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The Unbearable Tyranny of Polos and Khakis

It’s Summer, which for better or worse means it’s time for men to bust out their Khakis and don their polos before leaving for the office or country club. In a word: barf. In a lot more words … well, just keep reading for a little history lesson and a little commentary as to why no one (short of your dad) should ever wear either of these things.


Long before the day of biz-cas, both the Polo (or tennis or golf) shirt and the Khaki pant were considered outdoor wear only. Specifically the Polo shirt was designed for professional sports while Khaki’s were military uniforms adapted for casual use.

These origins are of course are not as simple as I make them out to be. While the Polo shirt was clearly popularized by Rene Lacoste, when and where the color khaki came to be synonymous with “ugly brown casual slacks” is difficult to ascertain. Likewise, why we also refer to the same pants as Chinos is open to debate. We do know this much: historically Khaki (“dust colored” in urdu) fabric originated via dying British Indian Army uniform jackets in mulberry juice. The phrase Chinos came into usage (at least in America) after GI’s serving in the Pacific in WW2 came back and started wearing their khaki colored issue pants to college.

Today though both have become a buffer between Dad’s wool slacks and Junior’s jeans (or as grannana condescendingly insisted “dungarees”). There was a time that Chino meant the pant and Khaki meant the color, but current usage suggests everyone calls cheap tan pants Khakis and expensive tan pants Chinos. Thus you can probably just assume something marketed as Chinos will likely fit/look like less-dressy slacks while Khakis will fit like … well, Khakis. Which is to say like shit.

What’s wrong with Khakis then? Nothing, really, except for their pedestrian awkwardness. They go with anything which, when you really think about it, means they go with nothing. They’re the plain yogurt of pants. Pair with their equally dull partner the Polo and you have an outfit that says “It’s Summer! I give up.”

don’t be this guy

The polo has no dressier cousin to turn to. To make the polo nicer, you extend the buttons down until oh wait now you have a regular shirt. Maybe some stripes or patterns, or a little embroidered animal? Honestly the harder you try the more you look like you’re in a private elementary school.

Take the original American Apparel polo as an example: having found no way to distinguish it, they added a cross-stitched panel in the middle just beneath a line of too many buttons. The result? A lightweight shirt that’s ready for summer! Also, it’s hideous. So hideous I can’t find a proper image of it online. So you get this guy instead:

kill it with fire

You can pair a t-shirt with a jacket or jeans with oxfords to thoroughly class either up. People attempt to class up polos by adding a sweater, thereby placing them beyond anyone’s help. The real way to dress up a polo is to not wear one to begin with and the real way to dress up the Khaki is to spend as much on them as you would dress pants. At that point the label on them will say “Chino” and not “Khakis” and you will be dressing more like a grown up and less like your dad. Which, my friends, is always a good thing.

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Looking for an American Apparel hideolo? I’m here for you-

When I turned 35, I purchased two Polos as required by law. I wear them sometimes.

Aaron John Curtis · Jun 30, 01:02 PM · #

Yes, that is definitely it – I kept trying to find one where you could clearly see the weird panel that sits awkwardly in the middle of your chest. That one captures it perfectly.

john spain · Jun 30, 01:07 PM · #

wow, the guy in that picture is like 90 pounds. when did starving become de rigeur for men?

— anniepoohster · Jun 30, 01:36 PM · #

Haha, oh, Aaron.

My memere always called em dungarees, too!

EAT · Jun 30, 03:12 PM · #

The cross-hatch is tough to see, but that color makes it pop. For better or worse.

Every American Apparel model must be inches from death by malnutrition. Its in their handbook.

Aaron John Curtis · Jun 30, 04:19 PM · #

Yo man, this is my daily uniform. Why you gotta hate?

— Ricky P · Jul 1, 02:01 PM · #

If it weren’t for polos – I’d have to wear a dress or some kind of ‘summer suiit’ to work everday. One woman’s take? Polos are sweet alternatives to long sleeve dress shirts for summer business wear in South Florida.
And John Spain is awesome.

— 'k' · Jul 5, 01:16 PM · #

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