Wondering how to wear chinos? This in-depth guide contains everything you need to know about these insanely versatile pants.
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If you could only own one pair of pants, chinos would be a smart choice. From casual summer get ups to business casual winter fits, they do it all.
Here’s everything you need to know to look good and feel great wearing chinos, including how they should fit and what to wear them with.
But first…what are chinos?
Chino is a cotton twill fabric. It’s sturdy and durable, which is why it’s also used to make denim. Chinos are pants made from chino cloth.
These days, chinos come is all shapes and sizes, but they typically have these characteristics:
- Flat front (no pleats)
- Concealed stitching
- Slanted front pockets
- Jetted back pockets
- Zipper fly
- Belt loops
Like many clothing items, chinos have military roots. They were developed for American troops who were stationed in the Philippines during the Spanish–American War, circa 1898.
These soldiers’ uniforms were made from Chinese twill cotton, and the name “chino” comes from the Spanish word for “China”.
These original chinos were made from 100% cotton twill and always came in that light tan color (khaki).
Today, chinos are still available in pure cotton twill, as well as various synthetic blends that offer performance attributes like stretch, moisture wicking and temperature control.
Modern day chinos are also available in a wide variety of colors, weights, sizes and cuts.
Chinos vs. Khakis
Khaki pants and chinos used to be two different styles of pant. Both have Eastern roots and were popularized by Western military forces.
The word “khaki” actually describes a light tan color that a British General named Sir Harry Lumsden developed while stationed in India in the late 1840s.
Apparently, Lumsden thought the spotless, bright white uniforms worn by Indian troops were making it too easy for enemy snipers to pick them off, so he started dying them to blend in with the hot, dusty environment.
To this day, menswear purists make a distinction between khaki pants and chinos, saying that khakis are more casual and rugged, while chinos are a bit dressier and more refined.
For most guys, though, the words are almost interchangeable. Here’s how most people use these terms nowadays:
Chino is a material, while khaki is a color. Many (but not all) chinos are khaki in color.
So it would make sense to say, “I’m wearing khaki chinos” or “I’m wearing navy chinos.”
But if someone says that they’re wearing khakis or khaki pants, they’re not necessarily referring to chinos. They could be talking about khaki colored slacks (dress pants).
Just remember: chino is the material, and khaki is the color. Chinos are available in many difference colors, including khaki.
Chinos vs. Jeans
Which are better: chinos or jeans? Well, it depends. The two styles are often interchangeable, especially with casual outfits.
But I think chinos have a leg up on jeans for one reason:
They’re easier to dress up.
Sure, a pair of fitted, dark wash, non-distressed jeans can be worn with a tucked in shirt and jacket. But most jeans are more casual than most chinos.
If a man could only have one pair of pants, I think a pair of chinos would be his best choice.
Almost any pair of chinos will work with casual, smart casual and business casual outfits, and that makes them more versatile than jeans.
Chinos vs. Dress Pants
What’s the difference between chinos and dress pants? Put simply, chinos are more casual.
But we should probably define “dress pants” before we get into the comparison.
Most people think of dress pants as wool trousers. These might be part of a suit, or they may just be “odd trousers” that are sold and worn separately (on their own or with a non-matching jacket).
Dress pants are usually made of wool or some sort of wool blend. They’re softer and finer than chinos, which makes them dressier.
Dress pants are typically dry cleaned and ironed with a crease in the front. They may also have cuffs or pleats, depending on personal preference and trends.
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Both chinos and dress pants can be worn in business casual settings, but unlike chinos, dress pants are appropriate for formal settings.
For this reason, most suit pants are made from fine wool (although you can buy chino cotton suits for spring and summer).
How Chinos Should Fit
The way chinos should fit is largely dependent on personal preference and trends, so it’s hard to define fit in a “timeless” and universally flattering way.
That said, you can’t go wrong with a “slim but not skinny” approach to chinos. Here’s how it looks:
Starting from the top, here’s how chinos should fit:
The Waist – If the waist fits perfectly, you won’t need a belt to hold your pants up, and you won’t need to undo the button after dinner (no judgement, though, if you do).
The Hips – Try to avoid too much excess material (saggy) butt, but make sure you can bend over without tearing a seam (for those of you with m a s s i v e t h i g h s).
The Rise – Pants rise is tough to alter, so be sure your chinos fit well in the seat and crotch before you buy them. Try to avoid super low rise chinos, as they only flatter men with very long legs.
The Thighs – You want a close fit without feeling any sort of restriction in movement (think slim but not skin tight).
The Calves – If you can’t put a sock on and pull it all the way up without taking your pants off, they’re probably too tight in the calves.
The Ankle – Guys with slender ankles should go for more taper, especially if you like the no break look. Bigger guys will look good with less taper below the knee (more of a slim/straight fit).
The Length – It all depends on how much break you want, but I think everyone looks good with slight break. Shorter men look great with no break at all.
Given the fact that most modern chino pants have a bit of stretch built in, I usually opt for a closer fit, but do what feels most comfortable for you.
Remember, it’s totally okay to play with different fits and silhouettes. If you want to experiment with more relaxed fits, or feel more comfortable with looser chinos that have more drape, you do you!
You’ll see lots of different fits in the casual and dressy outfit examples later on, but I like my chinos slim and tapered.
As a shorter man, I also choose to hem or cuff my chinos for little or no break. This tends to be the most flattering look for my build.
But there’s nothing wrong partial break or even full break if that’s what you’re into.
Are chinos business casual?
It depends how you define business casual. It’s a broad, loosely defined dress code that seems to be getting more casual every year.
In a traditional sense, chinos aren’t business casual. You’d want something dressier, like wool slacks.
But in practice, chinos are the perfect pants for modern business casual workplaces.
Back when I was on the 9-to-5 grind, my daily uniform was a pair of slim fit chinos, a tucked in button up shirt and leather shoes (boots in winter, loafers in summer, bluchers all year round).
In winter, I’d throw on a wool sweater, and I could dress things up a bit by adding a casual sport coat or wool topcoat.
In 90% of modern offices, this is a totally acceptable uniform, and I think it beats the ubiquitous khaki-dress-pants-light-blue-shirt combo.
Top 3 Best Colors
Without a doubt, the three most versatile colors for chinos are:
- Khaki (or Tan)
If I could only pick one, it would be olive. You can wear it with lighter or darker colors, and it goes with pretty much everything.
If you want to expand your chino collection, consider lighter shades of blue, burgundy or a darker tan like tobacco or chestnut (different brands have different names for this color).
Which Shoes to Wear With Chinos
- Spring/Summer – Loafers, driving mocs, boat shoes,
- Fall/Winter – Boots, chukkas, brogues, bluchers, camp mocs
The only types of shoes you should avoid are flip flops (because those usually don’t look good with any type of pants) and super dressy shoes (like patent leather Oxfords or velvet loafers).
Otherwise, when you’re wearing chinos, you have a wide range of footwear to choose from.
Should You Cuff?
Should you cuff your chinos? It kind of depends on the situation.
Chinos are great for cuffing because the thick, sturdy material makes for a thick, sturdy cuff that stays in place all day.
It’s not like trying to cuff your wool dress pants. It’s more like cuffing jeans (even easier in many cases).
But just because you can cuff doesn’t mean you should cuff.
Cuffing your chinos tends to make your outfit more casual, so it may not be appropriate for some workplaces.
This is because it shortens your pants and exposes your socks or ankles. It’s a slightly more bold and fashion forward look than non-cuffed chinos.
Also, many guys say that cuffing your pants makes you look shorter and that short men should avoid this at all costs.
There may be some truth to this, but done correctly, I don’t think cuffed chinos make you look shorter. I actually really love cuffing my pants, and chinos are no exception.
The key is to keep the cuffs short (1-2 inches) and make sure your pants are tapered down to a more narrow leg opening (I like 6.5 inches, but it depends on your build).
If you want to cuff, go for it. Just avoid cuffing in formal settings.
22 Casual Chinos Outfit Examples
I’ve mentioned a few times how versatile chinos are, and I want to show you a few example outfits.
Here are 22 outfit ideas you can use for inspiration when wearing chinos (note: all photos are from TMM or Reddit’s r/malefashionadvice community):
Of course, casual outfits are only one half of the story…
15 Dressy Chinos Outfits
Here are 15 dressy chinos outfit ideas from a few more of my favorite men’s fashion dudes around the Web (and myself):
By now, you’re probably convinced that chinos are, in fact, the ultimate pants for men.
But where should you buy them?
The Best Men’s Chinos Brands
Here are 11 great places to buy chinos for any budget or build:
|Bonobos||$17 - $138|
|Uniqlo||$19.90 - $39.90|
|Everlane||$28 - $68|
|Jomers||$35 - $38|
|Banana Republic||$79.99 - $98|
|Gap||$29.99 - $59.95|
|Ledbury||$99 - $165|
My top four personal favorite chinos are:
- Ash & Erie Slim Fit Chinos (modern slim fit; available down to 25″)
- PMNYC Lightweight Stretch Chinos (extremely comfortable; inseams down to 26″)
- Everlane Mid-weight Slim Fit Chinos (lightweight and great for warmer weather)
- Uniqlo Ultra Stretch Skinny Chinos (thick and stretchy; free hemming in stores)
- Banana Republic Fulton Chinos (their slimmest, most tapered fit; on sale regularly)
Ash & Erie, Peter Manning NYC and Uniqlo are especially great options for shorter men like myself, as PMNYC offers shorter inseams, and Uniqlo does free in-store hemming.
What are your favorite brands? Let me know in the comments section below!