drpeter

Super Member
Great stuff as always, Charles! I do have a question:

In these adverts you have been looking at, were there pictures or photos (in colour) of the khakis? If so, were they all in the standard khaki colour? I ask because at some point in the last couple of decades, the term khaki appears to have become generic, referring to pants made from drill cloth, but coloured in various shades, including olive drab, navy blue, cement, light grey, etc. I am wondering when this transition in terminology took place. My recollection is that the company which made Dockers may have started this trend, but that's just a guess.
 

Charles Dana

Honors Member
Great stuff as always, Charles! I do have a question:

In these adverts you have been looking at, were there pictures or photos (in colour) of the khakis? If so, were they all in the standard khaki colour? I ask because at some point in the last couple of decades, the term khaki appears to have become generic, referring to pants made from drill cloth, but coloured in various shades, including olive drab, navy blue, cement, light grey, etc.
About half of the old newspaper advertisements did not have any illustrations. The ones that did had black-and-white drawings or photographs. (Newspapers did not use color in those days.)

The Sears catalogues from the 1930s and 40s had both black-and-white and color photos—a lot of color photos. The trousers and shirts that Sears called “khaki” were in fact khaki-colored—except I noticed that the 1935 Sears catalogue described a pair of its khaki trousers as being made of “olive drab khaki cotton.” Alas, the photograph of these trousers is in black-and-white. Then the same catalogue featured Sears’ “best” khakis and, though the picture of them is also not in color, there’s no indication that they were anything other than khaki-colored.

In the early 1940s, Sears offered khaki-style trousers in grey and brown, but instead of calling them “khakis,” Sears referred to them as “drill” or “twill” cotton trousers. Except for the “olive drab khakis,” I didn’t see where Sears would call just any cotton twill trousers “khakis.” Khaki usually meant khaki. (Sears did sell cotton whipcord trousers in grey and brown.)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
Related to the above discussion and, I believe, something we've touched on somewhat before in this thread is how the terms chino and khaki have evolved just from the '80s till now. In the '80s, when I "discovered" chinos and khakis - the terms were used pretty interchangeably by the stores with chino being the much more common one of the two.

Back then, I only remember the terms being applied to pants that were tan or "stone" (off white) and, occasionally, olive (which, thank you @Charles Dana, appears to go back to, at least, the '40s). Back in the '80s, it was only from books on clothing that I learned the difference - one's origin is as a material and the other's is as a color - as, as noted, stores like the Gap used them simply to describe cotton twill pants in tan and off white.

Even (from memory, so maybe wrong) J.Crew and Ralph, back then, limited the use of the term chino to cotton twill pants of tan or off white. I'd say it was in the '90s - but can't point to which brand or when - that I started to notice a few brands coming out with chinos in "various colors," maybe @drpeter is right about it being Dockers. Which, at the time, felt like heresy to me.

Also, from memory, it was from the '00s - today that chinos and, even sometimes, khakis really became a generic name for any cotton pants in a traditional pattern (not jeans or cargo pants, etc.) and in any color. For example, today, J.Crew has "chinos" in ten or more colors. Heck, the company Everlane has called cotton pants, cut in a jean style but in non-jean color, chinos. The same company even called a wool pair of pants chinos as they were more casual than traditional dress pants.

I think we are seeing the word chino morph into any kinda casual pants. Some version of the same "evolution" is happening to the world blazer. And khaki - a word that all this time served as both a color and style depending on who was using it - is, today, rarely used to describe a material or style of pants, but still shows up as a color.

Hey, I'm a trad guy, so I wish none of this was happening, but I also get that it's not a big deal in in the big picture of things. The real shame is that the terms used to tell you something about the item, but as the definitions stretch, the information they impart diminishes.
 

Charles Dana

Honors Member
Cable Car Clothiers (CCC) is San Francisco’s answer to O’Connell’s—but with outrageous prices. Anyway, CCC placed an ad in the San Francisco Examiner on September 16, 1985. The text reads in part:

“Dressed up with a blazer, or worn with a flannel shirt for weekends, our new ‘dress’ chinos will serve you well....In khaki, navy, or olive.”

They were made in the USA of cotton/polyester twill fabric.

In the 1970s, Sears didn’t call any of its casual trousers “chinos,” but would use the term “chino cloth” to describe what some garments were made of.

I remember that in the 1990’s, Polo Ralph Lauren sold “chinos”—pleated, high-waisted, full-cut—in khaki, stone, olive and I think dark blue. I owned RL chinos in the first three colors.

Pleated and baggy—just right for the ‘90s. 😬
 

drpeter

Super Member
I have pointed this out in earlier threads, but the original meaning of the word khaki is indeed as a colour, since khak is a Hindi/Urdu/Persian word that means mud or dust. So khaki is literally mud-coloured or muddy. The term was first used by the British Indian Army when they dyed their white uniforms to look muddy. To clarify and digress a bit, here are two lines from an Urdu poem (it's a rather ornamental and lovely language):

Mili khak mein mohabbat,
Jala dil ka aashiaana.

My love has been ground into the dust
And my heart's abode is on fire


Getting back to more mundane matters, LOL, chino refers to the Chinese origin of the twill cloth that was imported to make these trousers and other items of clothing.

Initially at least, these words became synonymous with both the colour and the material, whereas the same confluence did not happen with related words, for instance, drill cloth . I am not certain about this, but I am pretty sure that the term drill refers to the parade ground where military personnel assembled for parades and marches.

I remember drill being used to refer to white trousers made of drill cloth, a thick cotton twill weave. In fact, the very first pair of trousers I had had made for myself, at the ripe old age of 14, was a pair of white drill trousers. (Boys wore shorts until they were about that age, in the place where I was raised).

Language and terminology, semantic drift -- endlessly fascinating. As meaning moves and changes, words themselves become intriguing.

Late Edit: I looked up the etymology of drill. I was wrong. This is very interesting:

"Drilling, a kind of coarse, stout twilled cloth, 1743, from French drill, from German drillich "heavy, coarse cotton or linen fabric," from Old High German adjective drilich "threefold," from Latin trilix (genitive trilicis) "having three threads, triple-twilled," from tri- (see tri-) + licium "thread," a word of unknown etymology. So called in reference to the method of weaving it."

Well, who knew!
 
Last edited:

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
I have pointed this out in earlier threads, but the original meaning of the word khaki is indeed as a colour, since khak is a Hindi/Urdu/Persian word that means mud or dust. So khaki is literally mud-coloured or muddy. The term was first used by the British Indian Army when they dyed their white uniforms to look muddy. To clarify and digress a bit, here are two lines from an Urdu poem (it's a rather ornamental and lovely language):

Mili khak mein mohabbat,
Jala dil ka aashiaana.

My love has been ground into the dust
And my heart's abode is on fire


Getting back to more mundane matters, LOL, chino refers to the Chinese origin of the twill cloth that was imported to make these trousers and other items of clothing.

Initially at least, these words became synonymous with both the colour and the material, whereas the same confluence did not happen with related words, for instance, drill cloth . I am not certain about this, but I am pretty sure that the term drill refers to the parade ground where military personnel assembled for parades and marches.

I remember drill being used to refer to white trousers made of drill cloth, a thick cotton twill weave. In fact, the very first pair of trousers I had had made for myself, at the ripe old age of 14, was a pair of white drill trousers. (Boys wore shorts until they were about that age, in the place where I was raised).

Language and terminology, semantic drift -- endlessly fascinating. As meaning moves and changes, words themselves become intriguing.

Late Edit: I looked up the etymology of drill. I was wrong. This is very interesting:

"Drilling, a kind of coarse, stout twilled cloth, 1743, from French drill, from German drillich "heavy, coarse cotton or linen fabric," from Old High German adjective drilich "threefold," from Latin trilix (genitive trilicis) "having three threads, triple-twilled," from tri- (see tri-) + licium "thread," a word of unknown etymology. So called in reference to the method of weaving it."

Well, who knew!
Great stuff. Like you, I thought "drill cloth" referred to the material used in the uniforms for military drills as well. Live and learn.
 

poppies

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
I have pointed this out in earlier threads, but the original meaning of the word khaki is indeed as a colour, since khak is a Hindi/Urdu/Persian word that means mud or dust. So khaki is literally mud-coloured or muddy. The term was first used by the British Indian Army when they dyed their white uniforms to look muddy. To clarify and digress a bit, here are two lines from an Urdu poem (it's a rather ornamental and lovely language):

Mili khak mein mohabbat,
Jala dil ka aashiaana.

My love has been ground into the dust
And my heart's abode is on fire


Getting back to more mundane matters, LOL, chino refers to the Chinese origin of the twill cloth that was imported to make these trousers and other items of clothing.

Initially at least, these words became synonymous with both the colour and the material, whereas the same confluence did not happen with related words, for instance, drill cloth . I am not certain about this, but I am pretty sure that the term drill refers to the parade ground where military personnel assembled for parades and marches.

I remember drill being used to refer to white trousers made of drill cloth, a thick cotton twill weave. In fact, the very first pair of trousers I had had made for myself, at the ripe old age of 14, was a pair of white drill trousers. (Boys wore shorts until they were about that age, in the place where I was raised).

Language and terminology, semantic drift -- endlessly fascinating. As meaning moves and changes, words themselves become intriguing.

Late Edit: I looked up the etymology of drill. I was wrong. This is very interesting:

"Drilling, a kind of coarse, stout twilled cloth, 1743, from French drill, from German drillich "heavy, coarse cotton or linen fabric," from Old High German adjective drilich "threefold," from Latin trilix (genitive trilicis) "having three threads, triple-twilled," from tri- (see tri-) + licium "thread," a word of unknown etymology. So called in reference to the method of weaving it."

Well, who knew!
I always greatly appreciate your posts, thanks for your input.
 

Charles Dana

Honors Member
INTERLUDE—“CHINO” and “CHINOS”

Warning: The following post will be long and will deal with military uniforms and semantics. If you’re not interested in either of those subjects—or if you don’t care for long posts in general—you’ll definitely want to skip this. I’ll get back to the main topic later.

Also, this post—which is a digression—is about how the word “chino” was used in relation to military uniforms during World War II and how clothing retailers—for the first time—used the word “chinos” in relation to civilian clothing after World War II. It is not about how the Spanish term “pantalones chinos” [i.e., Chinese trousers] purportedly made its way into the vocabulary of American soldiers during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th Century. There are history-of-khaki websites that discuss that matter. (But watch out—some of those websites are misleading. For one thing, they tend to yada-yada through the first 45 years of the 20th Century, as if khakis didn’t hit the civilian market until 1946. That glaring gap in the story of khaki trousers in civilian life is what I’m trying to at least partially fill with this entire thread.)

******

The word “chinos”—not the trousers, but the word itself—was the subject of a recent post. I’ll add some follow-up information; it contains possible clues as to how and why the word “chino”—which is a fabric—led to the popular use of the word “chinos” to refer to a finished garment—khaki cotton trousers—starting in the late 1940s.

In another post a couple of days ago I wrote: “When the United States entered World War II, clothing retailers got into the business of selling uniforms directly to military officers. Some clothing stores set up sub-departments that specialized in uniforms.” Because my comments were incidental to the topic, I did not back them up with evidence. Now it would be appropriate to do so.

[You’ll see the word “Elastique” pop up a few times in the lists below. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Elastique” as follows: “a firm fabric resembling cavalry twill that is usually made of wool or worsted and is used for uniforms and sportswear.”]

Founded in 1874, Rogers Peet was an innovative and prominent clothing retailer. (Its last store closed in the 1980s.) In an advertisement in the New York Times on December 26, 1943, Rogers Peet stated:

“Rogers Peet Company is one of the limited number of stores authorized by the Army Exchange Service of the War Department to sell Regulation Army Officers’ Uniforms. Rogers Peet Company is also one of the limited number of stores appointed by the United States Navy as Official Distributors of Regulation Uniforms for Naval Commissioned Officers.”

The ad invited officers “to come browse around our spacious new quarters for Army and Naval Officers on the 2nd floor of our Fifth Avenue Store...opposite the Library [in New York City].”

A sample of the wares that Rogers Peet offered on its 2nd floor in December 1943:

Khaki chino suits, $16.00
Khaki Palm Beach suits, $19.95
White Palm Beach suits, $19.95
Khaki cotton trousers, $4.75 to $8.00
Sun-tan rayon-and-wool slacks, $10.00
Tropical worsted slacks, $14.50
Khaki broadcloth shirts, $3.50 and $5.00
Khaki twill shirts, $4.00
Khaki chino shirts, $5.50
Gray chino shirts, $5.50

[“Chino” is a noun that denotes a type of fabric, but it can also be an adjective: “chino shirts.”]

Browning King (founded in the 1820s and also no longer with us) was another clothier that sold uniforms during World War II. On September 23, 1942, it announced in the New York Times that it was offering “ARMY & NAVY OFFICERS’ UNIFORMS AND FURNISHINGS.” For example:

Pink or Olive Drab slacks, $17.50
Khaki chino slacks, $3.95
Chino suits, $20.00
White cotton gabardine suits, $15.00

Desmond’s was a chain of high-end clothing stores in the Los Angeles area. It had a branch in Palm Springs. The store there placed an ad in the Palm Springs Desert Sun newspaper on September 25, 1942 that read in part:

“Long famed as sportswear leaders and specialists, and rated one of the really great sport shops in the world...Desmond’s Desert Shop this year would be incomplete without military gear. A large section of the shop will be devoted to the military....”

A few of the items for sale at The Desert Shop in 1942:

Slacks, 19-oz. Dark Elastique, $15.00
Slacks, 19-oz. “Pinks,” $15.00 and $17.50
Summer Khakis (Coat & Trousers), $22.50
Chino khaki shirt, $3.75
Chino khaki slacks, $3.95

Hastings was a chain of clothing stores in the San Francisco area. It, too, had a “Uniform Department.” According to a Hastings ad in the October 19, 1942 issue of the Oakland [California] Tribune, the retailer had “[c]omplete stocks of Army, Navy and Marine Corps uniforms, accoutrements and equipment, a selection unsurpassed.” Some specifics:

NAVY UNIFORMS—Commissioned and Warrant Officers:

Service Blue Serge
Service Blue Elastique
Service White Twill
Working Chino Khaki

NAVY UNIFORMS—Chief Petty Officers:

Service Blue Serge
Service White Twill
Working Chino Khaki

ARMY UNIFORMS:

Olive Drab Barathea
Olive Drab Elastique
“Pink” Elastique Trousers
Chino Khaki

The famous Gimbels, at 33rd Street and Broadway in Manhattan, had a department just for officers’ uniforms. In the New York Times for January 5, 1943, Gimbels advertised that “[y]ou can get your entire uniform [here], even your insignia; we’ll do all your alterations in four hours flat....” A partial list of what the officer would find at Gimbels:

Navy blue uniform, $39.95
White gabardine uniform, $14.50
Khaki blouse, $11.94
Khaki chino trousers, $3.69
Khaki shirt, $2.50
Black tie, $1.00
Sleeve stripes and stars, $6.00

Following the Second World War, some Army-Navy surplus stores continued using military terminology in their advertisements (not surprisingly). For example, Pacific Surplus in Long Beach, California advertised the following items in a local newspaper (The Long Beach Independent) in August 1947:

Marine khaki pants, 98¢
Army chino khaki pants, $1.95
Army chino khaki shirts, $1.50

Pacific Surplus was still using military terms as of May 1950, when it advertised these things in the Long Beach Press Telegram:

“WORK CLOTHES SPECIALS”

Men’s Army tan chino khaki pants, $2.49
Men’s Army tan chino khaki shirts, $2.29
Men’s chino khaki pants and shirts, $2.95 each
Men’s grey chino pants and shirts, $2.95 each

What’s missing from these ads? The word “chinos.”

What we would today call “chinos” or “khakis” were referred to in the above advertisements as “chino khaki pants,” “chino khaki slacks,” “khaki chino slacks,” “khaki chino trousers,” and “[insert color] chino pants.” But not simply as “chinos.”

By the late 1940s, however, “chinos” as a synonym for “cotton twill khaki trousers” was becoming standard terminology among retailers of civilian clothing. Why? I haven’t found the smoking gun that would answer the question. A guess, and it’s only a guess: Retailers wanted to keep their wording simple. They could have continued using just the terms “khaki pants,” “khaki trousers,” and “khakis.” After all, those terms had been serving the civilian marketplace well for around 45 years. But the sellers were marketing their products to an additional demographic now—veterans in college on the GI Bill—and so they began using “chinos” because the vets would be able to identify with that word—or at least with the idea behind the word.

“Chinos”—Just clever marketing?

(The word “khakis” didn’t disappear; “chinos” was an addition to, not a replacement for, the older terms.)

Another guess: “Chinos”—the word—was not invented to resonate with veterans on campus but, rather, was just a mash-up of the words “chino khakis” or “khaki chino slacks”—because saying one word is easier than saying two or three. Sort of how some commentators facetiously refer to the Supreme Court as “The Supremes.” We Americans like our short cuts. Note these two items:

(a) A classified ad appeared in the New York Times on April 23, 1945. It was placed there by somebody who was willing to pay cash for “any quantity” of cotton goods: “8.2 chinos wanted, white twills, gabardines, suntan cotton gabardine, poplin, also grays. Golden Uniforms, 254 W. 31st.”

I’m going to speculate: Because the buyer of the ad space would have had to pay by the word, of course he’d want to crush together two or more words to form “chinos.” Chino + slacks = Chinos! The crammed-together word gets the point across while saving him money.

(b) Simon-Webb Ltd. placed an ad in the Yale Daily News on May 4, 1944. Billing itself as “Makers of English Clothes” and as “Military Tailors,” Simon-Webb offered made-to-order “Imperial Suits—Chino’s, Etc.”

Until I found the above ad, I had never seen “chinos” spelled with an apostrophe before the “s.” An apostrophe (when not used to turn a noun into its possessive form) is used to take the place of something that has been omitted. Maybe, in writing “Chino’s,” the merchant was saying, “Look, guys, we’ll make chino khakis, or chino slacks, or khaki chino slacks, or chino trousers—whatever the heck you want to call ‘em—to your specifications, but we here at Simon-Webb will simply call ‘em ‘chino’s’ because we have better things to do than write ad copy. And since this is 1944, you know they’ll be khaki-colored.” Then over the next couple of years the apostrophe got dropped, leaving the retail world with the short, easy-to-say, easy-to-write “chinos”—the mash-up word!

To be clear: I’m guessing. Anyone have any other ideas?

(By the way, if “chinos” is really just a borrowing of the Spanish word that was supposedly used by American soldiers to refer to their trousers in the Philippines in 1901 or thereabouts, how come it took retailers 45 years to pick it up? The military certainly used the word “chino” early on. But “chinos”? That’s more a mid-to-late 1940s phenomenon.)

Back on track pretty soon.
 
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Fading Fast

Connoisseur
INTERLUDE—“CHINO” and “CHINOS”

Warning: The following post will be long and will deal with military uniforms and semantics. If you’re not interested in either of those subjects—or if you don’t care for long posts in general—you’ll definitely want to skip this. I’ll get back to the main topic later.

Also, this post—which is a digression—is about how the word “chino” was used in relation to military uniforms during World War II and how clothing retailers—for the first time—used the word “chinos” after World War II. It is not about how the Spanish term “pantalones chinos” [i.e., Chinese trousers] purportedly made its way into the vocabulary of American soldiers during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th Century. There are history-of-khaki websites that discuss that matter. (But watch out—some of those websites are misleading. For one thing, they tend to yada-yada through the first 45 years of the 20th Century, as if khakis didn’t hit the civilian market until 1946. That glaring gap in the story of khaki trousers in civilian life is what I’m trying to at least partially fill with this entire thread.)

******

The word “chinos”—not the trousers, but the word itself—was the subject of a recent post. I’ll add some follow-up information; it contains possible clues as to how and why the word “chino”—which is a fabric—led to the popular use of the word “chinos” to refer to a finished garment—khaki cotton trousers—starting in the late 1940s.

In another post a couple of days ago I wrote: “When the United States entered World War II, clothing retailers got into the business of selling uniforms directly to military officers. Some clothing stores set up sub-departments that specialized in uniforms.” Because my comments were incidental to the topic, I did not back them up with evidence. Now it would be appropriate to do so.

[You’ll see the word “Elastique” pop up a few times in the lists below. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Elastique” as follows: “a firm fabric resembling cavalry twill that is usually made of wool or worsted and is used for uniforms and sportswear.”]

Founded in 1874, Rogers Peet was an innovative and prominent clothing retailer. (Its last store closed in the 1980s.) In an advertisement in the New York Times on December 26, 1943, Rogers Peet stated:

“Rogers Peet Company is one of the limited number of stores authorized by the Army Exchange Service of the War Department to sell Regulation Army Officers’ Uniforms. Rogers Peet Company is also one of the limited number of stores appointed by the United States Navy as Official Distributors of Regulation Uniforms for Naval Commissioned Officers.”

The ad invited officers “to come browse around our spacious new quarters for Army and Naval Officers on the 2nd floor of our Fifth Avenue Store...opposite the Library [in New York City].”

A sample of the wares that Rogers Peet offered on its 2nd floor in December 1943:

Khaki chino suits, $16.00
Khaki Palm Beach suits, $19.95
White Palm Beach suits, $19.95
Khaki cotton trousers, $4.75 to $8.00
Sun-tan rayon-and-wool slacks, $10.00
Tropical worsted slacks, $14.50
Khaki broadcloth shirts, $3.50 and $5.00
Khaki twill shirts, $4.00
Khaki chino shirts, $5.50
Gray chino shirts, $5.50

[“Chino” is a noun that denotes a type of fabric, but it can also be an adjective: “chino shirts.”]

Browning King (founded in the 1820s and also no longer with us) was another clothier that sold uniforms during World War II. On September 23, 1942, it announced in the New York Times that it was offering “ARMY & NAVY OFFICERS’ UNIFORMS AND FURNISHINGS.” For example:

Pink or Olive Drab slacks, $17.50
Khaki chino slacks, $3.95
Chino suits, $20.00
White cotton gabardine suits, $15.00

Desmond’s was a chain of high-end clothing stores in the Los Angeles area. It had a branch in Palm Springs. The store there placed an ad in the Palm Springs Desert Sun newspaper on September 25, 1942 that read in part:

“Long famed as sportswear leaders and specialists, and rated one of the really great sport shops in the world...Desmond’s Desert Shop this year would be incomplete without military gear. A large section of the shop will be devoted to the military....”

A few of the items for sale at The Desert Shop in 1942:

Slacks, 19-oz. Dark Elastique, $15.00
Slacks, 19-oz. “Pinks,” $15.00 and $17.50
Summer Khakis (Coat & Trousers), $22.50
Chino khaki shirt, $3.75
Chino khaki slacks, $3.95

Hastings was a chain of clothing stores in the San Francisco area. It, too, had a “Uniform Department.” According to a Hastings ad in the October 19, 1942 issue of the Oakland [California] Tribune, the retailer had “[c]omplete stocks of Army, Navy and Marine Corps uniforms, accoutrements and equipment, a selection unsurpassed.” Some specifics:

NAVY UNIFORMS—Commissioned and Warrant Officers:

Service Blue Serge
Service Blue Elastique
Service White Twill
Working Chino Khaki

NAVY UNIFORMS—Chief Petty Officers:

Service Blue Serge
Service White Twill
Working Chino Khaki

ARMY UNIFORMS:

Olive Drab Barathea
Olive Drab Elastique
“Pink” Elastique Trousers
Chino Khaki

The famous Gimbels, at 33rd Street and Broadway in Manhattan, had a department just for officers’ uniforms. In the New York Times for January 5, 1943, Gimbels advertised that “[y]ou can get your entire uniform [here], even your insignia; we’ll do all your alterations in four hours flat....” A partial list of what the officer would find at Gimbels:

Navy blue uniform, $39.95
White gabardine uniform, $14.50
Khaki blouse, $11.94
Khaki chino trousers, $3.69
Khaki shirt, $2.50
Black tie, $1.00
Sleeve stripes and stars, $6.00

Following the Second World War, some Army-Navy surplus stores continued using military terminology in their advertisements (not surprisingly). For example, Pacific Surplus in Long Beach, California advertised the following items in a local newspaper (The Long Beach Independent) in August 1947:

Marine khaki pants, 98¢
Army chino khaki pants, $1.95
Army chino khaki shirts, $1.50

Pacific Surplus was still using military terms as of May 1950, when it advertised these things in the Long Beach Press Telegram:

“WORK CLOTHES SPECIALS”

Men’s Army tan chino khaki pants, $2.49
Men’s Army tan chino khaki shirts, $2.29
Men’s chino khaki pants and shirts, $2.95 each
Men’s grey chino pants and shirts, $2.95 each

What’s missing from these ads? The word “chinos.”

What we would today call “chinos” or “khakis” were referred to in the above advertisements as “chino khaki pants,” “chino khaki slacks,” “khaki chino slacks,” “khaki chino trousers,” and “[insert color] chino pants.” But not simply as “chinos.” Referring to cotton twill trousers as “chinos” was a late-1940s innovation by the retailers of civilian clothes.

But why did they start using that word at that time? I haven’t found the smoking gun that would answer the qu

Until I found the above ad, I had never seen “chinos” spelled with an apostrophe before the “s.” An apostrophe (when not used to turn a noun into its possessive form) is used to take the place of something that has been omitted. Maybe, in writing “Chino’s,” the merchant was saying, “Look, guys, we’ll make chino khakis, or chino slacks, or khaki chino slacks, or chino trousers—whatever the heck you want to call ‘em—to your specifications, but we here at Simon-Webb will simply call ‘em ‘chino’s’ because we have better things to do than write ad copy. And since this is 1944, you know they’ll be khaki-colored.” Then over the next couple of years the apostrophe got dropped, leaving the retail world with the short, easy-to-say, easy-to-write “chinos”—the mash-up word!

To be clear: I’m guessing. Anyone have any other ideas?

(By the way, if “chinos” is really just a borrowing of the Spanish word that was supposedly used by American soldiers to refer to their trousers in the Philippines in 1901 or thereabouts, how come it took retailers 45 years to pick it up? The military certainly used the word “chino” early on. But “chinos”? That’s more a mid-to-late 1940s phenomenon.)

Back on track pretty soon.
⇧ Super good stuff. As always, history rarely provides us with the neat and clean story we want. Until this post, I kept thinking there would be a smoking gun here or there to "explain" it, but I think you are on to something with the different streams and mashups to explain how we came to use these words today as that's more how life works.

I've referenced the present-day blending of the terms blazer and sport coat before, but a hundred years from now, if, just for example, blazer is the word used to describe any sport coat (assuming they are still around) and the term sport coat has disappeared, someone looking back will see a mashup of different threads to explain how it happened. The story won't be neat, clean or linear - it will just be a jumble of things that eventually boiled down to whatever the words means in that future world.
 

drpeter

Super Member
INTERLUDE—“CHINO” and “CHINOS”

Warning: The following post will be long and will deal with military uniforms and semantics. If you’re not interested in either of those subjects—or if you don’t care for long posts in general—you’ll definitely want to skip this. I’ll get back to the main topic later.

Also, this post—which is a digression—is about how the word “chino” was used in relation to military uniforms during World War II and how clothing retailers—for the first time—used the word “chinos” after World War II. It is not about how the Spanish term “pantalones chinos” [i.e., Chinese trousers] purportedly made its way into the vocabulary of American soldiers during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th Century. There are history-of-khaki websites that discuss that matter. (But watch out—some of those websites are misleading. For one thing, they tend to yada-yada through the first 45 years of the 20th Century, as if khakis didn’t hit the civilian market until 1946. That glaring gap in the story of khaki trousers in civilian life is what I’m trying to at least partially fill with this entire thread.)
Excellent post. I have one thought about the use of the term "chinos" to refer to the trousers: Could it be that there was a relatively large-scale US importing of the khaki-coloured drill cloth used to make these trousers from China around the time that the word chinos began to come back into use to refer to the trousers themselves?

When the Spanish phrase pantaleones chinos was first used in the Philippines in the early 20th century, there must have been an association of the cloth with China. Perhaps the drill cloth used to make those trousers for the military came from China. So it's conceivable that when there was a large demand for khaki uniforms during the early 1940s, the US began importing khaki-coloured drill cloth from China, and the association led to the trousers being called chinos again.

My suggestion is certainly falsifiable if we can find evidence to the contrary -- that is, no such large- scale importing of cloth from China took place in the 1940s relative to the earlier years in the century. It can also be supported if indeed there is evidence that there was such an importing of cloth.

An interesting aside: Neither the term chinos or the term khakis (note, plurals both) have been used in the US to refer to any item of clothing other than trousers -- such as a coat or a jacket. In Britain and India, the phrase "the khaki" (note, singular, qualified with a very definite article) has been used to refer, metaphorically, to the act of taking up the uniform of the country for the defence of the nation. "Taking up the khaki" was a commonly used phrase in the pre-war years in Britain, to refer to enlisting in the Army. It is still used by Indian Police officers to refer to their act of joining the force, often simply as "wearing the khaki" or sometimes "wearing khaki clothes".

Indeed language and semantics and etymology are all wonderfully complex in a language as rich as English, with its vast borrowings of words and phrases from every corner of the globe! Truly a cosmopolitan language, a tongue for the world.
 

Charles Dana

Honors Member
Could it be that there was a relatively large-scale US importing of the khaki-coloured drill cloth used to make these trousers from China around the time that the word chinos began to come back into use to refer to the trousers themselves?
I doubt it. First, the textile mills in the United States were capable of supplying the demand for cotton twill during the war years. Then immediately following the war, the mills were able to export some of their output. I haven’t seen evidence that the United States had to import khaki twill fabric at the time.

And China was in no position to export cotton fabric to the United States. From the New York Times on June 30, 1947:

“Despite the inefficiency with which UNRRA [United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration] supplies have been distributed in China, termination of the relief shipments will be a heavy blow to the country. Since the end of the Japanese war, China has depended on the agency’s cotton for the major share of raw materials necessary to run her textile industry. To obtain cotton this year, China must supplement her increasing but still inadequate domestic production with supplies that have to be paid for in precious foreign exchange....”

When the Spanish phrase pantaleones chinos was first used in the Philippines in the early 20th century, there must have been an association of the cloth with China. Perhaps the drill cloth used to make those trousers for the military came from China.
Yes. My understanding is that the initial supply of fabric that was necessary to create khaki twill uniforms for the American soldiers came through Hong Kong.

In Britain and India, the phrase "the khaki" (note, singular, qualified with a very definite article) has been used to refer, metaphorically, to the act of taking up the uniform of the country for the defence of the nation. "Taking up the khaki" was a commonly used phrase in the pre-war years in Britain, to refer to enlisting in the Army. It is still used by Indian Police officers to refer to their act of joining the force, often simply as "wearing the khaki" or sometimes "wearing khaki clothes".
Interesting. There was something analogous in the United States during World War I. A man who was going to join the military, or who was in the military, or who had been in the military was said to be, respectively, “will be in khaki,” “is in khaki,” and “was in khaki.”

Britain: “taking up the khaki”
USA: “in khaki”
 

drpeter

Super Member
So much for that theory about Chinese imports of khaki cloth. It was a shot in the dark anyway, LOL.

My best guess is that the usage of the term drifted away for a while, then came back into fashion again. Rather like the changing elements of men's clothes, where wide and narrow lapels, neckties, trousers, etc, wax and wane in popularity.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
So much for that theory about Chinese imports of khaki cloth. It was a shot in the dark anyway, LOL.

My best guess is that the usage of the term drifted away for a while, then came back into fashion again. Rather like the changing elements of men's clothes, where wide and narrow lapels, neckties, trousers, etc, wax and wane in popularity.
Your idea sounded reasonable to me. What could still be out there is some small article in a local or trade paper that says, "the word khakis for...has come into common usage because...," or "the term chino is now being used to describe...ever since....happened."

Would that be definitive, no, but it might be an added piece of the puzzle. My guess is it's out there - more than once - but would be very difficult to find.
 

drpeter

Super Member
These discussions we have been having are quite fascinating to me because of what their ramifications are. Starting with Charles' excellent detailed research into the past century of one particular type of garment, and his continuing posts, we have delved into some of the broader linguistic and cultural aspects of this garment and the cloth from which it is constructed. Clothes always mean things other than what they present to you as most apparent.

The old observation made by Bruce Boyer and many others that men's clothes are almost always rooted in military uniforms and dress is worth emphasizing here. Even more than that, many classic and iconic items of clothing, like khakis or blazers, acquire cultural weight and social significance as time passes. Khakis are not simply an American or British or Indian phenomenon -- they have significance in a lot of nations around the world. Most simply they evoke toughness, durability, endurance, survival through vicissitudes and a host of other things. These things, which are traditional masculine virtues, although now they are equally applicable to women, bespeak their military origins. And on top of all that, they bloody well match with almost any other colour or article of clothing!

When I wear khakis, I am reminded of its history in my old country and I think of the Gurkhas, my instructors during national service, who wore those special pants in WWII and later in the smaller conflicts in Malaya and Southeast Asia. The Gurkha pants are structured so that the front flap is pulled sideways into two sets of buckles on either side. This means the waist can be adjusted if one becomes thinner due to lack of food. A very functional solution that speaks to endurance and survival, which the Gurkhas possessed in abundance. I consider it my good fortune to have been trained by these brave soldiers.

Clothes signify all sorts of things, and khakis are a splendid example of that -- culture, patrimony, history, experience, even preferences. In one sense, we are what we wear, and we tell that to others through our clothes.
 

Charles Dana

Honors Member
ANOTHER INTERLUDE

Just a relatively quick post here. I promised to list some of the trousers that the Sears Roebuck catalogues advertised during the World War II era, when the catalogues, with few exceptions, went into radio silence regarding khaki trousers.

There were so many varieties of wool and partly-wool trousers back then. Nowadays, if you sent households a catalogue offering the array of trousers that Sears advertised in the 1940s, the men—and women—who received them would be completely bewildered. “Yeah, but I just want jeans and maybe one pair of chinos,” the men would say.

So here we go:

Just for fun, I’ll start by listing a few of the non-khaki trousers available through the Fall 1940 catalogue (although that book was still showing khakis):

“Rugged” worsted wool (16% wool, with the rest being an unspecified mixture of cotton and rayon), $2.59

Blue serge, 100% virgin wool, 16 oz., $4.65

Gray serge,100% virgin wool, 14 oz., $4.65

Blue serge, 100% wool, 12.5 oz., $3.39

Blue serge (15% wool, 85% cotton), $2.50

Gray or brown check pattern, 100% wool, $2.98

All-wool gabardine, $5.95

All-wool covert, $5.50

******

Fall 1941 catalogue:

Moleskin trousers, $1.69, $1.89, and $2.19

All-virgin wool, $5.45

******

Fall 1943 catalogue:

Herringbone trousers (13% new wool, 5% rayon, and 82% cotton), $3.23

Cavalry twill gabardine (8% virgin wool, 32% cotton, 60% rayon), $3.98

Fine twill, smooth gabardine (8% virgin wool, 32% cotton, 60% rayon$3.98

All-wool gabardine, $7.45

All-wool covert, $6.95

100% worsted wool gabardine, $7.75

Gabardine (50% virgin wool, 50% rayon), $5.40

Worsted wool (100% virgin wool), $7.45

Heavyweight worsted blue serge (100% virgin wool), $7.48

Medium weight blue serge (100% virgin wool), $5.85

*****

Coming shortly: Khaki-related stories from the first half of the 1940s, and then some final comments.
 

Charles Dana

Honors Member
PART XV—CIVILIAN KHAKIS IN THE 1940s—A FEW STORIES FROM THE NEWSPAPERS

Santa Ana [California] Register
June 26, 1940

“BOY, 15, IS MISSING”

“Winfred L. Vanderbriff, 15...got tired of home life and disappeared Monday night....Winfred said he planned to go to Los Angeles or San Diego.” The police said that when last seen, the lad “had no coat but was wearing black oxfords, [a] straw hat, khaki trousers, [a] grey shirt with stripes, and no necktie.”

******

Los Angeles Times
July 6, 1940

[Deanna Durbin—who was born in 1921 and died in 2013—was a singer and motion picture actress in the 1930s and 1940s.]

“Sit-Stalking Lothario Ousted at Deanna Durbin’s Home”

“Police broke up a romantic sit-down strike yesterday at the Hollywood hillside home of Deanna Durbin, 17-year-old [sic] actress. The love striker was Robert E. Smith, 21....”

When Smith showed up at Deanna Durbin’s front door, her household staff did not let him in. “He was wearing khaki trousers and a white shirt, but no hat or tie. Young Smith then sighted the singing actress in the garden. He found her automobile and sat down in it.”

Police were summoned and took Smith to the Hollywood police station, where they “scolded” him. After the actress’ father decided not to press charges, the police put Smith on a streetcar and sent him home.

[Notice that in each of the above articles, the fact that neither young man was wearing a necktie was significant enough to point out.]

******

Los Angeles Times
January 4, 1944

“Temporarily blinded by the dazzling rays of an automobile spotlight..., W. S. Drake, shipyard worker,” was robbed by two men at gunpoint. The thugs were wearing “khaki trousers and shirts.” They got away with $22.00.

[And I bet neither of the perpetrators was wearing a necktie.]

******

The Spokesman Review [from Spokane, Washington]
July 8, 1944

United States Congressional Representatives “Hugh D. Scott Jr. of Philadelphia and Gordon Canfield of Paterson, N.J. reached London today after working their way across the Atlantic incognito as members of the crew of a tanker laden with high-octane gasoline. [The Republicans] said they made the trip...to provide information on the merchant marine to the Congress and the War Shipping Administration....They worked in khaki trousers and undershirts and slept in the forecastle with the seamen, who were unaware of their true identity.”

[Hugh Scott was elected to the United States Senate in 1958. While serving as Senate Minority Leader, Scott—with Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona and Representative John Rhodes of Arizona—met with President Nixon in August 1974. These three members of Congress advised Nixon, who was on the verge of being impeached by the House of Representatives, that his chances of being acquitted in a Senate trial were “gloomy.” The next day, Nixon announced his resignation.]

******

To show that real blacksmiths wear (or at least used to wear) khakis, here’s one more story, but from July 2, 1939 (close enough to the 1940s).

It’s about a blacksmith named Converse Purniton Trufant. In the summer of 1939 he was working at the “Electrified Farm” at the New York World’s Fair. The New York Times ran an article about him:

“Blacksmith at Fair Hates Horses; Wouldn’t Let One Enter His Shop”

“Converse Purniton Trufant, 67 years old, who was dressed in khaki pants, red shirt and grimy black leather apron, incongruously topped by a rakishly tilted blue beret, seemed troubled yesterday as he leaned on his anvil in the workshop of the Electrified Farm at the World’s Fair, where he is the center of attraction.

“The public seems to think of a blacksmith exclusively as a horseshoer, he said. But, in his opinion, any bona fide iron worker, who makes hand-wrought hinges, andirons, candlesticks and so on out of iron, is a blacksmith....”

One day a man entered Mr. Trufant’s shop in New Hampshire and asked him if he’d like “to work in the electrified smithy at the World’s Fair.” He was willing, if “they paid him well and see that he didn’t get lost in the big city.”

[Mr. Trufant passed away in 1950.]

******

NEXT: Concluding Remarks
 

Charles Dana

Honors Member
PART XVI—CONCLUSION

The August 3, 1899 edition of Vogue magazine carried an advertisement from a New York City clothing retailer:

“Yachting Togs, Golfing and Wheeling Clothes, Riding Breeches. Outing Apparel for Men and Boys made after newest fashions from confined weaves in Flannels, Ducks, Homespuns and Tweeds.”

Not a word about khakis.

About five years later, the Yale Daily News for June 11, 1904 had an advertisement for Langrock & Co., a venerable clothier to the Yale community. It read in part:

“Flannels, Cashmeres, Khakis, and Jeans. In All Shades for Riding and Outing Garments.”

On May 9, 1910, the tailoring firm called Machol and Machol placed an ad in the Yale Daily News:

“Just Received! Some New Ideas in Flannel Suitings and Trouserings, Also Khakis.”

The world of adventure wear and workwear changed forever when khaki attire hit the civilian market following the Spanish-American War of 1898. Khaki clothing did not replace the traditional “outing” fabrics—tweeds, linen, duck, white flannel, “crash”—but, rather, assumed a role alongside those materials.

My subjective view (I’m open to other opinions) is that the history of khaki trousers in the civilian sector can be divided into the following segments (with the caveats that the borders of those segments are fuzzy):

PHASE ONE: INTRODUCTION AND GAINING TRACTION—The first 20 years of the 20th Century

During this period, civilians are introduced to, and embrace, khaki clothing. The garments begin as play suits for children and soon become bicycling attire. Before the first decade of the 20th Century is out, khaki is, in addition to wool, duck, and linen, a desired fabric for making up hiking, fishing, “motoring,” hunting, and camping clothes. As the first decade progresses, khaki also begins to get marketed as rugged workwear.

Between approximately 1910 and 1920, khaki clothes further solidify their place in the realm of “outing” wear and become a more formidable presence in the world of outdoor/blue-collar work.

PHASE TWO—SETTLING IN—1920 through 1940

Khaki trousers are a fact of life, not merely a fad. Still, they know their place, and that place isn’t everywhere. During this period they are not marketed as school clothes, nor as items that grown-ups would wear outside of blue-collar work and outdoor adventuring. (That’s not to say that kids didn’t wear khakis to school—they’d wear what their parents could afford to give them. And for some men, khakis were their de facto casual pants.)

PHASE THREE—KHAKIS GO TO COLLEGE—From about 1947 to the late 1960s

In this phase, which has been much written about, World War II veterans go to college on the GI Bill. They take their comfortable, versatile khaki trousers with them. A new era in khakidom begins as khakis (now generally known as “chinos”) catch on at colleges and boarding schools. Meanwhile, for adult men, khaki trousers continue to be mainly for yard/field work, factory work, and outdoor pursuits (hunting, camping, fishing, and so on).

PHASE FOUR—MID-TO-LATE 1980s TO LATE 1990s-EARLY 2000s (?)

This period sees the rise of “business casual,” noted in its early stage for the popularity of full-cut, pleated khakis. “Dress chinos” (as opposed to khakis for “outings” and rugged work) are heavily marketed, and in colors other than khaki.

PHASE FIVE—The present era (ask me to characterize this period in 20 years)

******

A few months ago, when Fading Fast asked what role khaki trousers played on the sartorial stage prior to World War II, I figured I’d refer him to some online resources that would tell him more than he ever wanted to know about the topic. So I did a Google search. “Good. Lots of websites devoted to the history of civilian khakis.” But when I visited those sites, I was dismayed: although the authors claimed that they were going to tell us the history of khakis, they ended up mainly writing about (1) the popularity of chinos among college students between 1945 and around 1968 and (2) the role of khakis in the advent of business casual.

These writers do a fine job of describing the origin of khaki military uniforms in India in the mid-1800s, and they mention the use of khaki among soldiers in the 1898 Spanish-American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War. So far so good. But the next thing you know—BAM!—World War II is over and the khaki-clad veterans are in college.

The authors gloss over the first 40 years or so of the 20th Century. What’s that all about? I guess the period from 1900 to 1940 gets overlooked because it doesn’t have the glamour and mystique of the Ivy League and JFK, or the controversial nature of dress-down Friday.

The use of khaki trousers by civilians from the end of the 19th Century to the beginning of America’s entry in the Second World War is a story worth telling, but which until now has been pretty much ignored by those writers who have purported to tell the history of khaki. This thread has been an attempt to at least partially fill in that big gap in the story. I’ll leave it to the professional clothing historians to remove even more strata in search of additional artifacts.
 
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