by: Michelle Wamego
It was the British colonial soldiers in Peshawar, Pakistan, in the 1840’s that first made the fabric, and coined the name “khaki”. The soldiers’ uniforms were traditional white smock top and pajama like pants and turban, which in the desert climate were perfect for comfort, but not for blending into the surrounding Indian landscape. So the soldiers dyed their uniforms in mulberry juice. This juice produces a soft yellowish-brown color. The word khaki comes from the Hindustani word for dust, khak. The “camouflaged” new colored fabric was subsequently adopted by both British and Indian troops in the area. The original cloth was a tightly woven twill cloth of linen or cotton. Even today most khaki pants are made of a twill cloth in varying shades of light yellowish-brown to tan; and are widely accepted as business casual.
Another term we pin on these office “work-horses”, is the word “Chino” which comes from the fabric’s original point of manufacture in China; and was a slang term for the all-cotton twill pants those soldiers first wore as desert-camo.
So now this weekend when you don your most comfortable pants (next to those faded Levi’s) you will be able to appreciate the ingenuity of those soldiers 170 some odd years ago that were only trying to stay alive.