Saturday, April 20, 2013

Must every woman own a pair of Khakis? Customizing the Classics...

Pants – Brunello Cuccinelli, sleeveless top – Dorothy Perkins, cord bracelet – Dorothy Perkins, blush sandals – Marais USA, chalcedony earrings –NuNu, tunic – Mary Portas, lace ballet flats – J.C. Penney, tank top – Uniqlo, tote bag – Ted Baker, sandals - Balenciaga

When you read those "10 wardrobe classics every woman MUST have", you'll often see a pair of khaki pants included as one of the ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED pieces of clothing...

What utter tripe - there is NO REQUIRED GARMENT for any woman's wardrobe.  (Yes, I firmly believe some women can live without a bra, and if you wear tights every day, then other undergarments might be optional too...)

That said, there is some logic to the idea of a pair of khakis are a core garment...

First, the specific definition of "khakis" is pretty loose to start with, and could include any of these sort of things:
Khakis – Vince, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Uniqlo
But the general goal, in saying that you must own khakis, is really to make sure that you have a pair of washable, "dressier than jeans", pair of pants that can be worn to events where jeans would be just too casual, but which aren't so over the top that you can't sit on the ground, or lift a box, if the occasion demands.

Knowing that, we have choices.  Most obvious - khakis can just be cotton twill pants in any neutral color you prefer:
Cotton twill pants - L.L.Bean
For some women, a cotton twill skirt will be a preferred alternative:
Cotton twill skirts - L.L.Bean
In the winter, many of us choose a pair of corduroy pants in place of twill.  The feel warmer, and they just seem "wintery-er".
Corduroy pants - L.L.Bean
And in the scorching hot summer, linen pants can be a great alternative.  Yes, many linen pants are washable; always check before purchasing.  Nothing gets softer and cooler than linen after a couple of years...

Linen palazzo pants – Brunello Cucinelli, chambray trousers – Topshop, tan linen trousers – J. Crew
Remember, behind many of these wardrobe "essentials", there might be a grain of truth, and good advice.  Always dissect the intent of what you're being told, and then apply your intelligence and your own, very personal, good taste, and choose your OWN essentials.  There are no rules; don't let anybody tell you otherwise.


  1. Yes! For me it's the casual skirt 89% of the time!


  2. Those 'must have' lists are annoying, what if you look awful in a white shirt? I like the way you've turned it around to make it workable. And btw, what's with the breast pockets on all the shirts? Who thinks this is a desirable detail? I've had to bypass so many shirts this year...frustrating....just like the we-only-produce-skinny-pants mindset that you wrote about. Hope your weekend weather is better than ours, we had a bit of snow this morning in Toronto...come on spring!

  3. I love your common sense.
    A few days back you asked for websites without models posing in the clothes. Here are a few:
    I like They have a large assortment of beautiful clothes.
    I also like the Dress Barn.
    Hope this helps with your selections.


    1. Double delight! No models plus wonderful socks for the argyle addict. argozdotcom

  4. Classic khakis are probably the most misery-inducing article of clothing I can think of--straight up and down shape. Can black pants count as khakis? I know you'll say YES.

    1. Absolutely! One pair of the L.L.Bean cotton twill pants I show is black - khaki is not a color that anybody MUST own... Misery-inducing is a great way to describe the feeling a bad pair of pants that you're supposed to love!

  5. You're right! Ill-fitting pants are not anything to love. Soft, washable pants or a casual skirt in a neutral colour can go with any of the tops and accessories that you show.

  6. Khakis, like white shirts (or any shirt) need to be well-cut for the particular body wearing them to look good. That doesn't mean dropping big bucks, but one time when I did, I was amazed at the difference.
    Sometimes what we think we can't wear looks great on us once we have the right cut... especially true for jeans.

  7. I have a pair of very well made dark khaki twill pants that are a staple for me in Spring-Summer. But, I can see that cheap khaki can be misery indeed. My khaki's are the best fitting pants I own and look great on me. I like them so much that when they wear out I will make another paiir just like them IF I can find the great fabric. These pants go with every color and can be dressed up or down. I think the lighter the fabric, the better quality it must be to not look cheap. I agree with Janice though - I hate all the rules. I want to be happy with whatever style and colors make me feel good.

    No other way to be!

  8. I like how you deal with these silly rules of must haves. That said I love my khakis but I am also one of those people who looks good in that 'soul-sucking' beige that so many abhor. Btw, is there any way to make these mid-lenght twill skirts look not frumpy? I certainly have not ever looked good in one, but I can see their versatility. If anyone can make them look stylish, it will be you.

  9. This has been an interesting post - does khaki refer to the colour or style? Khaki for me is a dirty green colour worn by our army. This is usually called sand or stone in clothing catalogues here. Pants in this colour/style are usually described as chinos.

  10. I am learning from the Vivienne files to see the "must-have" lists in a new way. I'm seeing that you can consider why a particular item was recommended and substitute something that not only fills that purpose, but works specifically for you. That way, the list is only a springboard for organizing your wardrobe, not something that you must follow to a T. I'm not great at it, but it's fun to ponder. Janice, your wardrobe examples are more fun, though. :)

  11. Janice, thanks for saying that last bit. I have been taken in by the "must have" lists, to the detriment of my style. One cyber-stylist said a denim skirt was a must-have, so I ordered one from LL Bean, and it never looked right on me, I never felt comfortable in it, and during this year's spring closet clean-out, I put it on the "donate" pile. I hardly ever wore it, and it has lots of wear left in it, but it just wasn't me. Same with white and other button-down shirts - I no longer work, so i have no need for them, and they didn't fit anymore, so out they went!

    However, I succumbed to temptation recently and purchased a denim shirt (the kind you recommend in the Common Wardrobe) and some long scarves. Hopefully I will get a lot of wear out of them. I'm trying to wear all my clothes I have in rotation in my wardrobe. Your blog has been extremely helpful in helping me to figure out how to dress sharp!

  12. I work for the US Navy as a civilian ... I was getting ready to go to sea for six months and wondered what my "uniform" should be. Everyone said "khakis and polo shirts." I forced myself into these clothes and felt miserable and uncomfortable for that half a year at sea. Ugh. Why didn't I listen to my own instincts and go with something softer and more "me"? Live and learn. Thanks for the reinforcement!

  13. Thank you, Janice! I have read so many blogs, articles and comments regarding essentials
    for a wardrobe. It also depends on what part of the country you live in (or world). I lived in Hawaii for most of my life, now live in Texas. I owned khaki pants and wore them to work. In my workplace, jeans were not allowed, but khakis allowed me to get dirty.

    Here in South Texas, khakis fit the bill when jeans are too hot. And I can still dress them up or down.

    I didn't even own a blazer until I moved here, I never had the need for one in Hawaii! Now I wear them all the time in the cooler months. When it comes to wardrobes, there should be no rules.

    And I have been wearing white jeans before Memorial Day! ;-)

  14. I have two pair of khaki pants, of which I only wear one. But I have 6 khaki skirts for the office in summer - they are great looking (were cheap!!) and can be combined with all colors and all styles. They are my perfect summer office outfit :-)
    Have a very HAPPY Sunday :-)

  15. I don't have any khaki pants. I wish I did, but finding a pair that fits would be a mission. I DO have a pair of zip up knit pants in a color called "rain" (sort of a light olive color). I don't think they are quite a versatile, but almost. Janice, I like the way you analyze must have lists.