A generation or so ago, chinos were cut with the slimmest of women in mind. If a girl had even a hint of hips, she could count on the white of the pocket to show. If she carried some extra weight, the pant was hopelessly unforgiving, offering a less-than-stellar rear view, not to mention bulges at the hips and thigh. Thankfully, chinos have come a long way, baby.

This fall, designers and retailer are breaking out the cotton bottoms in all manner of silhouette and style. In addition to businesswear models, there are worn, utility styles, fun trim-leg pants to pair with boots cropped versions, and even some with pleats.

It’s all about newness and giving women additional causal choices when she’s faced with that “what to wear” quandary. Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ shows that overall, only 28% of women prefer casual slacks to denim jeans. While denim is still the hands-down favorite, an infusion of fresh khaki looks will provide options for women and opportunities for retailers.

The appeal of khakis comes from its versatility. The Monitor finds that when dressing for different activities, 56% of women will wear one comfortable outfit, rather than change clothes. Here’s where the chino bottom works perfectly.

A case in point is Caroline, a 39-year-old marketing exec, who recently went directly from her office to a gymnasium in her town to help set up for her daughter’s Brownie troop sleepover.

What Women Prefer to Wear
  Third Quarter ‘04 Third Quarter ‘05
Casual Slacks 32.3% 35.6%
Denim Jeans 65.5% 62.1%

“I can’t wear jeans to my office,” Caroline explains. “But I couldn’t wear a skirt or dressy pants. There wouldn’t be time to change before I had to be at that gym — pulling out tables and chairs and setting up sleeping bags on the floor. The khakis were perfect.”

For fall ’06, the choices may be even more attractive. For instance, this spring, Gap parlayed three specific fits that worked well for its jeans to its khakis. The retailer will continue the curvy, original and straight fits for autumn, reports Sean Krebs, Gap style expert.

“Gap recognized that women were having a hard time finding the perfect-fitting jeans and pants,” he says. “[These] three fits address the specific needs of women’s different body types. And for fall, Gap will be offering several variations on the khaki pant. There will be classic, distressed and cargo versions as well as styles that feature floral embroidery.”

Liz Claiborne is also addressing the body-type issue with both curvy and easy fits. For fall, the company is offering relaxed-leg khakis in softwashed twill with details like velvet and grosgrain trims, as well as drawstring waists, cargo pockets and pleats. Cropped versions will also be available.

“We feel khaki capris have absolutely become a staple for women year-round,” says Richard Ostell,Vice-president, Creative Director for Liz Claiborne Apparel. “For fall, we offer a cropped khaki cargo pant that can be worn with boots.”

Krebs says Gap’s newest cropped khakis will also carry over into fall. “They are perfect for several seasons and, of course, they are always appropriate for women to wear year-round in warmer climates.”

Dockers®, the ubiquitous name in the khakis game, is also seeing alternative lengths as appropriate year-round, says Winnie Park, Senior Director, Women’s Merchandising. “For fall, we introduce cropped pants in cool-weather-appropriate fabrics of striped and plaid patterns — great for wearing with tall boots or even heels.”

At Jeffrey New York, proprietor Jeffrey Kalinsky says he’s interested in seeing how customers take to the buzz around non-denim bottoms.

“Because denim is like a whole thing unto itself – there’s no end in sight,” he says. On the other hand, “Khakis can’t replace the jean, but they’re here forever. They’re part of American culture and are an iconic garment that will always be in, sometimes more than others.”

Original Penguin’s Chris Kolbe agrees with Kalinsky that denim won’t soon be de-throned. But he likes giving consumers an option to the jean. This fall, he says, renewed interest in khakis will come from modern silhouettes.

“The basic old chino isn’t so important for fall ’06,” Kolbe says. “The new models are a great opportunity because they get people to try new brands and products rather than sticking with the same silhouette that’s been out there for five years.”

One of Penguin’s new designs is a slimmer trouser cut. Kolbe describes it as having denim details like top stitching and hardware trims, but being cut more like a trouser.

Dockers’ other new looks include some that bear its take on the utility trend: more relaxed and casual with “aggressive” washed-down finishes and cargo details that work well as weekend wear, according to Park. She adds that fresh options for the office will also be available, “with patterns such as pinstripes, as well as a wider range of neutral tones.”

Expanded casual workwear options are important for women, as the vast majority of them do not wear suits or uniforms. The Monitor shows about 35% of women describe their work attire as “business-like with freedom,” while 27% say they wear casual clothes.

Kolbe reiterates that fall khakis won’t replace denim. “But they’ll be a nice alternative. For fashion-forward people, it’s exciting to buy some new looks in non-denim. That’s where the fashion is.” 
This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Appearing Thursdays in these pages, each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

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