The best ways to wear khaki and the history behind this unsung hero

The best ways to wear khaki and the history behind this unsung hero

Khaki is the unsung hero in the color wheel. It goes with everything, can provide utilitarian needs for function, looks good on everyone and can be worn in any occasion. A popular choice in fashion for decades, let's take a closer look at the color hue we know as khaki, Technically from the brown color family we know as shades in buff, stone, tan, beige, sand and olive, it is often associated with nature and the outdoors, as it resembles the color of sand, dirt, and other natural materials. This can evoke feelings of calmness, tranquility, and relaxation. This omnipresent hue can sometimes we be taken for granted, cast off as a sideliner. If you don’t love khaki, hear us out. If you already love this hard working tone, then also read on deepen your affection. Its earthy, muted tone has made it a staple in military uniforms, workwear, and casual clothing alike for centuries.  As a beloved color in minimalist wardrobes we wanted to take a closer look at the color khaki. What does it mean? Where did it come front? We’ll explore the history of khaki in fashion and how to wear it in summer 2023.

The History of Khaki in Fashion

Khaki originated in India in the mid-19th century as a practical solution for British soldiers stationed in the region. The British army needed a uniform that was suitable for the hot, dusty conditions, and the light-colored cotton twill fabric they adopted soon became known as khaki, derived from the Hindi word for dust.

After its success in the military, khaki became popular among explorers and adventurers, who favored its durability and practicality. The color was also adopted by civilian workers, particularly in the US, where it became associated with manual labor and the working class.

In the 20th century, khaki began to move from practical workwear to casual fashion. Khaki pants became part of the Ivy League look in the early 20th century as a result of a combination of factors, including the influence of military style, the rise of collegiate sports, and the changing attitudes of young people towards fashion.

One of the key influences on the Ivy League look was the military. During World War I, American soldiers wore khaki uniforms made of lightweight cotton twill fabric, which was well-suited for the hot and dusty conditions of the battlefield. After the war, many soldiers returned home with their khaki uniforms, which they continued to wear as casual clothing. Going back to college these veterans popularized khaki as a color and fabric choice among young men.

Post WWII the GI Bill solidified the khaki pant movement into mainstream wear. Under the bill, veterans were eligible for tuition assistance to attend college. Returning soldiers flooded university and college campuses, bringing with them their versatile and cozy Khaki pants. In the 1950s and 60s, khaki pants became a staple of the preppy look, paired with Oxford cotton button downs, polo shirts and boat shoes. As the preppy look grew in popularity during the boom of the 50s and 60s, so did this new staple for men’s and women. After the war, women returning from service also brought home their khakis. In the 1950s, khaki capri pants and Bermuda shorts became popular summer staples for women, and they were often paired with white t-shirts or blouses and sandals. Women were quick to move the khaki color from utility to fashion Grace Kelly was known for her chic and sophisticated style, and often wore khaki pants with a simple blouse and ballet flats. During the 1970s, the US was struggling with inflation and unrest surrounding the Vietnam War.  Fashion became more relaxed and laid-back reflecting a rebellious attitude, and this was reflected in the way people wore khaki. Instead of chic ballet flats khakis were been more apt to be fringed with tie dye.  By the 80s, the US was rebounding financially and the term, “Yuppie,” was born. The style became more refined and polished. Men often wore khaki pants with blazers or sports coats, creating a sophisticated yet casual look. Women paired khaki pants with padded power shoulders, blouses or sweaters and finished the look with pumps. The pendulum swung back to the preppy days of Ivy Style. One of the biggest trends in the 1980s was the preppy look, which featured khaki pants as a key element. The preppy style was characterized by clean lines, simple silhouettes, and a mix of classic and trendy pieces.

In the 1990s, khaki made a comeback as part of the grunge trend, worn with combat boots and oversized shirts.  The early 2000s saw a resurgence of interest in military-inspired fashion, which helped to bring khaki back into the mainstream. Designers such as Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors incorporated khaki into their collections, often pairing it with other military-inspired details such as cargo pockets, brass buttons, and epaulets. In 2015 controversial and attention seeking Kanye West launched his clothing line, Yeezy, debuting during New York Fashion Week in February of that year. This collection may be the biggest sleeper influence in the resurgence of earth tones. The collection included oversized sweatshirts, distressed denim, and military-inspired jackets, launched with a neutral palette incorporating earthy tones like khaki hues. He has said these colors reflects his interest in minimalist design and functionality. Since then we have seen Khaki, stone, tan, beige, olive, sand, taupe, camel you name it all rise to prominent rank in our wardrobes.

Today, khaki remains a popular choice in fashion all year round for its chic and neural benefits. It is neutral tone that pairs well with a range of other colors and other khaki hues for a sophisticated monochrome look.


Model and Influencer Summar wearing the Multitasker Pants and Brilliant Trench Coat in Stone and the Signature Tunic Shirt in White


Tips: How to Wear Khaki 

There are many ways to incorporate khaki into your summer wardrobe. Here are some ideas for how to wear this versatile color:

Khaki is a versatile and classic neutral color that can be worn in a variety of ways. Here are some tips on how to wear the color khaki that stands the test of time:

  1. Pair with white: One of the most classic ways to wear khaki is to pair it with white. A white t-shirt like our Coolest T-Shirt or blouse with khaki pants or shorts is a timeless look that's perfect for summer. Add some sandals or sneakers to complete the outfit.
  2. Mix with prints: Khaki is a neutral color that pairs well with a variety of prints. Try mixing khaki pants with a floral blouse or a stripe shirt like our Remix Tunic or more casual with a striped t-shirt like our Iconic Boatneck Tee for a nod to Parisian Chic. 
  3. Go monochromatic: An all-khaki outfit can be a chic and sophisticated way to wear this color. Try pairing khaki pants with a khaki trench or a khaki dress with khaki shoes. You can add a pop of color with your accessories or stick with a neutral color scheme.
  4. Layer with denim: Denim is another classic fabric that pairs well with khaki. Try layering a denim jacket over a khaki dress or wearing a denim shirt with wide leg khaki pants like our Multitasker Pants. This is a great way to add some texture and dimension to your outfit.
  5. Add some metallics: Khaki is a great neutral to pair with metallics like gold, silver, or rose gold. Try wearing our soft tailored drapey khaki pants with a gold tank top.  The metallics will add some glamour and shine to your outfit.
  6. Experiment with different shades: Khaki comes in a variety of shades. Don't be afraid to experiment with different shades of khaki to find what works best for you. For example, a sand color khaki may be more complimentary on certain skin tone than others, A darker olive khaki may inspire you to wear it more often than a yellow based tan hue. Khaki shorts, skirts, dresses, pants, jackets, sweatshirts, leggings in jersey knits or cotton poplin wovens, there are plenty of ways to incorporate this classic color into your closet.
See ROSE Go models wearing out soft Multitasker Pants with Brilliant Trench, both in stone Khaki. Plus size fashion.

From its origins as a practical military uniform to its current status as a summer staple, khaki is a versatile color that has a long history in fashion. Khaki has a proven story, past, love and staying power as a versatile and classic color that can be worn in many different ways. Whether you prefer a simple and classic look or something more bold and experimental, there are many ways to incorporate khaki into your wardrobe.



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