Khaki, a Continual Reinvention

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Abstract

Khaki has permeated culture on many different levels. It is associated with the military, casual wear, and certain lifestyles that include “preppy,” the world traveler, and 1960s protestors. But what exactly is khaki? Is it a color, a fabric, or a cut of clothing, or something more? The word “khaki” is a derivation of the Persian genitive word for “dust-colored.” This color has not remained the same over time, varying from yellowish-drab to dark greens, pinks, and grays. It later became associated with specific fabrics. Various European and American expatriate troops adopted one or more of these fabrics to provide a consistent, homogenous appearance as well as a functional ploy to keep uniforms “clean” from the grime of military life. Khaki also began to collect different names on its journey from one culture to another. Army cloth, chino, and suntan were some of these secondary names. In some cases, the cloth also became a style of clothing, i.e., chino pants. This study focuses on the cultural history of khaki’s movement from function, to regimented military use, to popular culture appropriation to understand how the “idea” of khaki influences the design of objects.