Why chinos fade so quickly

Why do my chinos/khakis fade so quickly? I feel like I just bought them.”

It’s a common complaint among many men of all ages. Just about every brand ever carries chinos, from cheap garbage fast fashion shops through to more premium offerings. Fade happens to stretch and non-stretch fabrics; it isn’t limited to chinos, as it occurs with any cotton-rich fabric.

This fading is often perceived as a flaw, leading to people throwing out chinos regularly to buy new ones. Fashion companies have been happy to let this mindset lie in buyers, as it boosts margins. However, this has created an environmentally disastrous effect with the amount of waste it creates.

The hot secret is, cotton garments will always fade quickly. It’s the nature of the fabric. It’s genuinely supposed to fade.


Much of the story is detailed in W. David Marx’s book Ametora.
To paraphrase in a few sentences:

Cotton doesn’t take to dye very well, hence why many traditionally dyed cottons often have visible white fibres.
The dyeing process is inefficient, coupled with the fabric’s nature it leads to a fast-fading fabric. This dyeing process may have been modernised to increase the efficiency of dyeing, however cotton fabric will never be colourfast like others. It fades quickly.

So quickly, in fact, that if we look to the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era, they turned to synthetics to help solve the problem. The OG-107 (now quite sought after) standard issue uniform shirt and pants would fade very quickly from their olive drab to a washed out grey-green colour. The effect was so rampant that the army replaced the OG-107 with its successor, the OG-507 uniform, which contained somewhere around 35% polyester. This was done not just for durability, but importantly to improve the colourfastness of the uniforms. The effect was drastic, to the point that many OG-507 pieces are still relatively unfaded.

Yet, their older counterparts are the prized pieces among collectors now. Just like union-made and inefficiently dyed raw denim became the prized make of denim cloth among enthusiasts, rather than the more effectively dyed newer processes.

Chinos are just as susceptible to fading as denim. Being often made of thinner fabrics and using cheaper, faster dyeing processes, chinos are often the most susceptible to quickly fading. Hence that pair of cheap chinos you bought for $40 being faded out after a couple of weeks. The difference you’ll usually get between a $30 pair of chinos and a $300 pair of chinos – aside from more considered fits, better finishing quality, higher durability and more interesting details – is that the fabric used will likely fade in a much nicer, more attractive way than the cheap chinos made from cheap cloth.

Regardless of whether you have the cheap chinos or the premium offerings, the appearance of fading doesn’t mean you should throw them out. Just because they’re faded, doesn’t mean you can’t keep wearing them. Wear them casually. Embrace the fade, and you’ll likely find that the fully broken in chinos you have after a year of wear look and feel fantastic. It’s like growing your hair out; you go through a few months of it not looking its best, however once you’ve had a barber cut and style the longer hair in the way that you wanted it, the end result is great.

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With content features ranging from appearances on popular menswear hubs (The Rake, StyleForum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is a writer, designer and enthusiast in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

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