The latest street-style staple has officially arrived: khaki pants. With a sartorial presence everywhere from the biggest fashion blogs to the streets outside men’s Fashion Week, khaki pants for men and women might not seem like a particularly new idea at first glance – but this time round, they're being worn differently than ever before. The contemporary khaki pants trend is a little bit preppy, a little bit athleisure and a little big grunge – we're intrigued.
Straight-laced civvies to street-style stars
First introduced into the English language in 1848 when khaki trousers became part of the military uniform, khaki, meaning ‘soil-coloured’, is a loanword from Hindi (but luckily it's come to signify more style and less soil). After WW2, civilians took to wearing them as part of the smart-casual dress code required of certain events. Today, khakis and chinos have become part of a standard uniform for quintessentially English men in the public eye. Women too – it’s not unusual to see the upper echelons of polite society wearing a pair of women’s khaki pants and pumps to a polo match.
However, there's also been an underground movement (we may be exaggerating slightly) pushing to reinvent the classic khaki pants. The seemingly all-knowing Leandra Medine may have been one of the first to point out this burgeoning trend. In December 2013, the fashion blogger waxed lyrical on the brilliance of khakis. Channelling a heady combination of Jenna Lyons and Katherine Hepburn, Leandra wore her high-waisted versions with a Marc Jacobs jacket featuring striking embroidery and some studded metallic Louboutins. A year later, Fear Of God founder Jerry Lorenzo perfected a laid-back aesthetic by matching a tapered pair to long grey layers from his own label.
A sporting chance
With sartorial stars (with such large followings) as Leandra and Jerry championing the khaki pants trend, it wasn’t long until it started making waves on the pavements elsewhere, too. Female street-style stars embraced an androgynous look, pairing slouchy and oversized trousers with 90s skater-style chains and tops with sporty cuts. Their male counterparts took the look one step further, opting for camouflage print khaki pants. Worn turned up and with sports jackets, the seemingly casual trousers became pin-sharp and ready for action.
It was no different on the catwalks. For the label's SS14 menswear show, Ami Alexandre Mattiussi trousers had a distinctly military inflexion, featuring camo prints and shots of tangerine and chartreuse. When Mattiussi revisited the khaki pants trend again for AW16 he opted for minimalism, elongated silhouettes and an inky colour palette. With a safari theme running throughout the womenswear SS17 shows, khakis were a predominant mainstay on many catwalks. Marni trousers, in conceptual shapes and washed-out shades, were a season highlight, offering a striking balance of utilitarian function and abstract form.
Normcore vs. maximalism
When it comes to wearing khaki trousers, there are two definitive avenues to follow: 90s normcore or Leandra Medine-style maximalism. Leandra has taken to her blog many times since 2013 to rave about khakis. To pick a standout example, one post features cropped, wide-legged Rosie Assoulin trousers with a pleated skirt, oversized men's white T-shirt knotted at the waist and Charlotte Olympia heels. Indeed, khakis with outsized and unexpected silhouettes have been joyously embraced on the catwalks – in particular, Chloé trousers for Pre-Fall 17 echoed these loosely flowing lines. Women’s khaki pants by Tommy Hilfiger took a different direction; raw-edged crops were embroidered to fit the all-American theme of the fashion house's SS17 show.
When it comes to normcore and the khaki trend, menswear has it nailed. For SS16, Pablo Coppola of Bally embraced an aesthetic of laid-back luxe with knit beanies, leather backpacks and colourful sunglasses. The collection's showstopper piece? A khaki boilersuit featuring multiple pockets and oversized buttons.
Band of Outsiders toned the look down somewhat for its AW17 show, opting for straight-leg men’s khaki pants and longline blazers. Silhouettes were slightly exaggerated for Raf Simons, with models styled in oversized 90s knitwear and typography-adorned T-shirts.
Khaki pants have come a long way since their practical military background. Almost a grassroots endeavour with street-style stars influencing and inspiring designers to rediscover the classic look, the khaki pants trend seems here to stay. Whether cropped, embroidered or sculptural, this style has the potential to become a long-lasting wardrobe staple for laid-back dressing.