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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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