Truthfully, most men could get by with three different pairs of pants: jeans, sweatpants and chinos. Chinos are just dressy enough to double as date attire, yet casual enough for weekend errands and days toiling away in the at-home office. They're versatile, perhaps even more so than denim.
What Are Chinos?
Chinos have been around for nearly 200 years. That’s longer than commercial blue jeans, but not the blue cotton work pants that predate Levi's 501s, for example. Originally known as khakis, a Hindustani reference to the sand-colored cotton twill fabric, chinos as a term began to take hold during the Spanish-American War in the late 1800s. It derives from the Spanish word for ‘Chinese’ and is a shortened version of chinos pantalones or ‘Chinese pants.'
They originally featured slanted or on-seam side pockets, belt loops and a wide fit, and were introduced to militaries around the world before making their way to civilians. Today, every brand has a version of its own, from the ubiquitous and affordable to the esoteric.
When to Wear Chinos
Simply put, when we’re not wearing jeans, we’re probably wearing chinos. The understudy to the classic blue jean may even outdo the star on occasion. It’s about as versatile and certainly as classic. That means you can wear them with a broken-in chore coat or a crisp, new Oxford; a polished polo or a simple T-shirt. The options are endless.
Flint and Tinder makes a wide array of essentials — like chore pants and chinos. The Dobby Pants, as these are called, are a hybrid, capable of fitting in at the office but also durable enough to do real work in them. They're made from a non-stretch material (cotton and linen combined) that's meant to last.
Taylor Stitch makes an assortment of high-quality, classic-looking chinos. They're durable, available at a damn fair price, and offered in the usual colors. They run a little slim, though — so be warned.
Basics brand Buck Mason's Officer-inspired khakis come cut from slub twill, a soft, durable fabric designed to age with wear. Plus, they're a versatile weight that's comfortable year-round. Pick from four colors: light green, tan, darker tan and black.
Dockers may occasionally be boring — look out for their collabs, though — but they oftentimes can't be beat. That is especially true if you're seeking a bargain. For what they are, most of Dockers' bottoms are a steal. Their Alpha Icon Chinos, made with fewer resources and less water, are a smart buy.
The upgrade to J. Crew from Dickies' 574 is about more than material. J.Crew’s popular Classic Relaxed Fit Chino goes a few steps further in quality with a lined waistband and chambray binding at the seams. Also, they come in a full spectrum of colors.
If you want your pants to bend with you as move, go with Bonobos. The brand makes a bunch of stretchy bottoms, and the best ones are these Stretch Washed Chinos, which come in a number of colors and have a signature curved waistband for a more comfortable fit.
Although best known for feats of sustainability and board shorts, Outerknown also makes chinos. Quite nice ones at that. In fact, they make plenty of pants. Plus, their Fort Chino Pants, cut from garment-dyed organic cotton, come in three colors.
Runabout Goods makes some of the best chinos around, regardless of price. Each detail is ruthlessly considered and there are a lot of them. The on-seam pockets are gently curved and bound for durability. The pocket bags are also self-bound, as is the fly, which uses melamine buttons. And as though the US-made nine-ounce cotton twill fabric isn't tough enough already, the pants are reinforced with bartack stitching and double-needle construction.
Modern basics brand Everlane, of course, makes a chino. In fact, there are a few on their site, each with varying levels of stretch and sportiness. The Performance Chino is constructed from 94-percent cotton and 6-percent elastane, ensuring stretch without sleekness.
Okay, if you can't muster up the strength to peel your jeans off your body for more than a day, why not get a pair of chinos that have the details of the classic blue jean you've become emotionally dependent upon? Todd Snyder's chinos are just that. They come with riveted reinforcements, scooped hand pockets, rear patch pockets and the vestigial watch pocket, but are rendered in garment-dyed stretch twill.
This brand's probably flown under your radar; written off as another stale mall stalwart. Madewell, however, has been bettering itself as of late. Its men's basics, bottoms, and footwear have certainly found their way to my closet. And I have a few complaints. Try the Penn Slim Chinos for starters, classic, affordable pants available in a half-dozen colors.
L.L. Bean makes loads of outerwear, bags and accessories, but chino pants, too, if you didn't know. They skew rather conservative but that doesn't mean they won't work for the fashion-minded as well. They're wider and have a plain front (with a single crease on both legs), but they're also wrinkle and stain-resistant. Pick from seven colors, each for under $50.
Admittedly built and marketed as a work pant, the Dickies line of chinos represent the quintessential pants. But don’t let their rough-and-ready connotation (work) limit you. They're made of tough, wrinkle-resistant poly-cotton twill in a classic straight fit and come with a flat front and creased leg for a dressy appearance. The 574 will stand up to skating, manual labor and whatever outfit you have in mind for the day.
British brand Percival makes a wide array of premium, polished apparel. But they also take stabs at classics like the chino. Their Twill Trousers are flat-fronted, cuffed and come in a few colors. You'll appreciate the comfortable yet classy fit.
Founded in 2012 by Mickey Drexler, Alex Mill makes "uniforms for individuals," aka interesting tops, bottoms, and everything in-between. Their products aren't whimsical designer whiffs, though, but rather classic shirts and chinos, primarily. Their Flat Front Pants are promising both for their quality and their look, which emphasizes a wider take on the traditional style.
For Roark, versatility is front of mind. Their line of chino pants are adventure-ready and inspired needs recorded on actual trips. Take, for example, the zipper pocket, or the stretch Embarq fabric (a blend of nylon and cotton). You'll find their pants work with a lot of your existing wardrobe, but perform better.
If you're looking for something a bit less stiff but still within the realm of very affordable, Uniqlo's chinos should be the pick. They're made from a blend of 97-percent cotton and 3-percent spandex (for stretch). With details like a lined waistband, natural nut button and a classic fit, combined with such an approachable price point, these are some of the best pound for pound.
Levi's doesn't just make jeans. In the hope of covering all bases, they've expanded beyond them to chinos, too. See the Levi's XX Chino Pants, for example, 98-percent cotton bottoms with a tapered leg.
RRL carefully remade a military issue pant British soldiers wore back in the 1940s. They're pre-washed for a faded, vintage look and fit straight through the leg. The pants are reinforced at the points most likely to rip or split, and their construction eases eventual fixes and alterations. Plus, there are plenty more chino pants to choose from on their site.
For those unfamiliar, Carhartt WIP is the hub for upgraded Carhartt originals. As such, the fits are better, the materials more pedestrian (in a good way) and the colors less construction site. These Sid pants are cut from 8.6 oz cotton twill, feature bar tack stitching at high-stress points, slant pockets and a tapered fit through the leg
Bills Khakis makes some damn fine khakis. It’s in the name after all. Designed with a double pleat for the brave/old school, 7.5-ounce cotton twill and Stateside production, Bill’s, unlike many chinos, are cut like dress trousers, meaning you can get them altered easily.
Atelier & Repairs, a conceptual clothing brand and archive owned by Maurizio Donadi, focuses on old clothing and mint stuff made to mirror vintage. These chinos fuse the pant's military roots to the modern wearer by applying hints of camo on the belt loop and inner liner.
Duckhead is an American original. The brand was founded in 1865 and peaked in the '80s and early '90s. It was independent for a long time but was acquired, sold and then acquired again by several partners through the 2010s. In 2016, Oxford Industries — Tommy Bahama, Southern Tide, Lilly Pulitzer — bought Duckhead with plans to revive it within two years, and it did. The brand re-launched in 2018 with Bill's Khakis founder Bill Thomas as Brand Director. The pants are tough, classic and a touch southern.