"Everyone loves an original and, like denim, khakis have a rich and authentic history that has endured and evolved to reflect the needs and styles of each new generation," says Jim Tibbs, senior vice president of design for Dockers, the brand of khakis that claims to have made its way into seven out of 10 closets of American men.This year, Dockers has made a full circle and are bringing back the military styles of the early khakis with its K-1 style pant and iconic flat front pant. What goes around comes around, right? And usually makes a hit with the ladies, too. The classic has recently turned up on the runways in the collections of high fashion designers eager to update the style icon in short jackets, cropped pants, Bermuda shorts and slim skirts.
"Khakis will always be a fashion staple because they live in so many places in our closets and in our lives," says Lynn Downey, Levi Strauss archivist and historian. "You can wear them on the weekend, for a job interview, at your high-school reunion, on a date, at the beach, you name it."
And, of course, one of the reasons khakis have stood the test of time is their durability: "The Levi Strauss & Co. archives has a few pairs of our 1920s 'Levi Strauss Make' khakis that were found in mines and caves," adds Downey. "Someone's dressy khakis got ripped or stained so they were turned into work pants. Now that's versatility!"
Even the word "khaki" - a Hindi word meaning "dust-colored" - has come to stand for a whole classification of fashion in cotton twill fabrics in a host of colors today.
Here is a brief historical tour of the famous pant.
1846 - Created for British forces in colonial India, the twill pant has always held somewhat of a military cachet. (And its tan color was perfect for hiding dust and dirt!)
1906 - In the United States, khaki pants were first distributed by Levi Strauss & Co. who put them in their catalog. Khaki-colored cloth originally was positioned, like denim, as work wear.
1920s - Interest in khakis morphs into outdoor wear and riding wear.
1940s and 1950s - Khakis go to war and Rosie the Riveter wears them to work. After World War II, the perception of khakis shifts from blue collar to street wear. Returning GIs head to college, taking their khakis with them.
1960s - Casual twill pants - called cinchbacks, trimcuts, grizzly gab, continental spikes, to name a few - dominate the fashion scene.
1986 - Levi's Dockers are introduced to a new generation of khaki-wearing men.
1980s and 1990s - Khakis - now called "chinos" - become synonymous with casual Friday, unseating traditional trousers from New York to Silicon Valley.
2006 - The newest incarnations of khakis are promoted by designers for men and women in a host of innovative styles as well as twists on the military roots of the classic, century-old designs - multi-pocketed, distressed and redressed for a new generation of urban soliders.
Sharon Mosley is a former fashion editor of the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock and executive director of the Fashion Editors and Reporters Association.
Â© Copley News Service