By Harlan Yaffe,
Fashion Editor for Todo Ahora
April 24, 2003

The latest slew of show stopping Gap ads poses a simple question to the toe-tapping viewer: are you a jean or a khaki?  For me, the answer is easy: I am a khaki all the way.  My love affair with these golden slacks has spawned a section in my closet that doubles as a timeline for the fashions of my adult life. From wide legs to boot cuts, flat fronts to triple pleats and amishly Spartan to overly detailed, each trend has been preserved on a hanger.  While every one of them was, for a time, the temporary winner in my perennial search for the perfect pair, the reason I save them is not one of sentiment, but practicality: someday, they will be perfect again. My beloved tan cloth has survived every fickle cycle of fashion since men still had hats to tip to the corseted ladies who passed them by to the hip hoppers in the new Gap ads, sporting navel rings and attitude. 

Often thought of as American as the proverbial apple pie, in truth, khakis are as Indian as chicken Vindaloo.  In 1846, Sir Harry Lumsden, commanding an English troop stationed in India, preferred the comfort and coolness of his night clothes to the heavy white cloth of his uniform. Lumsden dyed his white pajamas with the plant extract "mazari" to create a new uniform not only more suitable to the punishing sun of the Punjabi climate, but to match with the local terrain as well. Thus the birth of khaki, the Hindu word for "dust". As a bi-product, Lumsden discovered that the new khaki pants were more suitable in battle than the white trousers issued by the government since it made his troops less visible.  Blending in was good for soldiers.  Subsequent military visionaries, adding and subtracting various colors to match the local landscape, refined this technique.  No wonder khakis go with everything.  If they had not sparked the idea and paved the way for the camouflage pants as we know them today, Johnny might have come marching home again looking like the Good Humor man gone postal.

Khakis went with the British troops from India to the Kaffir War in South Africa in 1851, and after the Sudan Wars and Afghan Campaign of 1878 were finally adopted in 1884 as the official uniform for Her Majesty's army. That same year khaki-color dye was patented.


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