Beyond Business Casual: Top 3 Tips for Styling Khaki Pants

Khaki pants have become a sort of unintentional symbol for “business casual” modern corporate work wear, causing many of us to forget just how versatile and modern a pair of khakis can actually be.

For those of us who consider ourselves to be fashion-conscious, the humble khaki pant often crops-up as a sort of sticking point in our otherwise well thought out wardrobes. Working in an office or corporate environment, it is virtually impossible to have a dialogue about appropriate modern office wear without the term “business casual” leaking into the narrative.

Over time, the humble khaki pant seems to have become a sort of accidental poster child for this homogenized business casual aesthetic; khaki pants, a polo or button-down oxford shirt, a cardigan or pullover, and a pair of loafers (or perhaps even the less sartorially-feasible pair of sneakers in some instances) has almost become the new formula for getting dressed for those that perhaps would not otherwise have thought that much about the art of getting dressed. However, to those of us who are indeed fashion conscious, the mere thought of making such a bland sartorial statement sends shivers up and down our spines.

All stereotypes aside, this pigeonholing of what is essentially a classic wardrobe piece into the confines of corporate work wear is more than a bit unfair. Below are three tips which might serve as your inspiration to look beyond the office dress code and see your khaki pants in a whole new light. To do so will surely expand your wardrobe possibilities and infuse some modern edge into this most classic of wardrobe staples.

# 1 Look for Modern Cuts


One of the best ways to keep a classic wardrobe staple like a pair of khaki pants from looking too buttoned-down is to look for a pair of khakis that are cut with a current, modern flair. Right now, the variety of shapes to choose from on the runways and in main street shops is exceptional; everything from khaki skinny jeans to loose, billowing wide-legged trousers were shown during the spring collections, so there are definitely options out there to fit a variety of different tastes and body types. If you are looking for something that will be both on-trend yet still stand the test of time, a good option is an ankle-length cigarette-style khaki pant, which incorporates the modern trend of cropped trousers with a more classic slim silhouette that can be worn in a variety of environments, from dressed-down weekend outings to a business lunch at a local restaurant.

Another bit of detailing that will ensure that your khakis look modern and edgy is pleating, or perhaps more accurately, a conspicuous lack thereof. The sleek, fitted look of a pair of khaki pants or shorts with a completely pleat-free, flat front is not only a very on-trend style at the moment, it is also infinitely more figure-flattering than some of the baggier, pleated-front styles of days gone by.

Finally, for those of you who are looking to update a pair of khakis that may have been hiding-out in your wardrobe for a few years, there is hope. Armed with little more than your creativity and a little know-how, bringing a dated-looking pair of khakis into your modern rotation is easier than you think.  Boyfriend-style, distressed, or cropped khaki trousers an be created with little more at your disposal than a pair of scissors and the name and address of a good alterations shop. Berst of all,  the result will be uniquely yours.

# 2 Achieve Balance With Opposites


When trying to create a harmonious look with your khakis, one of the things that fashionistas everywhere always talk about is creating balance in a look. Although the details of what makes a look “balanced” are highly subjective, there are actually a few sartorial “rules” that can help guide your selections. One such rule is the rule of opposites.

The rule of opposites is a great way to transform your khakis into an everyday wardrobe staple that you will reach for again and again. To employ this styling method, simply consider for a moment the cut and style of your favorite pair of khakis, then ruminate for a moment on what the opposite of this style might be. For example, if you have a favorite pair of sharply-tailored, skinny khaki pants that you feel you would like to incorporate more into your rotation, think about what the sartorial opposite of this sharply-tailored piece might me. This might perhaps be a lace top with open-toed sandals, a softly draping silk blouse with a hyper-feminine heel, or even simply a soft, oversized white t-shirt with sneakers.

Whatever your choice might be, your khaki pants will see a lot more wear, and the look will always be uniquely yours and yours alone.

# 3 Don’t Forget the Fabric


Khaki pants for women, perhaps more than any other type of pant, all have one defining characteristic that can either make or break the look of the pant; the quality of the fabric. A fabric that is cheap and threadbare somehow looks even more glaringly wrong in lighter neutral shades, and therefore taking the time to select a pair of khaki pants in a quality fabrication is a step that simply should not be missed. If you are looking for khaki pants in a summer weight, natural fabrics are best, in cotton twill and linen for the warmest climates, and even summer weight wool blends for a more formal look. Heavier weight fabrics like wool and cashmere blends are perfect for the fall and winter months, and when lined, they glide effortlessly over the body for a luxurious effect.

It is important to feel the fabric. The feel of the fabric, also referred to as the “hand”, can tell you a lot about how the fabric will perform on the body. Does it cling, bunch, or pill with a lot of movement? Can you easily see through the fabric when you hold it up to the light? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, that pair of khakis is best left where it is.  Fabrics that are problematic in your hand will be even more so once you put them on your body.

Despite the fact that khakis are a classic wardrobe staple, a pair of khaki pants can pose an interesting styling conundrum for the fashion-conscious among us. Selecting khaki pants in modern cuts, balancing your look to achieve a unique and oppositional feel, and being selective in your fabric choices are three sure-fire ways to get more wear out of your khakis, and to elevate your look from business casual to truly unique.

About the author

Kristin Buchholz-MacKillop

Kristin is an American writer based in the Scottish Highlands. She is a saxophonist, an obsessive tennis player, a U.S. Air Force Veteran, and holds a Master's degree as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. She is the author of the online style blog

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