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I spent my adolescence shunning khakis. In junior high, we had to wear them with polo shirts — navy blue or white — and I was sure an uglier pant had never existed. We’d just moved out of San Francisco and into what I called “the country;” they were as beige as my new suburban life.
But then I grew up. This summer, nearly 20 years later, I’ve spent at least two months talking about khakis. About how much I need a pair. I don’t lack for pants, but my closet did want for this particular neutral. I pictured them oversized, definitely cut for men, cuffed at the bottom, to wear with tight black bodysuits and sandals to work and with white T-shirts and Vans on the weekend.
Khakis are a staple, right? You can find them anywhere, so I did not anticipate this being a problem. But the truth is you could find them everywhere in 1998, not in 2017. 2017 is the summer of “the perfect cropped culotte,” not the oversized work pant, according to Racked market editor Tanisha, my de facto arbiter of what is and is not cool. When I asked her why I couldn’t find khakis anywhere, she answered, “Probably because they are not cool.”
My first stop was Carhartt, back when this was a casual oh-wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to-have-a-pair-of-khakis kind of thing. I confidently grabbed a pair of men’s pants off the shelf and laughed when I couldn’t button them around my waist. I needed a bigger size so they’d fall at my hips, but that meant the crotch hit my knees. I buy men’s sweaters and T-shirts with such regularity that I naively assumed pants would work, too. Nope.
As my desperation deepened, I was tempted to take the easy way out. I pulled a friend into Rachel Comey. “No,” he said, not just not endorsing but flat-out refusing to allow me to spend $300 on khakis. “Go to Dave's Workwear.” According to the paper sign in the window of his Chelsea store, however, Dave was on vacation that week. (New York, just a small town!) Old Navy was across the street, and I briefly considered cargo pockets — could lean Carrie Bradshaw if I paired them with a strappy sandal. But I’m no Carrie, and they were very bad.
I tried J.Crew, Gap, looked in the window of but didn’t actually enter Bonobos. The search had turned into a game. A game I was losing. If this sounds nuts, sure, it might be. I’m not sure why I became so obsessed with finding khakis, but the harder they were to find, the more I wanted them (as with all things). In our increasingly terrifying world, I’ve found a measure of calm in taking on small tasks: a single sailing lesson, learning to thread a sewing machine, mastering Pilates, bringing my lunch to work every day for a week, putting together a weird outfit on a Saturday night. Finding khakis turned into a bigger task than I expected, but one I could surely complete with the right dedication.
So I spread the word. I asked people wearing khakis where they found their khakis, if they loved their khakis, where I could maybe find khakis like their khakis. And that tenacity paid off. Cliff, Eater’s special projects director, Slacked me one Monday morning (I may or may not have turned this into a Vox Media-wide endeavor), “Found a STACK of vintage military-issue vintage khakis this weekend.” The stack was at 10 Foot Single by Stella Dallas, Brooklyn’s vintage staple.
Vintage was so obviously the answer that it was embarrassing that I, the editor of a site about shopping, hadn’t thought to look. Sure enough, in the back room of the warehouse-like space were army green pants, camo pants, white linen pants, high-waisted belted camel pants, each to outfit a different kind of army for a different kind of battle. They were complemented by stacks of army green tank tops, sweatshirts, flight suits, and bomber jackets, like a looser, cheaper Yeezy collection. I knew the ones I wanted on sight. The tag said something about French military issue, and while the pants tapered at the waist, the legs were huge — like, really big. How to dress like a French soldier for just $40!
I rolled into dinner on Saturday night with a huge grin on my face: “I found them!” They might be the most unflattering pants I’ve ever owned, and I love them that extra way you love a thing that was so hard to get, be it a job, a person, a meal you actually made.
I’ll stop talking about them, though, now that I can wear them every day.