Why Chinos Fade So Quickly

I overhear this statement a lot:

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

It’s a common complaint among my non-menswear friends and people in the general public, given the proclivity Australians possess for chinos.
Just about every brand ever carries chinos, from cheap garbage fast fashion shops through to more premium offerings.
It happens with stretch and non-stretch fabrics, and it happens with the lot.

It’s 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 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 dying process is inefficient, coupled with the fabric’s nature it leads to a fast-fading fabric.
The dying 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, inefficiently dyed raw denim became the prized style of denim 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.

This doesn’t mean you should throw them out, though.
Just because they’re faded, doesn’t mean you can’t keep wearing them.
Wear them casually.
Embrace the fade.
The best outfit is one that looks lived in.

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

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