Khaki Pants & Chinos

Khaki Pants & Chinos: A Classic Style Staple

A refined gentleman is not always in a suit. He doesn’t always wear pleated trousers and dress shirts because they are often not suited for leisurely activities. Often a gentleman can be seen trotting his way through town in a pair of chinos or khakis.

Khaki Pants & Chino Video

The video guide contains a lot more pictures than the article and but the written guide has more elaborate information. Therefore, as always you should watch and reach the guide.

Difference Between Khakis & Chinos

So what’s the difference between the two? In a nutshell, Khaki pants are khaki colored cotton twill pants. Chinos are a bit dressier than Khakis, and come in colors navy, blue, stone, and hence the terms khaki and chinos are frequently used interchangeably.

Khakis are a classic style staple for the smart-casual dress codes in many offices and work environments. Even for the most dapper man, they can be a form of casual swag for the gentleman who refuses to wear jeans. Therefore, this guide is all about chinos, their details, colors and of course the history behind them.

Khaki Uniforms during the Second Boer War

Khaki Uniforms during the Second Boer War

History of Khaki Pants

As with many other garments in menswear, such as Jodhpurs, Seersucker, Madras or Jodhpur boots, khaki pants have their origin in India. The first documented use of Khaki pants was in 1848 when the Corps of Guides wore them as a part of their required uniform in India. The Commandant of the Corps, Sir Harry Lumsden, commissioned his brother in England to send the pants to his men who worked on the ground in Peshawar, Punjab. Soon, as the comfort and design of the pants caught on, all regimental forces serving in India began adopting khakis as their active and summer dress uniform. Originally a closely twilled linen or cotton, they were ideal for the climate in comparison to the uniforms previously worn.

British Soldiers Pick Up On The Comfortable Khakis

Their continual growth in popularity resulted in Indian police forces, as well as the foreign services, adopting khaki uniforms. In 1867 and 1868, Indian troops traveled to Ethiopia during the Abyssinian campaign under the command of General Sir Robert Napier to extricate British captives and to forcibly persuade King Theodore to change his practices. It was during this mission that British Army soldiers saw these comfortable khaki uniforms.

How Khakis Got Their Name – From the Dust

Up until then, British troops would wear white clothes in those climates, and they soiled very quickly, whereas the dust or sand-colored khaki slacks looked clean for much longer. The word Khaki is Hindi and means as much as “dust-colored,” which explains the name.

Enamored with the comfort and looks of the Khaki pants, the British adopted them for colonial campaign dress during the Mahdist War from 1884-1889 and Second Boer War from 1899-1902.

Britsh Army in 1775 in bright red visible uniforms with white trousers - beautiful but not practical

Britsh Army in 1775 in bright red visible uniforms with white trousers – beautiful but not practical

British Troops = Khakis

It was during the Second Boer War that the British troops became known as “Khakis” because of their uniforms. Following their triumph, the government called an election that was referred to in the history books as the “khaki election,” a term now used to describe any election called to exploit approval of government after winning a battle or war.

Khakis in the U.S. Army

By 1898, the U.S. Army began introducing khaki uniforms for the Spanish-American War and within a few short years, all branches of the U.S. Forces, including the Navy and Marine Corps, followed suit. By 1902, the British forces made khaki uniforms their predominant dress attire for continental service. To blend in with surroundings, they began to opt for darker shades with green hues that led to the various shades of khakis currently available on the civilian market. By the first World War, olive drab khakis were a key identifier of British and American forces, and they were subsequently adopted by many armies around the world.

Not only did khaki provide soldiers with a more comfortable uniform, but it also offered more protection from combatants in comparison to the previously worn costume-style uniforms that were rather elaborate, or in some cases, used bright colors. The khaki uniforms offered soldiers an opportunity to camouflage into their surroundings, making it more difficult for combating forces to attack or surveil them.

As the years passed and American soldiers began returning from World War II, which shotgunned the front pages of every newspaper around the world, civilians began to take notice of the pants worn by the men fighting abroad, and by the 1950s, khaki pants started to fly off the shelves as men began to wear variations of them on weekends and casually to a baseball game or backyard barbecues with friends or family.

Business Casual Outfit by Hogtownrake - Single Breasted Blazer with popover shirt, cotton pocket square, khakis and brown tassel loafers

Business Casual Outfit by Hogtownrake – Single Breasted Blazer with popover shirt, cotton pocket square, khakis and brown tassel loafers

By the 1960s, khaki pants had adopted a new name for a more dressy and arguably more elegant version of the pants. Now named “Chinos” by various haberdashers, these resilient and practical dress pants were gracing every college classroom as preps began to wear them to class.

As the preppies wore them to class with a school sweater, their dads were pairing the chino pants with a blue blazer at the country club and even the office. The trend continued, and today chinos and khakis are arguably some of the most popular and practical pants worn by men (and women) today.

Classic Tan khakis with jetted back pocket with button and belt loops worn with driving mocs

Classic Tan khakis with jetted back pocket with button and belt loops worn with driving mocs

Khakis Are For Casual Wear

Despite many clothiers blending the two styles into one and numerous fashion experts having difficulty agreeing on whether the two pants are interchangeable, the fact is, in most cases, there are slight differences between the two that can make or break an outfit.

Khaki pants are typically very resilient pants that offer protection from wrinkles and sometimes the elements. They are available in numerous styles and shades from the classic yellow-brown to gray, brown and even green, black or cream. Typically made from a cotton twill or linen, they come in both flat-front and pleated styles for those wearing them casually.

Cuffed chinos offer a casual balance when paired with a jacket and tie

Cuffed chinos offer a casual balance when paired with a jacket and tie

The Triumph of Khaki Pants in the Corporate World

Ideal for manual labor jobs or those who work in casual office environments, since the mid-1990s the khaki pant has become synonymous with IT and retail environments. Many retail brick and mortar stores like Best Buy or Target have adopted khaki pants as their chosen uniform style.

Also, many technical and tradespeople visiting office environments have chosen these resilient pants, as they tend to blend into all dress environments better than denim jeans or cargo pants. They allow the visiting technician to be easily identified as a visitor in most office buildings, but also offer an appropriate transition when he might be visiting a top law firm followed by a cellphone store.

Chinos for the office

Chinos for the office

Khakis At Home

For those who require a more formal level of dress for the office, khaki pants can prove to offer a very practical approach to weekend and at home. They are more stylish than denim jeans or shorts, yet provide a similar level of casualness that pairs perfectly with a button-down or polo shirt.

They are resilient to wrinkles and even, in some cases, to moisture. They don’t require dry-cleaning and are perfect for wearing to a casual social event during the day or to a pub for drinks with friends. They can be paired with a blazer, or you can wear them for a casual dinner at the country club if well matched to a polo shirt or a collared casual shirt.

Blue flat front Chino by Ralph Lauren

Blue flat front Chino by Ralph Lauren

Chino Pants

Named after their birthplace of China, the chino pant is a more elegant version of the khaki, usually with fewer (or no) pockets and less resilience to the elements. Pleated or flat-front chinos are usually more tapered which makes them ideal for both casual and casual-dress wear.

While we never recommend wearing ‘skinny pants,’ chinos do offer a far more streamlined look and do come available in a more ‘skinny’ or tailored appearance if that’s the effect that the customer wishes to achieve.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find RTW high-waisted yet slim tapered chinos today, even though that is the traditional look from the 1950’s and 1960’s. As such, the only option you have it to go custom.

Chinos are usually lightly woven in comparison to khaki pants and therefore offer the wearer better protection in the heat. They tend to be dressier and can be paired with a traditional navy blazer and tie or just an Oxford cloth button down shirt as well as polo shirts.

Today, chinos are available in many colors, from neutral classics to bright and bold Go-To-Hell style pants. Despite offering dressier styles, these are still a very casual pant and should only be worn in appropriate environments. In other words, don’t wear them to the boardroom. However, paired with the proper jacket, shirt, and tie, they are quite appropriate for dressier outdoor or daytime events. Like khaki pants, they are often treated to be wrinkle resistant. However, they are not nearly as resilient and therefore shouldn’t be worn for laborious activities.

Go To Hell Chinos by Classic American Style

Go To Hell Chinos by Classic American Style

Cargo Pants ≠ Chino or Khaki Pants

Considerably different from Chino and khaki pants, many men seem to still categorize cargo pants as chinos or khakis and even wear them to the office. Although in some cases cargo pants are made from the same material and in the same shades as khaki pants, the key difference is that they have numerous patch pockets on the knees or the side of the thigh, because cargo pants are intended for manual labor and public safety jobs where functionality is key.

While khaki pants will often have side and back and maybe change pockets, they will be fairly hidden.

Never mistakenly confuse the two because they are very different garments, and cargo pants are absolutely not suited for office wear.

J. Press Chinos

J. Press Chinos

Other Variations

Unfortunately, most retailers don’t take fashion rules into consideration when naming their products and more often than not, give their pants the khaki or chino moniker without regard for the traditional styling of the actual slack.

Despite their tag, if the pants are made from denim, corduroy or any material other than cotton or linen twill, they are not actual khaki pants or chinos. Also, if they have bibs, an over supply of pockets or extra zippers and buttons that aren’t rudimentarily necessary, they too are not the classic stylings. This is why we only advocate purchasing pants from reputable clothiers that take pride in their craftsmanship.

Characteristics of A Chino

  • Cotton twill fabric or Gabardine
  • Belt loops – Chinos are not worn with suspenders
  • Side pockets as well as jetted back seat pockets with optional change pocket in front. Flapped back pocket possible
  • Cuff / turn-ups look good and provide a better look because the added weight makes the pant legs hang better
  • Zip Fly, although some prefer an old-fashioned button fly
  • Flat Front looks good on slimmer men whereas gentlemen with bigger legs look better in pleated chinos
  • Traditional chinos have a higher 11-12″ rise that reaches the natural waist and a slim 17″ leg-opening with about 2″ of short. Of course, if you have bigger thighs the thin look will look bad on you.

Chino & Khaki Brands

There are hundreds of Chino brands on the market yet it seems impossible to find a high-rise chino off-the-rack. So if you want that ultra-traditional look you have to go to the tailor. Otherwise, there are plenty of brands to choose from. We limited our selection to brands with a more classic appeal.

Chino & Khaki BrandsPrice
Brooks Brothers$
Bills Khakis Original 8.5oz Twill $$
Bills Khakis M2 Vintage Twill Pants $
Bills Khakis Linen Twill 5 Pocket Pant $
Bills Khakis M3 Bullard Field Pant $$
Bills Khakis M3 Travel Twill Pants $
Polo Ralph Lauren Men's Classic-Fit Flat-Front Chino Pants$$
Cordings$$
J. Press$$
J. Crew$

Brooks Brothers

If there’s any company that practically invented the modern chino, it’s Brooks Brothers. In fact, despite other companies using the name ‘chino’, Brooks Brothers has gone so far to trademark it. They offer a vast selection of patterns, colors, and fits, yet they really lack a classic high waisted cut chino. Take a look at their Clark Chinos here.

Bill’s Khakis

As the name implies, the brand founded in 1990 specializes in khakis — or better yet, that’s what made them famous. In 2015 they were sold to an equity firm, and that rarely leads to an improved product.  Apart from their Original Khakis, they also carry a number of different things such as Vintage Twill, Linen Twill, Field Pants or Travel Pants, but we can’t comment on their latest quality.

A taste of the Chino and Corduroy Colors at Cordings

A taste of the Chino and Corduroy Colors at Cordings

Cordings – $125

Cordings offers button fly, flat front chinos in all sorts of colors including bright green, yellow, red, pink lilac besides the usual earth tones and navy. Probably one of the largest RTW color selection in chinos.

J. Press – $120

J. Press boasts some legitimate trad heritage and offers Made in the USA plain hem, flat front khakis for $120, but they are not high rise.

J.Crew – Approx. $75

J.Crew offers run-of-the-mill chinos in a variety of shades and styles. Click here to get a pair that’s already broken in, for that flawlessly casual appearance.

Dockers – NOT RECOMMENDED

The most quintessential pair of khakis is certainly not the greatest. Dockers are arguably the most popular pair of khaki pants sold in North America. We tested them, but they just didn’t make the cut. Perhaps they’re ideal for those who need them for work and don’t have the money to spend, but their fit is terrible and leaves most men looking like they’re wearing pants one or two sizes too big. We mention them due to their popularity. They’re great for the high school student who needs them for work. They’re not recommended for those looking for a stylish pair of khakis or chinos. Nevertheless, they might be worth having in your closet for days at the lake or mowing the lawn.

Lilac chinos for daring men

Lilac chinos for daring men

Polo Ralph Lauren

Polo by Ralph Lauren offers a plethora of chinos and khakis with zip or button fly, flat front or pleated, with plain hem or turn-ups in various colors. Easily available in the U.S., their cuts and details are vintage inspired, and their fabrics are durable even though their Polo line is completely made in Asia. We can’t possibly list all of them, so here you can choose from 24 colors in flat front. For a larger selection take a look here.

How To Make Normal Chinos Stand Out

Even if you have a regular pair of khaki colored chinos, a pair of colorful socks paired with brown shoes will make you stand out instantly. My favorite pair of socks to wear with chinos is this burgundy striped version from Fort Belvedere. The burgundy red provides enough contrast without being too loud, while the beige-grey-khaki stripe ties it all together. If you want, you can add a pair of contrasting shoelaces.

Another excellent item to wear with chinos and a blazer is an Ascot because it is elegant, yet casual and therefore it pairs extermely well with the likewise more casual chino. At the same time, very few others will wear one, and therefore you will always stand out in classic, sophisticated way.To learn more about this unique accessory, check out our Ascot guide and here we show you how to tie an Ascot. In case you don’t feel comfortable wearing an ascot, try a knit tie.

Ascot in Brown, Orange, Blue, Green Paisley Silk Fort Belvedere pairs well with chinos

Ascot in Brown, Orange, Blue, Green Paisley Silk Fort Belvedere pairs well with chinos

Conclusion

Chinos and Khaki pants are a style staple in the spring, summer and fall. They work with everything from a polo shirt and boat shoes or espadrilles to oxfords and a blazer. They deserve a place in every man’s closet.

For the most part, we recommend sticking with chinos. They’re casual and yet dressier than khaki pants but offer a more tapered appearance. However, it’s always worth having a few pairs of khakis on hand for backyard fun with the family and for working outdoors. What’s your favorite pair?

This article was written by Sven Raphael Schneider & J.A. Shapira

Summary
Article Name
Khaki Pants, Khakis & Chinos: A Classic Style Staple
Description
A complete guide to khaki pants, Khakis & Chinos including style advice, what to avoid, what details to look for what cotton fabric to look for.
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Gentleman's Gazette
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27 replies
    • Alexander_F says:

      They are sturdy indeed, but if I remember well, this is due to the polyester woven into the fabric. Dickies is a producer of actual workwear, after all, and so they are mainly made to as solid as possible.
      I remember that I sweat like hell in them, though, but that was when they were more of a thing, like in the Millenium.

      Reply
  1. Terry says:

    My problem with khakis and chinos has been finding a brand which offers a permanent crease on a fabric that shows wear and abrasions after only a few wearings. This seems to be a relatively new problem associated with “wrinkle proof” fabrics.Two well-known online and catalogue retailers offer “wrinkle free” and permanent crease chinos, but they show wear all too quickly. I recently bought some from Brooks offering the same qualities – time and wear will tell. My dry cleaning bill would be considerably higher if I could not launder my office/field chinos. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  2. Larry P Burton ll says:

    I have worn Khakis, and Chinos since my college days, in the 1960 era. I have purchased them from Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Corbin, Majer, Berle’s, and Bill’s.

    Reply
  3. Brian Hinkle says:

    Brooks Brothers are fantastic (heaven help me if I ever have to wear dockers again) and I cannot wait to get my ‘perfect chinos’ from Woodies!!! Keep up the fantastic articles!!!

    Reply
  4. Ivy Street Irregular says:

    Sven,
    I was amused by the comment that Dockers make one look as if one’s trousers are two sizes too large. Most of the models depicted here look as if their trousers are two sizes too small.

    Reply
  5. lamas says:

    Sven, thank you yet again for a very detailed article, I just wanted to tell you that I had a pair of navy blue dockers premium, quality fabric, great construction and they fitted me perfect of the rack, better than my RL polo, and I think we have to give Dockers credit for making chinos and khaki’s. so popular with those extensive ad campaigns, they definitely made them appealing to a younger generation.

    Reply
  6. Alexander_F says:

    First, thanks a lot for the article, Sven.

    The gospel of chinos can’t be sung often enough, and indeed swapping from jeans towards them can make more of a difference than one might think. Before all, they are far more versatile and more agreable in summer.

    Personally, I might want to add Charles Tyrwhitt to the list. In my opinion, they beat Docker the low-price sector, are made of far softer fabric and also have an agreably high rise, as far as they are bought in classic fit. I couldn’t give better advice for gentlemen on a budget like me.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] it. Intended as a pocket pen, this is what I carry with me when I’m running out in a pair of chinos and a polo shirt. It slips effortlessly into your pant pocket and doesn’t bulge or poke you. […]

  2. […] They can even work with denim or chinos! […]

  3. […] Chinos in khaki really make navy pop, and with a shared military background it is also historically a good companion. No matter if you opt for a fuller cut with pleats and cuffs or if you prefer a flat front, narrower and shorter cut, chinos go very well with a blazer. Don’t shy away from different colors: green, yellow, light blue, Nantucket Red… all work with a navy blazer. […]

  4. […] very versatile and can be worn at the beach with your swimsuit or for a walk downtown in a pair of chinos and a polo shirt. They can even be worn with business attire when done so properly. The true […]

  5. […] Monk Straps in dark brown with patina, navy chinos and burgundy and beige striped […]

  6. […] Chinos are appropriate in many casual work environments, but should ideally be paired with a contrasting blazer to elevate their casual heritage. […]

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