Khaki is back. But more than that, the humble military-inspired staple of the ’80s preppy wardrobe – and hallmark of the ’90s casual Friday era that followed – is marching upmarket. This spring, dusty brown cotton twill has moved far beyond the beige pant, riding the Army/safari trend deep into designer ready-to-wear territory.
On the women’s spring-summer 2010 runways of #New-York and Europe were crisp safari dresses and lace-up ponchos at Celine, sleeveless military-officer-style shirt dresses at Chloé and a cornucopia of khaki colours at Alexander Wang, crafted into corsets, pieced alongside leather and heather gray knits in slouchy mixed-fabrication trousers and even shaped into a sexy, belly-button-baring dress.
For men, there were peak-lapel khaki jackets at D&G; sleeveless deconstructed shirts and baggy, lightweight trousers at Dior Homme; and multiple layered pieces in the Versace and John Galliano foreign legion-flavoured collections. Even the casual sportswear arena has revisited the tan trouser with fervour. Banana Republic, which long seemed bent on escaping its jungle safari roots, has returned to them in full force.
Simon Kneen, Banana Republic’s creative director and executive vice president pointed out that the latest take on the tan twill includes washing the fabric down to a super-soft hand, crinkling it up by adding metallic threads and offering a platoon of pieces, including military-flavoured jackets, skirts and pants.
Dockers, which helped make the pleated khaki the default casual pant of an entire generation, is trying to kick khakis up a notch. In early April, the Levi Strauss-owned brand launched a collection of khakis at LA’s American Rag boutique that bears the kind of details – abrasions, resin and dye treatments – and artisanal-style embellishments, such as like seam taping and expensive fabrics, that were once the sole province of super-premium denim.
“There is definitely a resurgence in khaki,” said Macy’s men’s fashion director Durand Guion. “And we’re just at the beginning of it… it’s going to be huge.”
Why the khaki comeback? And why now?
“We’ve been in denim for years,” Guion said. “It’s been as dark as it can be, as light as it can be, it’s had as much stuff on the back pocket as you could possibly put on a pocket, and it’s been deconstructed in every imaginable way. We’ve seen every extreme and back again.”
Though David Wolfe, creative director of the New York trend forecasting firm Doneger Group, agrees that most of khaki’s resurgence can be credited to denim reaching what he calls “an absolute oversaturation point”, he points out a couple of other factors that are helping give khaki its current kick in the pants. “The khaki colour is so right because we’re in such a heavy neutral [colour] cycle, right now,” he said.
“And it solves that male dilemma – it goes with everything. It’s a no-brainer bottom.”
And Wolfe points out one additional factor: The reputation khaki has earned among the stylish set as the de facto uniform of the uncool kids is now becoming part of its appeal. “There’s also a sort of anti-fashion element to it,” he said.