The History of Khakis

British Lead Corp of Guides wearing khaki in the 1800's

British Lead Corp of Guides wearing khaki in the 1800s. By Richard Simkin. Image source here.

Last month I wrote about Bill’s Khakis, a brand of khakis and chinos beloved here in Fort Wayne, and well, the rest of America too. In researching the fascinating history of Bill’s Khakis, I discovered that the history of khakis in general, is equally fascinating. So, I thought I would share it with you. Here you go:

Khakis came to the Western world via the British Indian army in the 1800s. At the time, the standard British soldier uniform consisted of white trousers and a bright red, wool coat. The uniform, which earned them the famous nickname “red coats,” signified power and prestige, and successfully intimidated their enemies.

Old British infantry uniforms

British old infantry uniforms” by unknown. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

However, when Britain expanded into India in the 1800s, their sartorial assets became sweltering, itchy liabilities. Many soldiers were stationed in Punjab, India, where the temperature could reach a broiling 120 degrees. So, Sir Harry Burnett Lumsden, a British military officer stationed in Punjab, instructed his men to ditch their red coats and wear their lighter, gently-woven cotton pajama pants instead.

(Casual Friday, anyone?)

To better camouflage their white, pleated PJs, soldiers dyed them with mud and marazi (a plant native to Punjab), which resulted in a drab, beige hue perfect for blending in with their sandy surroundings.

They were called “khakis,” which either originates from the Hindi word धूल, which means, “dust,” or the Persian word khāk, which means, “soil.” Nobody knows for sure, but it’s obvious that both terms aptly describe the yellowish beige color of khakis.

And so, khakis were born.

21 years later, in 1867, the British army made khakis their official uniform, and another 31 years after that, in 1898, during the Spanish-American war, our own U.S. army adopted khakis as their official uniform.


Eventually, khakis made their way into civilian fashion, and today, are as quintessential to American fashion as jeans. While I don’t have stats on how many pairs of khakis are sold per year in the U.S. (I tried, though, and Google did not know the answer. Google did know, however, that Khaki Campbell ducks lay up to 320 eggs per year…), I’m sure it’s a whole heck of a lot.

Courtesy of Bill's Khakis

Courtesy of Bill’s Khakis

It makes sense why modern khakis are so popular. They can be worn with brown or black shoes, and be dressed up with a sport coat or down with a crisp polo. But, with so many khakis out there, finding the right pair can be tough. If you get it right, you can look as cool as Gael García Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries. BUT, if you get it wrong, you could end up looking like you work at Blockbuster. No bueno.

So, come in to Christopher James Menswear and we’ll help you pick out the right pair of khakis or chinos for you. Find us here.

See you soon.

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