on the sides turn them into cargo pants, which should only be worn if you’re actually engaging in tactical/outdoors pursuits. Cargo pockets add unnecessary bulk to your trousers, giving you a less sharp and streamlined look.
Wear. Khakis age well, and actually look better the more broken-in they get, hitting their peak handsomeness right before they start falling apart. So for casual clothes, it’s okay for them to show a little wear and tear — a few scars and some fraying on the cuffs add character. A little wrinkling is also natural and part of khakis’ insouciant look; under no circumstances should you iron a crease into them. When wearing khakis in a more professional setting, stick with a crisper and more unblemished pair (though you still shouldn’t iron a crease into them).
Color. Khakis come in just about every color these days, but the most traditional is drab brown. I’d recommend getting a darker brown, rather than a school uniform-esque golden wheat, as it’s sharper and more versatile (it’ll look appropriate in both winter and summer). Navy also looks very classic, and pairs well with a sport coat or button-down shirt. Beyond those two, you’re entering more fashion-forward territory; you need to know what you’re doing to pull off fire engine red chinos.
Length/Cuffs/Rolling. Tailored cuffs add a little weight to the bottoms of your pants, look a bit more formal and conservative, and draw attention to your shoes. Avoid cuffs if you’re on the shorter side, however, as they make your legs look shorter. Generally, I’d recommend going cuffless, as it’s the most versatile style.
Cuffs or no cuffs, khakis should either just graze the tops of your shoes or drape 1-2 inches over, creasing a little at the hem. When wearing khakis in more professional settings, err on the side of a little longer. But they should never excessively bunch around the ankles.
If you khakis are too long, you can make your own cuff by rolling them up, which has become trendy in recent times, and is something you can try if you’d like to show off your socks/shoes more, or simply keep your pants out of the wet/dirt. Rolling works best with slimmer fit khakis and those that are tapered (as opposed to boot-cut or a baggy wide-leg). For a tighter roll, roll once, pinch the fabric at the seam and fold it over, and roll it up again. Try a 1 to 1.5-inch cuff, doubled – too many rolls and it’ll look like you’re going digging for clams.
Dress them up, dress them down. You can wear khakis with everything from a t-shirt to a sports coat or blazer.
When going for a more formal look, choose a pair made with a fine, lightweight twill and trouser-like tailoring – a leg that tapers to the ankle, and possibly features details like a tab closure and cuffs. When dressing up khakis with a blazer or sports coat, opt for one that is soft and unstructured, to match the casual nature of your pants.
Khakis match best with more casual, less structured, soft-shouldered jackets (think cotton, linen, corduroy). The more structured and formal a jacket is, the more it calls for a proper pair of dress trousers. When dressing up your khakis, pair them with a leather belt, and leather boots, loafers, wingtips, or suede oxfords.
For a more casual look, choose khakis that are made with a thicker, more rugged fabric and have more a relaxed, utilitarian, militaristic style. Casual khakis pair well with sweaters, striped and solid t-shirts, polos, henleys, and denim or chambray button-downs. For footwear, throw on some leather boots, chukkas, canvas sneakers, or boat shoes. Wearing those last two options sockless with your khakis makes for a great summertime look.
I’ve hope you’ve come to see that khakis shouldn’t be pigeonholed as Casual Friday office pants. Strong and rugged, cool and comfortable, sharp and versatile, they’re date night pants, travel pants, errand pants – action pants and all-around adventure pants. Give ‘em a try and they just might become your new go-to pants.