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How To Wear A Dress Shirt With Khakis (Colors, Tips)

While known for their versatility, khakis can sometimes be frustrating to coordinate with shirts on the more formal end of the spectrum. The question is, can you really wear a dress shirt with khakis? 

A dress shirt can be worn with khakis in business-casual and smart-casual settings. Choosing a relatively “casual” looking dress shirt with a subtle pattern or with a more rugged weave should reduce the risk of a formality mismatch between the dress shirt and the khakis. 

Here are some great dress shirt colors you could wear with khakis: 

  • White
  • Black
  • Gray
  • Blue
  • Pink

That’s the short and sweet answer. 

But read on to see those color combinations displayed and described in more detail to help you choose the perfect one. 

After that, we’ll run through some specific tips for wearing this combination in the best way possible, each and every time. 

Let’s get to it. 

cream shirt and khaki pants
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5 Dress Shirt Colors You Can Wear With Khakis

You’ll notice how certain combinations look a little dressier, while others look a little more casual. 

“Khakis” refer to chinos in khaki color – a pale shade of brown. 

It’s incredibly easy to coordinate with other colors, but you’ll usually find that dress shirts come in neutrals or soft pastels.

Remember, khakis should never be worn in formal or business-professional settings. Bear this in mind as you go through the following options. 

White Dress Shirt

A white dress shirt can easily be worn with khakis in business-casual and smart-casual settings. It would generally be the dressiest option and by far the easiest to coordinate. 

Khaki pants with white casual shirt
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White is incredibly neutral and is usually seen as the go-to dress shirt color when you’re looking to dress formally. 

The beauty of a white dress shirt is that there’s never a risk of underdressing. It’s very hard to go wrong. 

white shirt khaki pants blue blazer
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White and khaki pair effectively and seamlessly given how neutral they are, giving you plenty of opportunity to add color with your other items if you wanted to.  

If you were looking to dress for a business-casual setting, a white (or light blue) dress shirt would be ideal. 

Black Dress Shirt

A black dress shirt can be worn with khakis in smart-casual settings. The high-contrast aesthetic will be striking, but very effective given how neutral both colors are. 

Khaki pants with black shirt
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A “high-contrast” combination is one where the two colors being combined are noticeably different from each other. 

In this case, we’re combining a light and pale color (khaki) with a very dark neutral (black). 

Given how eye-catching the combination will be, it would generally be inappropriate to wear in business-casual settings. 

In addition, black shirts generally look too casual for these environments in any case. 

Instead, reserve the black shirt and khakis combination for smart-casual settings. 

Consider popping a light grey blazer over the black shirt for a monochrome color scheme. Round things off with a pair of black dress shoes to add some balance to the outfit. 

Grey Dress Shirt

Grey shirts can be worn with khakis in a variety of different casual settings. A light grey shirt and khakis combination would work well in business-casual settings, while dark grey shirts are more appropriate in settings more casual than this. 

Khaki pants with light grey shirt
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Ultimately, the combination will look very different depending on the shade of the grey dress shirt you choose to wear with the khakis. 

A light grey shirt has a more subtle and “professional” look to it, making it look many times dressier than a dark grey shirt. 

In addition, a light grey shirt would lead to a low-contrast and understated combination when worn with the typically light and pale color of the khakis. 

But ultimately, grey is neutral enough to coordinate with khakis no matter what shade it is. It’ll always look great. 

The dress code or the setting you’re attending is what matters here. 

Blue Dress Shirt

Blue dress shirts can be worn with khakis in a wide range of settings, with light blue shirts being more appropriate in business-casual settings. 

Khaki pants with light blue shirt
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Once again, the shade of the blue shirt matters, but don’t overthink it. 

Blue, while a typically “cool” color, will look great with khaki no matter what shade it’s in. 

In fact, while khaki is considered a “menswear neutral” given how easy it is to coordinate with other colors, it does have noticeably warm undertones. 

Because of this, combining the “cool” blue with the “warm” khaki often leads to a nice sense of balance and harmony. 

Having said this, if you feel as though there’s a risk of underdressing, do go for a light blue dress shirt over a darker shade. 

Light blue, along with white, is considered one of the more “professional” and formal dress shirt colors. 

Shirts in darker shades of blue (eg. navy, admiral, or midnight blue) would be more appropriate in casual and smart-casual settings. 

Pink Dress Shirt

Pink dress shirts can be worn with khakis in business-casual and smart-casual settings, with light pink shirts often being more appropriate in business-casual environments. 

Khaki pants with pink shirt
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Darker shades of pink (eg. salmon) can look great with khakis but do look very casual. In fact, it would arguably be the most casual option on this list. 

Compare this with the more professional appearance of a light pink dress shirt worn with khakis and the difference is obvious. 

Regardless of the shade of the pink shirt you choose to wear with khakis, try to keep the other items in your outfit nice and neutral to prevent the color scheme from becoming overwhelming. 

5 Tips For Wearing A Dress Shirt With Khakis

Consider all of these tips before putting your outfit together, no matter what you may be dressing for. 

dark grey shirt with khaki pants
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Make Sure It’s OK For The Dress Code

Avoid wearing a dress shirt and khakis combination in formal and business-professional settings, as it will almost always be considered too casual. 

Ultimately, no matter how “dressy” your dress shirt may be, a pair of khakis would be considered underdressing here. 

Instead, reserve the combination for casual and smart-casual settings. 

Given the formality of the dress shirt, however, it would usually be considered too much for truly casual settings and would be more appropriate in smart-casual settings. 

Choose Your Shirt Fabric And Style Carefully 

When choosing a dress shirt with khakis, try to choose one that doesn’t look so formal and dressy that it looks awkward when worn with the more casual-looking khakis. 

Dress shirts are called as such for a reason. They’ll typically have a formal appearance to them for several reasons. 

They’re usually button-up shirts that have a stiff collar and a full-length opening. 

But they’re also usually made from tightly woven cloth (often cotton or silk) with very high thread counts. Oxford weaves would be most common, with twill and broadcloth being more modern alternatives. 

Dress shirts often have quite a shiny appearance to them, with this gloss adding to their formal appearance. 

A “casual” dress shirt wouldn’t really be considered a dress shirt at all. Ultimately, a linen or chambray shirt would be considered a casual shirt and not a dress shirt. 

But consider choosing a dress shirt with one or more of the following casual features to make them look more in sync with the khakis: 

  • Subtle patterns (eg. thin and vertical striped, floral, paisley)
  • Consider broadcloth/poplin dress shirts as they have a slightly more rugged and less shiny appearance 
  • Soft pastel colors or dark neutrals will look more casual than white and possibly more in sync with khakis. This is especially true in more casual settings. 

Consider A “Dressier” Pair Of Khakis

Another way of reducing the risk of a formality mismatch between the dress shirt and the khakis is by choosing a relatively “dressy” pair of khakis. 

It’s important to note that a pair of khakis could never be considered “formal”. 

But it’s hard to deny that certain pairs of khakis have a dressier and more formal appearance to them than others. 

In general, these will make a pair of khakis look more appropriate to wear with a dress shirt and lead to there being less risk of a formality mismatch. 

Dressy features of khakis to look out for include: 

  • A slim-fit, tapered appearance. Avoid baggy or skinny fits. 
  • The lighter the color, the better. Yes, khaki is technically a specific color, but the term is often used to refer to any pair of chinos in a light shade of brown.
  • Welted or jetted pockets instead of patch pockets
  • Minimal seam details
  • Possibly even center creases

Essentially, features that make a pair of khakis look less like jeans and more like dress pants are an advantage when trying to coordinate them with dress shirts. 

Blazers Work Well

The dress shirt and khakis combination is ideal for business-casual and smart-casual dress codes. 

For either of these dress codes, a great way to up the sophistication level a notch is by adding a simple, unstructured blazer. 

Neutral-colored blazers work especially well, with navy, grey, and even black being great options. 

casual grey blazer
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Having said this, in smart-casual settings where there’s less of a risk of underdressing, you could consider a dark/muted shade of a more vibrant color such as maroon. 

This would be a great way to add a pop of color to what is otherwise a relatively neutral dress shirt and khakis combination. 

Go For Dress Shoes

Remember, we’re trying to strike a careful balance between formal and casual items here. The dress shirt will look formal, while the khakis will look more casual. 

The shoes you choose should reflect this and should try to strike the same sort of balance. 

A pair of sneakers would usually look too casual to wear with the dress shirt. 

A pair of black Oxford shoes would usually look too formal to wear with the khakis. 

Instead, consider a pair of brown dress shoes – Derby shoes, monk straps, and even loafers would be great options. 

Suede dress shoes can work great here because they tend to strike a fine balance between formal and casual very effectively.

dark brown suede shoes
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Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s finish up with a couple of FAQs on the topic. 

Can You Wear A Dress Shirt And A Tie With Khakis?

When wearing a dress shirt and khakis, it’s generally best to avoid wearing a tie as it will usually look too formal and at odds with the casual appearance of the khakis. 

Some may disagree, as more casual-looking ties (eg. knit ties or those with bold patterns) can sometimes work well with khakis. 

But ultimately, as explained earlier, a dress shirt and khakis combination should really only be worn in smart-casual and business-casual settings in any case. 

A tie would generally be too much in smart-casual settings and they’re usually discouraged in truly business-casual environments as well. 

If you were keen on wearing a tie with your dress shirt and khakis outfit, however, try to choose one that looks more casual and avoid formal-looking silk ones. 

Can You Wear Khakis With A Dress Shirt And Sweater? 

Khakis can easily be worn with a dress shirt and a sweater. It makes for a great business-casual or smart-casual ensemble during the winter and fall months. 

There are plenty of sweater types you could potentially go for here. They range from more casual options such as zip sweaters and cable-knit shawl cardigans to dressier options such as crew necks. 

Ultimately, any of them would work well. It just depends on how “formal” you want the outfit to come across.

Conclusion 

While dress shirts aren’t always easy to wear with khakis given the risk of a formality mismatch, the combination can look very effective when put together the right way. 

Try to choose a more “casual” looking dress shirt, as well as a “dressier” pair of khakis to make them look more in sync. 

An unstructured blazer in a neutral color, as well as a pair of brown dress shoes, would be a great way to round off this business-casual or smart-casual outfit. 

Enjoy.