Picking up the right pair of pants can be hard for a guy, and by pants I’m not talking about jeans. I’m talking about khakis, chinos, and dress pants – three categories of threads that some guys can’t tell apart to save their lives.
Pssst … If you like this article, be sure to check out our follow-up articles on Chinos:
With a few general style tips, most guys can pretty much walk in anywhere and find a nice pair of quality jeans that fit well and head home. But with “real” pants, things get complicated, and in the end it typically comes down to finding something “good enough” and moving on with their life.
But if you want to look your best, that simply won’t do. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the chino, a versatile pant choice that can keep you looking good on those Saturday nights when jeans and khakis just aren’t enough.
What Are Chinos?
Chinos have been a staple in the American wardrobe since the 20th Century, originating as a pant worn in military uniforms and by men of certain trades. There is a bit of a dispute on where the name itself came about. While it’s clearly Spanish, it could refer to the traditional color of the pants (chino means “toasted” in American Spanish) or it could refer to the Chinese origins of the original fabric (chino means “Chinese” in contemporary Spanish).
But let’s get real, most of us could care less about the history of our pants and how it ties into linguistics – so what are chinos really? Well, the clearest way to put this is that chinos are the middle road between khakis and dress pants.
The easiest way to wrap your brain around the thing is to imagine these different styles of pant on a spectrum. Khakis – chinos – dress pants.
The khakis, originally coming in a khaki color but now including countless different hues, is a 100% cotton pant made for comfort. It’s also designed to fit the average guy, and let’s not sugarcoat it, in America “average” means chubby, at best. These two “intentions” equal a common characteristic of khakis; they tend to be baggy.
And while this can be okay if you’re getting comfy around the house or messing around outside, don’t expect them to be flattering. In fact, there’s nothing that will make you look short and squat like a pair of baggy, pleated khakis. Consider yourself warned.
Also, the biggest mistake guys make is dressing khakis up – big fashion foul! Khakis are casual, and never forget it. If you choose to wear them at all, stick with shoes you’d wear with jeans. Because that’s what they are. A jean alternative; nothing more, nothing less.
Chinos, on the other hand, are a step up in dressiness. The term as it exists now refers to the style of the pants, and this is a style that is all better, all around – the most important difference being the fit. With a lower rise; slimmer, more tapered legs; and a synthetic/cotton blend fabric (usually), the pant is meant to create nice trim lines and is overall more flattering.
But don’t kid yourself – you won’t be wearing these to formal affairs. That’s what dress pants are for – the next step up in the spectrum. But we’re focusing on chinos here, so let’s save that for another day.
How to Wear Chinos
Remember, chinos are okay for semi-formal occasions. A night out on the town or a nice dinner with family and friends for instance. But while they dress up nice, don’t go too far with it – they still aren’t dress pants and won’t pass as such. It’s as important to understand, as it is important to know the difference between a sport coat, blazer or a suite jacket.
On the other hand, be careful about making blanket assumptions. Chinos also come in their own range from casual to dressy these days, and some may not have the right look and fit to be dressed up at all. This is something you’ll have to get a feel for when looking at the pants, but it’s usually quite obvious.
Most importantly, get the fit right! Break out the measuring tape or go get measured by a professional if that’s what it takes – any pair of pants can get ruined by poor fit. Flat fronts are best for slimmer guys, and pleated can help streamline a guy with some extra pounds.
Move around a little before you buy. Look at them from all angles. Bend down and touch your toes. Raise your knees. They’re a slimmer pant, to be sure, but being partly synthetic, they should be stretchier and quite comfortable. And consider getting them fitted if necessary. It’s the best way to make sure they look nice and clean.
Want to read more about how to look at your best in Chinos? We got you covered with a dedicated article on how to look great in chinos and sneakers.
Avoid excess fabric that might make the pants look baggy, particular in the rise, around the hips, or on the butt. The shape of the legs is slightly more negotiable. Slimmer legs offer a sleeker look, but as long as the rest fits right, you can experiment with boot-cut and straight legs too.
Fit. Always go for fit. Few things exude more confidence than a guy who knows how to wear chinos properly.
What to Wear With Chinos
Ah, versatility. Aside from fit, it’s the crowning feature of this style of pants.
Chinos can make a casual business get-up if you pair them with a cotton dress shirt, a cotton tie, and a cotton blazer with loafers or leather boots. Or get even more casual – surely you’ve seen the hipsters with their rolled-up pants and crazy colored sneakers or boots.
Smoking hot date this weekend? Throw on a chambray shirt and some masculine dress shoes.
If you go with neutral colors for your chinos, be sure to get spicy with your shirt. This is a chance to spark up your outfit with a creative top, or go for stripes or checkers. Or, as an alternative, consider more outlandish hues for the pants and keep the shirt subdued.
What Shoes to Wear With Chinos
As mentioned above, this pant is made for versatility. The key concept to understand when choosing shoes is this – they need to be based on the outfit and overall look. So what are you going for? Depending on the answer to this question, you can end up with anything on your feet from driving moccasins to boots to flip flops.
Want to get more in-depth on Chinos and how can look at your best in them? We wrote a couple of follow-up posts. Have a look and get inspired!
Cool and casual. Well put-together and ready for the world. Chinos can do it all.