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Down Goes Denim. Why Chinos Are Mounting a Major Comeback

Jeans are universally beloved, but are chinos the superior everyday pant?

men wearing chinos pants
Wooden Sleepers

Although they've been labeled stale and sterile in the past, chinos, the khaki-colored pants beloved by everyone from Paul Newman to Mark Ronson, are having a hell of a year, thanks in no small part to J.Crew and its Giant-Fit Chino. The pant is popular — so much so that I wrote an entire trend piece about it, explaining what it is, who designed it and why the wide-leg pants have been backordered since early August.

Folks are finally coming around to the concept of wearing chinos just like jeans, in a casual, everyday, routine way. Sure, they've always been interchangeable in a way, but chinos have always hung in purgatory, stuck somewhere between formal and informal, confusing men everywhere in the process. Jeans are far more straightforward. They're jeans. Think about it. "Can I wear jeans?" is universal code for "How dressed up do I need to be?"

But J.Crew put chinos back on the map, even if other brands were making really nice ones a few years prior. In my opinion, good chinos are just as comfortable and dependable as denim, and you look a little more put together in them.

Brian Davis, owner of vintage menswear store Wooden Sleepers, agrees, and he's happy others are finally coming around — he's been pushing fuller-cut chinos for almost since 2014, when he opened Wooden Sleepers. Initially, he didn't stock polyester or denim pants. Instead, he focused on what others weren't carrying — the underrated gems.

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"I wanted to focus on items that were maybe under-valued in the market — among other things, vintage Brooks Brothers oxford cloth shirts, vintage Lacoste polos, vintage L.L. Bean flannels, and authentic vintage U.S. military chinos," he says. "Military chinos were there from the beginning. I loved the high rise, full cut, straight leg with the big 9 inch opening. The fabric was a heavy duty 8 oz. cotton twill. They look great with boots, canvas sneakers like a Sperry CVO, or loafers. Remember, this was peak low rise slim/skinny chino era, so pushing this style was kind of counter cultural in the menswear space."

He, like many others, was surprised to see wider styles circle back around, especially from brands like J.Crew, who'd been pushing skinnier silhouettes back when Wooden Sleepers first opened.

"Years later," he says, "the pendulum is finally swinging to a fuller cut. A pretty mainstream brand even sells a chino cut in this wider military style now, which is hilarious to me since they popularized the super-slim chino in the first place."

J.Crew might have flip-flopped, but it's under new command. And who can blame them? Wider styles are sweeping the nation, hence why the Giant-Fit Chino is backordered well into the fall. So, if you're looking for something similar from the vintage realm — where a lot of shoppers typically search for jeans — "look no further than a 1950s U.S. military chino," and you can find plenty at his shop.

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