Khakis go way back.
This story first appeared in the January 27, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In 1846, an Englishman in India, Sir Henry Lumsden, dyed his cotton pajamas to create a uniform more suitable to the climate, thus creating khakis. He had no way of knowing that, 150 years later, his tan PJs would evolve into a uniform of another sort: that of comfort-craving office workers.
At the heart of khakis’ heritage has always been their go-with-anything style and function, which Dockers proudly embraced when the brand launched in 1986. Khakis were as suitable to wear in the field as for dinner out. Just ask Indiana Jones.
But in the late Eighties, Dockers took on a new role as “casual Fridays” gained in popularity in offices across the country. And the brand would soon emerge as the go-to label and style for relaxed business attire.
Doug Conklyn, senior vice president of global design for Dockers, said the brand’s emergence as a casual business uniform had a lot to do with timing.
“We were at a time where conventional business dress codes were being challenged,” he explained. “Dockers offered an alternative to the suit, but that satisfied our guy’s need to look appropriate and respectable.”
Men’s wear expert Michael Londrigan, who is LIM College’s dean of academic affairs, concurred. He pointed out that Dockers met the need for the transition from suits to casual businesswear.
“And it resonated well [with consumers] because Dockers makes for easy dressing,” Londrigan said. “Dockers are also easy to wear, and comfortable and easy to care for. And it is versatile. Men can wear Dockers to work, and it is also suitable for going out.”
Conklyn said there’s a reason dress codes exist. “A lot of men look to dress codes for direction, guidance,” he said. “We know our consumer wants to be dressed appropriately, neither overdressed nor underdressed. Dockers broke the stalemate between suits and jeans.”
But there are also nuances to the Dockers business casual story, which includes an international reach. Conklyn said initially, “it was all about offering an alternative business uniform based on changing attitudes and the desire for comfort. While the evolution of business attire originated in Silicon Valley and quickly spread throughout America, eventually it was embraced internationally as well, paving the way for Dockers’ global expansion. Over time, Dockers innovations such as wrinkle-resistance, stain-resistance, comfort-based constructions and hidden pockets added a performance element to the uniform, which was valued by our customers and adopted by the industry.”
Retail and marketing strategist B.J. Bueno, founder of The Cult Branding Co., said most of the research his firm has conducted in men’s wear reveals Dockers’ success “relates most to comfort and fit. This sounds simple, but in execution is quite hard to pull off.”
Simultaneously, Dockers enveloped brand attributes with consumers that included descriptions such as “honest,” “reliable,” “genuine” and “authentic,” said Shaun Lewis, vice president of global marketing for the brand. “Our consumers rely on the Dockers brand to provide comfortable yet appropriate, quality product that won’t break the bank,” Lewis said. “Over the past 30 years, the Dockers brand has delivered these attributes to our guy consistently, allowing the brand to help ease his decision-making when it comes to wardrobe choices and providing him the confidence he desires while helping to give back some time for the moments that matter most.”
From a human behavior perspective, these brand attributes make sense as to why casual business attire became popular. The long hours common in today’s entrepreneurial environment are fatiguing. And business dealings overall can be ruthless, so comfort and honesty would be attractive and soothing.
And Dockers also offers versatility. Conklyn said he “always thought khakis were the most versatile pants in a man’s wardrobe….You can absolutely dress down or up. From a simple T-shirt and canvas sneakers to a button-down, rep tie and penny loafers, you can dramatically change your style.”
“Our good guy is nuanced, but he isn’t going to rely on a single stereotype to make him stand out,” Lewis said. “He’s much more confident than that.”