The Khaki Experiment and The Chino Cinch

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OK, the title of this article could be mistaken for the ludicrous title of a mid twentieth-century pocket book novel. You know the ones that you could pick up from a newspaper stand for about twenty five cents in the US back in the day. You know, when working men would read a book for entertainment?

It would have a lurid cover with some “Dame” on the front, and maybe a hero or villain. The books would be bought mainly by men who were part of an era prior to the shooting of J. F. Kennedy in 1963, men that wore a uniform of sorts. It was what has been described as “Ivy Style” People, like President Kennedy, and high profile celebrities had become a role model for this style. Taken from the elite universities, the Ivy Style schools, such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Princeton etc. You would see men of all ages wearing elements of this style that has now become the classic reference point for menswear sophistication and class, during work, rest and play. One component of this was the Chino. A cotton trouser that can be worn in a variety of ways. They can equally dress down an outfit, as well as smarten it up. It’s traditional colours, especially that of Khaki, (I will come to that shortly) made them a versatile everyday trouser suited to the male wardrobe. Here, I am going to look at where the term for the name of the trousers “Khaki’s” came from, and how, the style of them has changed very little over the years, as this still popular garment gets reinvented for each new generation.

The Khaki Experiment and The Chino CinchPresident Kennedy

So, where does the term Khaki begin?

It actually begins in British Colonial times in India, and not surprisingly has its association rooted in the British military. It is said, that around 1845, the soldiers would deliberately discolour their white uniforms, with mud. Considering how a brilliant white uniform would make a person stand out, and therefore become a target. It was a very wise thing to do. Using the mud, dust and coffee, and perhaps curry – uniforms were customised to be darker and less visible in the terrain, that the soldiers were working in. The term “Khaki” actually means “dust” in Urdu. Another theory of the invention of the garment, and will perhaps explain the often lighter weight of some chinos (remember practicality is usually the key to many styles) is that the commander of the British forces in the Punjab, Sir Harry Lumsdon, replaced his regulation uniform trousers, as he found them too heavy in the hot climate, for a pair of lighter weight cotton pyjama trousers, which he dyed with tea leaves. Creating the dusty colour that we know as Khaki today.

The Khaki Experiment and The Chino Cinch 2

By 1848 the British military had adopted the practicality of “Khaki” or “dust” coloured uniforms and had made it the regulation colour for uniforms in hot climates as found in campaign’s in India, South Africa, Sudan and Afghanistan. Initially the uniforms were manufactured in China. It was believed that by having them made in the Far East, and shipped to the Middle East, transportation costs would be reduced. However, maybe because of quality, or the logistics of the transportation it was decided that in 1850 such uniforms could be manufactured within the British Empire. After all, textile manufacturing at this time was something the British were well known for. Britain had just a decade earlier been going through the tail end of The Industrial Revolution, a period when Britain was a world leader. Especially in manufacturing.

The first reference to chinos came later in 1898, when American armed forces were stationed in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and their uniforms were sourced from Chinese twill cotton, very much in the way the British had their first Khaki uniforms made in China. This term “Chino” was born from the local language, and Spanish name for “China.”

The Khaki Experiment and The Chino Cinch. 3

With the American forces adopting Khaki, so, we see more development. When we come to 1941 during World War II, the Khaki trousers are made from a tough, hard wearing twill called Cramerton, which is created by weavers Galey & Lord. Officers in the US approved a more extended use of Khaki’s so, that they could be worn at “downtimes” not just during essential duties. Their comfort and practicality making them a garment that most men were happy to wear no matter what the occasion, unless it was a formal event.

After World War II, returning GIs began wearing the plain-front trousers pretty much all the time, they had become so habitual to wear, and chinos were soon seen as a common sight on college campuses, where they began to define the East Coast, Ivy League aesthetic. Hollywood soon followed, and as in previous articles, the power of celebrity can not be underestimated, film stars wearing Chino’s looked cool, and men of every generation has always wanted to buy in to that, therefore leading a generation to define chinos as a symbol of effortlessly cool American style.

The Khaki Experiment and The Chino Cinch. 4

With the growing popularity of the usually flat fronted cotton trouser known as Chino’s, so some American companies began to produce their own versions. One such is Levi’s who began to produce them as early as 1906 under the Sunset label.

Chino’s did go through a period where the fashion of the day changed silhouettes considerably during the eighties and nineties. As a consequence, you began to see looser Chino’s with pleated fronts. Moving away from the more military aesthetic and towards a more European look. As a consequence at the time, Chino’s became less popular and were seen as a more old fashioned garment associated with the older generation. However, since the nineties, they have very much made a steady comeback. In fact, during the last decade, they seem to be everywhere. This is not surprising really, as popular fashion has become a little less formal in more recent times. So, the practicality of Chino’s has made them a popular garment again. Lighter in weight than denim, and very comfortable and now available in a wide array of colours, and more contemporary widths, to suit all tastes they have become something of a staple in many a man’s wardrobe. However, it has to be said, there is those that always want to be a bit different, and not follow the crowd. Authenticity or just a slightly different detail makes some individuals want something that is no longer readily available at a reasonable price. I have to hold up my hand and admit, I am one of those people. For me, it is a pair of Levi’s cinch back chinos. I think that perhaps this little detail which has been seen on garments such as denim jeans over the decades has made them almost a holy grail to me. I mean. Sure – If I search hard on various vintage sites, and in old books and catalogues, I may find cinch back chinos. But, they are usually reproductions. Not the elusive original Levi’s that I see in old images and adverts. Having been influenced by Ivy style and brands that British Mods like for over half of my life. It is the Modernist love affair with Levi’s that makes them appeal to me. However, there is a now a rare and once-popular US brand that quite possibly did the Cinchback Khaki first, and that is the one I wish to draw your attention to now.

The Khaki Experiment and The Chino Cinch levis

It seems that the American collegiate brand H. I. S. Are to be credited with putting a Cinch back on their trousers in the early 1950s. Not, Levi’s as I originally presumed.

Jesse Siegel is credited with creating the Cinchback. Siegel was the first to take khakis, the by then, an old-time favourite in work clothes, and put a buckle on the back, so as to aim it towards the youth market. An advertisement by H.I.S from 1958 makes an interesting claim. The advertisement is for a new line of back-flapped khakis called the Post-Grads and plays one trend off against another. The copy reads “H.I.S introduced the Ivy-Alls six years ago and saw them become the biggest style idea in the history of men’s slacks. We still turn them out by the thousands every week, but the future belongs to the Post-Grads.” The copy goes on to say, “the buckle-on-the-back has yielded to a pair of neat flaps.” This advertisement places the introduction of the belted back Khaki trouser as early as 1952.

Siegel was quite a good baseball player and had a try out with the New York Yankee’s farm team. The Baseball gloves he wore at the time had a buckle back strap which you could tighten to fit your wrist and hold it snuggly in place. It is rumoured that this is where the idea came from. How true this is, is hard to say. But, the story does have a plausibility about it.

Jack Kerouac

There are many brands that do Chino’s or Khaki’s today, one such brand is GAP, who ran a fantastic advertising campaign many years ago with notably cool icons wearing Khaki’s. One such image in the campaign is an image of one of my favourite authors, the King of the Beats, Jack Kerouac. The image is a powerful one that has always stuck in my consciousness, simply because, Kerouac’s writing is associated with what is deemed “cool”. Coolness plays a big part in marketing, and even old images can still purvey that sense of the elusive feeling that so many want to be part of. The advertisements are telling you that you can be as cool as Jack if you wear a pair of their Khaki’s. Which is obvious nonsense, but still we are seduced and are prone to parting with our hard-earned cash to look like a hero. Whether it be one from the screen or a real life hero who has inspired you by putting his life at risk for your safety, and doing service for his country.

Now, as I stated. It is the Levi’s version of a Cinch back I have been interested in. Why? Probably because I still associate Levi’s as being “Cool”, and a brand whose heritage I still like, just like the GAP example, Levi’s is a label associated with a history of coolness. Unfortunately these days the prices of LVC Chino’s is very high, and my chances of getting a pair in the condition I want, is fairly slim. And, let’s face it. If it wasn’t. It would really be – a Cinch...

The Khaki Experiment and The Chino Cinch gap gene kelly


Read 1030 times Last modified on Thursday, 28 May 2020 09:16
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