Khakis vs Khaki Trousers: James Bond’s More Sophisticated Choice
Cotton ‘khakis’ and chinos are not a substitute for smarter tailored wool, linen and cotton trousers in the same colours. The difference between casual trousers in colours such as khaki, beige, stone, tan, taupe and fawn and tailored trousers of the same colours is an important distinction to make, but it’s one that is often ignored. The difference is in both the cloth and the cut.
Cotton chino, cotton drill, denim and other less refined cotton twills are better worn casually than with a tailored jacket. But cottons like gabardine for warmer weather and corduroy and moleskin for colder weather can pair well with a jacket, particularly when the trousers are in a dressier cut. Linen trousers are more formal for warm weather, while various kinds of wools are more formal year-round.
Formal trousers have a tailored cut with legs shaped on both the inseam and outseam while casual trousers like chinos, khakis, jeans and some corduroy and moleskin trousers are cut straight on the outseam and only shaped on the inseam. The straight outseam looks less refined and more casual. Such trousers may or may not be pressed with a crease. They are dressier with a crease, but they still don’t have the elegance of a tailored cut. The shape of the trousers makes a tremendous difference as to how dressed up or dressed down they look.
Trousers need to complement and balance the jacket. Chinos can complement a Harrington jacket, a bomber jacket or a field jacket, but they’re rarely the best choice for a tailored jacket. Chinos and khakis don’t usually pair well with sports coats because they are casual trousers, with both a more casual cloth and a more casual cut. They can work well with some very relaxed sports coats, but trousers in more formal materials with a tailored cut and crease much more effectively with all sports coats.
The trouser shape can also determine what kinds of shoes they look best with. A more casual cut looks better with more casual shoes, ranging from moccasins to work and hiking boots to trainers, while a dressier cut needs a dressier and more delicate shoe like a derby, an elegant slip-on or a chukka boot. However, there are also types of shoes can work well with both types of trousers.
Trouser details don’t make as much of a difference. While a five-pocket design is always casual, on-seam and slanted side pockets as well as jetted and flapped rear pockets can be found on both casual and smarter trousers. Frogmouth pockets are a sporty detail, but they’re usually found on dressier trousers. Decorative stitching does not make much of a difference.
James Bond often wears trousers that are in the khaki colour family but are the smarter tailored kind and not khakis or chinos. When Bond wears khaki trousers and the like with a dressy outfit, he’s wearing wool trousers.
Paired with tweed hacking jackets in Goldfinger, Thunderball and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and paired with a blazer in Moonraker, Bond wears wool cavalry twill trousers in shades of fawn or beige. These are good for colder weather because they traditionally come in a heavy weight. Wool cavalry twill is the perfect complement to medium to heavy-weight jackets like tweeds, and it works well with heavier blue blazers. Chinos can rarely balance the heavy, textured look of a tweed. Bond also dresses down his fawn cavalry twill trousers in Thunderball with a wool long-sleeve polo, showing how these dressy trousers can lend a sophisticated look to a casual outfit.
In The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only and A View to a Kill, Bond wears white, cream, tan and beige wool gabardine trousers with his blue blazers. Wool gabardine is a lighter-weight wool twill that has a smooth finish for a dressier look, which complements the blazers perfectly. Despite its smooth look, it can also dress down well with a lightweight jumper in moderate weather. It’s a classic resort trouser, but not for hot weather.
In GoldenEye, Bond wears beige tropical wool trousers with his double-breasted blazer. Tropical wool is more comfortable in hot weather than wool gabardine because of its open weave. It doesn’t look as smooth as gabardine, but it’s often considered more formal. In the case of odd trousers with a blazer, the formality between the two is roughly equal.
For a less formal alternative to wool gabardine and tropical wool, cotton gabardine can also pair well with blazers while looking more sophisticated than chinos if in a tailored cut. Bond wears cotton gabardine trousers in a casual chino cut in Spectre with an unstructured light brown sports coat in wool, linen and silk. The chinos work decently because the jacket is both lightweight and unstructured. The trousers have a crease to dress them up a little. Rolling up the hems, however, dresses them down for an awkward look.
There’s an American tradition of wearing chinos with not only blazers but even tweed jackets. It’s an effective way to dress down a sports coat, but it looks much less sophisticated and apart from in Spectre, Bond never dresses down his sports coats this way. With blue blazers, chinos can give a very relaxed feel to the outfit. However, tweed jackets look unbalanced with chinos due to the contrast in weight and texture between the heavy jacket and lighter trousers. Even heavy chinos are not robust enough for proper tweeds.
Bond wears tailored trousers with numerous casual outfits throughout the series in situations where an average person today would wear chinos or jeans. With his striped camp shirt in Thunderball and his beige terrycloth shirt in Diamonds Are Forever, Bond wears tailored cream linen trousers. He wears tailored tan cotton trousers with a black short-sleeve shirt in Live and Let Die. With his cream silk shirt and green safari shirt in The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond wears tailored trousers in cream and beige, likely of linen blends. In For Your Eyes Only, Bond wears pairs of lightweight casual tailored trousers in fawn linen and stone cotton with his green suede blouson and his yellow jersey shirt, respectively.
There are many other examples of similarly tailored trousers for casual wear in the Bond series, in both the khaki colour family and in other colours. They are made by Bond’s bespoke tailors Anthony Sinclair, Cyril Castle, Angelo Roma and Douglas Hayward and others. These trousers have tailored cuts and are pressed with a crease but are made in casual but fine materials, frequently wool or linen. They are more elegant and sophisticated than the easy choice of chinos or cords, but they set Bond apart as a man who puts in the extra effort with his casual clothes. These casual trousers could also be easily dressed up with sports coats.
There is one significant downside to dressing in tailored trousers all the time, and that’s the cost. Tailored trousers are more expensive than chinos, and they need to be dry cleaned.