Whether you call yourself a tourist or a traveller, whether you are away for a week or a year, I bet you have clothing in your bag that combines khaki and zips. If you are on an ‘adventure’ trip, chances are your entire wardrobe is khaki and zips.
What did this become the uniform to prove you were a hard core traveller – even if you are just on your way to Las Vegas for a weekend?
Sure, safari suits were in fashion in the seventies, but they have been completely lame ever since. Sure, it makes sense to have fabrics that are comfortable, that are suited for the heat or the cold, but khaki doesn’t make them any more or less comfortable.
safari-dress 70s fashion style
shell suits, UK travel wear in the 90s
khaki and zip travel trousers
khaki safari dress
khaki safari jacket
adidas trackies common travel wear in the 80s
tie dye travel tshirt
When I first started travelling in the 1980’s there were plenty of traveler uniforms, worn by different traveler tribes.
There was the tie-dye/hippy look available in markets worldwide, which we happily wore travelling and then threw away as soon as we got home.
There was the Track pants with everything’ look, and it’s close relatives, the ‘souvenir t-shirts of places we’d been to’ look and the t-shirts with a beer logo’ look.
And don’t forget the preppy golf shirt look, preferably a Lacoste knock-off from Istanbul or Kuta.
There was even a period (particularly for British travellers) of shiny shell suits in violently clashing colours.
None of these were great looks, but at least there was variety. So when did the “styled by Ralph Lauren’s tasteless cousin with an oversupply of khaki and zips” trend start to creep in, and how did it get so ubiquitous?
I was reminded of it when I read “Brick Lane” by Monica Ali – its a book about immigrants, not travel. But I laughed when I read a paragraph where one of her characters made the following observation:
The white people wore trousers with pockets all over them. They had pockets at the thigh, the knee, down on their shins. All their clothes had little tabs and toggles, zips and flaps and fasteners. It was as if they had dressed themselves in tents and to settle for the night they would simply insert a few poles and lay down.
On a recent flight, after being on safari in Tanzania, I was reading the inflight magazine ‘Tailwind” and came across a like minded article by Anthea Rowan, who also has a really interesting blog ReluctantMemsahib
. Here’s some quotes from her article, confirming that I am not the only person perplexed by the khaki and zips uniform.
Why have tourists visiting Africa developed such a zealous fondness for Khaki? And zips? And multitudes of pockets? Yes, I can understand why a soldier wears khaki during battle – mainly so he’s not seen – by his similarly khaki clad enemy – and shot. But it doesn’t explain why tourists feel the need to look like a commando squad on active duty when they come to look at out wildlife.
Most of them will tell you it’s because they’re going for a game drive and want to creep up on the wildlife unseen. How? In their black and white mini van with a dozen camera shutters clicking paparazzi-style? Even if their khaki uniforms rendered them magically invisible to the animals, I reckon there’s a pretty good chance the pride of lion/herd of elephant/cheetah and cubs might spot the fleet of 4×4’s surrounding them, get up and slope off out of sight.
Is your bag full of khaki and zips? Be adventurous, try a different color, a different style, or even clothes just normal clothes you already wear at home.
Disclaimer: the author has been known to wear cargo pants on urban adventures (to the local cafes), and has even travelled with them once or twice, but has never owned (and never will) a pair of zip-off khaki trouser/shorts. Or a matching shirt. Unless they go out of fashion and everyone stops wearing them – then she may reconsider.