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 pretty much your entire wardrobe meets the khaki and zips description. When 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 have been completely lame ever since, so why is the travel uniform now basically a safari suit with 14 extra pockets and zips? Sure, it makes sense to have fabrics that are comfortable, that are suited for the heat or the cold, but there’s no reason they have to be khaki safari suits with added zips. And its not like other colours and styles aren’t available, so why look like a clone?
When I first started travelling some 23 years ago, there were plenty of traveler uniforms, worn at different times by various sub-tribes. But everyone else just wore their most comfortable ‘normal’ clothes that suited the climate. There was the tie-dye/hippy look available in markets worldwide, which we were already deriding as “so last decade” but somehow would end up with bits of in the pack the longer we travelled -but at least it always got thrown away as soon as we got home.
There was the ‘track pants teamed with souvenir t-shirts of places we’d been to’ look (or alternatively t-shirts with the logos of beers we had drunk). There was 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. All of these were pretty bad looks, but we were unlikely to find every traveler we met wearing the same thing, and it was at least colourful. 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?
The first time I really noticed it completely taking over was about five years ago in Luang Prabang. It was the same time I noticed two other very disturbing (for me) trends. I realised that well over 50% of the tourists in Luang Prabang at the time were baby boomers – far outnumbering the young backpackers and everyone else in between. I don’t know if it was just a fluke, a random occurance, but it certainly surprised me. And every single one of those baby boomers were wearing expensive “made for travel” khaki trousers, with zip off legs and countless other pockets and zips. And far too many of them were pairing their khaki trousers with crocs. The takeover of khaki zipped trouser + croc wearing baby boomers was painfully obvious as they elbowed their way in every morning so they could shove their camera lens three inches from the faces of the monks as they wound their way around town at dawn collecting alms. It was not a pretty picture of the potential future of travel. It was consistent across at least a dozen nationalities that I could identify. And while it was most obvious on the babyboomers, it was certainly not exclusive to them.
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.