The Khaki Spectrum

The conversation around khaki pants seems to have lost all momentum.  I don’t know about you, but I sure haven’t heard much.  Maybe it’s the influx of denim, or the popularity of the five-pocket style of cotton pants.  It could be the general relaxation of office dress codes.  Maybe it’s the misconception of a lack of viable options.  There have been some great khaki brands that have faded away, as well as some khaki brands that use to be great make a sub-par return.  There are quite a few brands of khakis that have been producing outstanding pants for years, and know what they are doing.  Don’t be afraid to go with the tried and true.  Think about Levi’s.

Khakis should be tailored just like any other garment.  If you are planning on wearing them for more dressy occasions, then get them tailored with or without a cuff (1.75″ minimum) with a slight to no-break, and tapered to 7.5-8″ wide.  For boots, go with a full break and and 8.5-9.5″ opening.  Middle of the road khakis go right in the middle of the road.  You get it.

To care for your khakis, be sure to check the tags on khakis, as some are dry-clean only.  If so, NO STARCH.  Khakis are supposed to be soft, and starch actually hurts more than it helps.  If they can be washed, do so on cold and hang them to air dry.  A good ironing will turn up the dressiness of a pair of khakis.  Don’t know how to do it?  There are plenty of YouTube videos that show how to iron a pair of khakis.

Khaki pants will NEVER go away.  They are an integral part of the preppy uniform, and they are the go-to for business casual.  Pledges love them, and sometimes hate them.  After a few years they become disposable (or shorts), but you’ll be hard pressed to find a more comfortable pair of pants after they are broken in.  The style(s) of khaki pants live in a spectrum.  There are some that would be considered dress khakis, that go with dress shoes and loafers, all the way to more utility khakis that go with boots, and the pants that fit in the middle.  I have experience with all of these brands, and ranked them into these segments:

From top left:

1. Incotex Slim Fit Cotton Chinos:  You’ll be hard pressed to find a better-fitting pair of pants.  Incotex is the top of the heap…you get what you pay for.  They aren’t cheap, but they fit as well as anything else on the market.  Need to dress up a business casual wardrobe?  Add a pair of Incotex.
2. Sid Mashburn Garment-Dyed Sport Trouser:  Besides the fit, the best part about Sid’s stuff is that it alterations are included.  These sport trousers, along with his canvas pants, are a dressy cut with some tough fabric.  They look like a million bucks, and break in very nicely.  After you fray the hems, cut them into shorts.
3. Epaulet Rivet Chinos:  Epaulet is that brand that makes you cooler than you deserve.  They do such good work…  Their rivet chinos are legendary, and should be worn like trousers.  Dress shoes and loafers.  Pressed only.
4. Orvis Ultimate Trim Fit Khakis:  Orvis doesn’t get the credit they deserve for their Ultimate Khakis.  They recently released their trim fit option, which is perfect for a tailored look.  They wash well and iron even better.  Next time you are shopping for khakis, don’t sleep on these.
5. Bonobos Graham Slackers Washed Chinos:  Bonobos knows what they are doing.  The plaid inside the pocket is a personal preference…some are into it, and some aren’t.  Considering how many pairs of these I see walking around (and that I own a couple pairs), they are doing something right.
6. Bill’s Khakis M3 Vintage Twill Chinos:  Bill’s Khakis have been around for quite some time, but their khakis were cut like MC Hammer pants.  They released their M3 for those of us that don’t want to wear parachute pants.  They are cut much more trim, and have a lower rise that looks much more tailored than their M1 or M2 options.  They are what I would consider the absolute middle of the road khakis.  They go with everything.  loafers, boots, running shoes, or barefoot.  They iron really well, but look fine unpressed.  High value proposition.
7. J. Crew 484 Khaki:  Standard.  They make these with a bunch of different fabrics and colors.  They iron fine, and have a good price point (because you can usually find them at a deep discount).  Yawn, but you get it.
8. Onward Reserve Piedmont Pants:  Onward did a great job with their khakis, especially for those that are looking for more of a classic fit.  These are great ironed with a pair of drivers or your favorite boots.  Tailgate approved.
9. Apolis Standard Issue Utility Chinos:  ‘Utility’ is a bit of a misnomer here, as these are anything but.  Ironed up, these fit in the top five (in terms of dressed up), but their sweet spot is hung dry and worn like jeans.
10. Grown & Sewn Independent Slim Khakis:  These folks don’t get too much play in the #menswear world, and I don’t know why.  They are excellent pants, and their slim fits are great with loafers and running shoes, and just wide enough to fit over a pair of boots.
11. Patagonia Straight Fit Duck Pants:  I don’t think ‘iron’ and ‘Patagonia’ go together, but I could be convinced otherwise.  These are duck pants, and should be worn as such.  Use these as a boot-first option, but don’t rule out ironing.  I may grab a pair and let you know how it goes.
12. L.L. Bean Signature Washed Canvas Cloth Pants:  Given the price point, these are a must-have.  Never iron them.  Wear them until they fray.  Perfect with Bean Boots and work boots.

What did I miss?  What are your go-to khakis?

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  • Brad09/16/2016 - 8:44 AM

    Bill’s last the longest. I have a few pairs that are worn weekly and are 8+ years old with plenty of trips to the cleaners.ReplyCancel

  • b.09/16/2016 - 9:18 AM

    Okay –

    You forgot Unis Gio and the RRL Officer Chino. Unis Gio is great and the fabric irons wonderfully with a perfect leg opening. I think their pockets are a little deep and I wish for the price point they were selvege. RRL Officer Chino (there are a few variations) are great, but require tapering to look correct. Detail wise,they are wonderful and look like something that you would discover deadstock in an Army Surplus store. I am also going to sing the praises of Brave Star’s Tapered Selvage chino. The craftsmanship isn’t up to par with Epaulet or the higher-end brands – but – they are under $100 for selvege chinos with a button fly and waist curtain. The color on the website was not exactly accurate and they actually look much more like the Unis Gio colorways. Button fly and flap pockets. The only problemo is that they are often sold out – but totally worth your $100.ReplyCancel

  • Drew09/16/2016 - 10:31 AM

    I’ve become a huge fan of J. Press cotton twill trousers — and the new J. Press Blue version — since moving up North. They’re designed to be let out or let in. I more of a fan of the standard Press khakis with a regular rise — they sit right at the waist, and off the rack they don’t have the sag I’ve found in a lot of other khaki brands like Bill’s. The Blue model is trim without looking ridiculous. They’re both made of great fabric and hold a crease like nobody’s business, and they have a French fly and a split waistband, which a lot of chinos don’t.ReplyCancel

  • BJ09/16/2016 - 10:35 AM

    What happened to Jack Donnelly Khaki pants – they seem to have gone offline?ReplyCancel

  • Drew09/16/2016 - 10:58 AM

    Toward the casual end of the spectrum would be the original RT-7 pants by Southern Tide. Somewhere between a 5-pocket and a true chinos but they are great with loafers, drivers, bean boots, or even chaco’s in a certain situation. Great with a tshirt and tennis shoes running weekend errands or tucked in to go out.ReplyCancel

  • Steven Bremer09/16/2016 - 2:15 PM

    I recently got in to Taylor Stitch chinos. They are well made and the fit for me is great. At under $100 they are pretty great.ReplyCancel

  • AJC09/16/2016 - 9:50 PM

    Jack Donnelly’s hybrid fit are easily my favorites. Easy to dress up, easy to dress down, very well made, not as expensive as some brands that give you less for more, great customer service, and made in the USA. What more can you ask for?ReplyCancel

  • Daniel09/18/2016 - 1:07 AM

    No mention of Dockers? No idea why #menswear gets so sniffy about cotton twill trousers, but I’m quite fond of my Dockers – K-1’s, Field Khakis, etc.

    They’re readily available, quite sturdy, and can be picked up in a non-violent shade for a reasonable price. Let’s not overthink this.ReplyCancel

  • Joel Vau09/18/2016 - 12:05 PM

    One note to add is that “khakis” come in slight variations of only one color, khaki. Signs in Macy’s denoting blue or black or bone colored Dockers as khakis are ridiculous. Call those imposters chinos.

    Second, a very nice pair, very low priced, for business and especially travel wear are made by Izod. They have just a slight bit of stretch, come in both flat and pleated and look great wtih a blazer and pennies once I take them to the tailor to have them cuffed.

    Also, to be true trad or preppy, the pockets must be on-seam, not slanted. They just look better. Dockers are always slanted which is a reason to avoid them.ReplyCancel

  • Dutch Uncle09/18/2016 - 2:16 PM

    Lands’ End, period.ReplyCancel

  • Nathan Scripps09/20/2016 - 5:58 PM

    I’d add UNIS Gio to this list. I have several pairs – one in proper Khaki, the others a variety of colors – and they wear in beautifully in the course of a year. The thigh fade on the brighter colors and pocket edge slight fraying are signs that you are hitting a sweet spot with them…

    Once the thigh fade and/or pocket fray goes from subtle to obvious, I pull out the scissors and have a new pair of shorts.

    NOTE: I have 8 or so pairs of UNIS Gio’s made in the USA (some have since become shorts) and two recent paris made in Portugal. The Portugal line seem to use slightly lighter weight lining materials that makes a small difference in fit… not sure how it changes longevity.

    Oh… and Incotex really is hard to beat if you can pony up the price.ReplyCancel

  • Anthony Orzano10/13/2016 - 7:16 AM

    I ordered a pair of the trim fit orvis chinos on your recommendation. I ordered my natural waist but they are still very baggy. Does anyone know if they can be let out if you order a smaller waist size?ReplyCancel

  • OhioHead10/23/2016 - 8:21 PM

    What about Peter Millars?

    Not too baggy, not slim, just right……super soft and easily hemmable.ReplyCancel

  • Jeremy Davis10/26/2016 - 5:56 PM

    I’m between the Sid Mashburns, Epaulet Rivets and Bill’s M3s. Looking for something fit for work and casual. Anyone have thoughts?ReplyCancel

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