Chinos: The most versatile (and historic) item in your closet

Chinos are the wear-almost-everywhere, goes-with-almost-anything, dress-it-up or dress-it-down staple of most modern men’s wardrobes.

men's chinos

“They're just such diverse pant,” according to Nicole Gibbons, a fashion stylist with Taelor. “You can definitely wear them to work. You can wear them on a date. You can even wear them casual if you wear it with a t-shirt.” 

Are Khakis and Chinos the same thing?

The terms "chinos" and "khakis" are often used interchangeably. But they probably shouldn't.  Today, those two terms are sometimes used interchangeably to describe a type of men’s pants. But they probably shouldn't be. 

Khakis vs Chinos

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Chinos today come in a variety of colors. 
  • Chinos generally do not have pleats nor large pockets.
  • Khakis are probably best understood as tan-colored chinos. 
  • When you’re shopping for clothes you’ll occasionally find that chino pants made with heavier fabric are sometimes referred to as khakis.
  • During the 1950s and 60s, the American military adopted the use of chino-style clothing in shades of green called “olive drab.” Today many people refer to men’s clothing of that color as “khakis.”
  • Some people refer to cargo pants as khakis. Don’t be one of those people.

Gibbons explains that while chinos aren’t quite dress pants, they are a step up from other casual pants. 

“I feel like they're just nicer. They're usually made with cotton and probably have a bit of stretch. They're not going to be baggy. They're not going to have all those crazy cargo pockets,” she said.

jogger for men

And unlike jeans, chinos are meant to be worn when they are pristine. Rips and discoloration don’t make chinos look more casual. They make them look like they should be thrown away. Distressed jeans are a thing. Distressed chinos are decidedly not.

“Jeans can have rips and distressing and color differences,” Gibbons said. “Usually chinos are all one solid color. They’re going to be cleaner, sleeker and not have any of that.” If you have a tear in the knee of your chinos “it wouldn't look intentional. It would look like you weren't paying attention and you fell and your chinos were wrecked and you went to work anyway.”  

When to wear chinos and what to wear them with?

With the exception of funerals and events that require formal wear, chinos can be worn almost everywhere.

For example, Joanna Medeiros, another or Taelor’s stylists, says choosing chinos is a can’t-lose move for guy dressing for a first date.

“Start with like maybe a tan or a navy because you can add other colors to it,” she says. “And then you can do a button-up shirt. I would go with a subtle pattern. Since you're going into Fall I would probably do a nice shirt jacket over it.”

rent men's chinos at Taelor

Gibbons is a fan of chinos for a variety of semi-formal or casual setting. “A navy blazer with black chinos, wear it with a fun shirt that still matches that blazer but just breaks it up and makes it more casual,” she says.

Medeiros agrees. “With a chino you can put a shirt and a shirt jacket over it and go for the weekend. Or you can put a long sleeve button up with it and you can also put a casual kind of blazer over it,” she said. A chino-based outfit like that is versatile enough that “you can wear it on Saturday and then wear it on Monday to work.”

Wherever you wear chinos, make sure that your footwear doesn’t spoil the effect.

“You can finish the look with some chukkas. You can even do a sneaker. Just make sure they're clean. You don't want to wear dirty shoes,” Medeiros warns.

Loafers are a good choice too, particularly for cocktail parties. And although chinos should generally break at your shoe like any other pair of good-fitting pants, recent fashion allows for straight-leg chinos that expose the ankle. “Your high-water chinos with no socks is definitely a big trend,” Medeiros said.

men's chino with sneakers



Chinos in the office

“I think it's really hard to get a lot of guys to really, really dress up unless it's like for a wedding or something,” said Scott Shapiro, a Taelor stylist. And whereas “the office” was once a place where guys felt pressured to dress up, today’s workplaces are more accepting of less-than-dressy clothes for men.

“For the most part, it seems like most offices are a lot more laid back than they used to be. So I do think chinos are office-appropriate now … depending on the setting.”,” Shapiro said.”It  depends obviously on the particular pants and how you're styling it. you're just wearing a classic beige chino with like a polo or something to me, that feels a little casual. But you know, in some offices, that's fine.”



To learn more about the nuances of casual office attire, read Taelor’s definitive guide to business casual clothes for men who aren’t casual about business.


The military history of Chinos

There are a lot of situations in which wearing chinos is appropriate. But it wasn’t always so. Back in the day, chinos were for one thing and one thing only: war.

The first chinos were worn by members of the British military in the mid-19th century in India.   

The pants were made of lightweight cotton and seen as dramatically better suited to life on the sub-continent than were the heavy woolen uniforms the English army had worn in prior years.

The name “chino,” however, emerged in another theater of war. 

The Spanish were also building an empire in the 19th century and had stationed thousands of men in the Philippines. Here too the local climate precluded the use of European-style uniforms. 

In the Philippines, the Spanish soldiers quickly adopted the use of lightweight pants made from cotton twill imported from China. “Chino” is the Spanish word for Chinese, and the soldiers quickly nicknamed the pants “chinos.”

Meanwhile, back in India, British Lieutenant-General Harry Lumsden popularized a version of chinos that were dyed a light tan color. Those pants were dubbed khakis – the Urdu word for “soil-colored.”

chino history

Then, in 1898, the United States went to war against Spain. Much of the conflict took place in the Philippines. And the American army soon adopted the use of chino uniforms. Those uniforms remained in use through the First and Second World Wars.

And when millions of American men returned home after WWII, chino pants first became popular with civilians.


Introducing brand partner- Olivers 

Men's chinos Olivers and Taelor


One of the more interesting takes on chinos today comes from Los Angles-based Olivers, the latest brand to team with Taelor. Olivers is a maker of premium athleisure and is noted for its use of performance materials in classic menswear.

Taelor members can rent Olivers’ “passage pant” – a chino that’s made with 91% CORDURA Nylon and 9% Spandex to ensure a comfortable fit in any situation or weather. Olivers aims to create pants that are on-trend while still maintaining the look of classics. These chinos can be paired with anything from a polo to a button-up shirt. But Taelor’s stylists think these pants look particularly good with a crewneck sweater from 2Blind2.


Rent Olivers chino pants at Taelor



If you’re looking for something in a more traditional cotton blend, Taelor members can rent 97% cotton twill chinos from Perk. The pants feature slim, but not too tight, legs and a curved waist to keep your midsection comfortable all day long.

But don’t stop there. Chinos are appropriate in lots of settings, and Taelor has a pair for each of them. Taelor members can rent chinos made by Bonobos, Signal Clothing, Jakamen, Ministry of Supply and many more. 


By Paul Conley