What I really mean by the vaguely Orwellian title above is that there are different chinos for different occasions. This idea that one type or style can cover all possible events needs to stop.
Although they will always be considered informal by their very nature, there are differing levels of informality that chinos can come in. And I think it’s important to understand what they are, especially when it comes to picking the right pair for your outfit each day.
It’s also important to bear in mind that I’m not talking about a particular colour of chino either, these rules apply just as much to a pink pair as they do your traditional khaki pair. This is great news for those of you out there who believe that brightly coloured chinos can only be worn in the most informal of contexts. With the right style and cut, you can wear just about any colour chino with something as formal as a blazer or suit jacket.
In my own humble opinion, you can divide chinos into three different categories:
The ones that can be found in high street stores across the land. They’re normally distinguished by their visible stitching on both the outside and inside leg seams. They tend to be made from cheaper materials, hence their budget price point, sit lower on the hips (similar to low-rise jeans) and can be given some kind of wash or treatment.
An example of this type of treatment would be the vintage or ‘lived in’ range of chinos that are available at Gap – they tend to provide a slightly more worn in and softer aesthetic. All the above combines to create a style of chino that is inherently casual, so they tend to work best with more casual pieces.
For example, try pairing them with classic Oxford shirts or your new bold patterned/print versions from this spring/summer. Similarly, casual staples such t-shirts, polos, cardigans and hoodies will all go great as well. As long as you are not trying to pair them with dress shirts, ties, formal shoes, smart blazers or suit jackets, you will not go wrong.
Think of them as your weekend pair, rather than evening:
These differ from the first variety in both material and cut. They are often made from far tougher or thicker fabrics and fit differently from other trousers. Whereas most men’s trousers are supposed to be well fitting in the waist and seat area, creating straight lines, these chinos are often feature a more relaxed fit in order to create a rough and ready appearance. They were designed to get beaten up and take a battering!
Brands who have strong worker wear or street wear roots are your starting point – so think brands like Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren, Levi’s, Dockers and the Carhartts/Dickies of the world.
They are best worn with, you guessed it, other work wear inspired pieces. Denim is a safe bet – shirts, jackets and lighter chambray – while checks, thick flannel overshirts, gilets, rugged outerwear and heavy duty boots will also complement them superbly. Basically, just picture a lumberjack in your head and you won’t go far wrong.
These styles are perfect for those men who like a more relaxed appearance or simply need to find a style that can fit their muscular thighs. Again, they are too casual to be pairing with true formal wear – but be equally aware that even smart-casual pieces such as polo shirts can look out of place if your proportions are not correct from top to bottom. The best way to counteract this is to layer up your top half [see lookbook above], as it can bulk out your frame and counter balance your silhouette.
Yes, smart chinos do exist. Sometimes confusingly labelled ‘trousers’ (as I can attest when searching for the product picks below) so as to not confuse Joe Public, they can be distinguished by their hidden stitching along both the outseam and inseam, which ensures clean lines and an overall sharper fit.
On the subject of fit, this style of chino traditionally features a higher ‘rise’, which means they are designed to be worn properly – i.e. round your waist where you would fasten your suit trousers.
Other telltale characteristics are: constructed from higher quality or luxurious materials and are generally just finished to a better standard. Some may even come with an unfinished trouser leg and will need to be hemmed by a tailor.
Arguably, these are the most versatile pair you could own. They can be worn with casual shirts, long sleeve polos and crew neck jumpers for a smart-casual look but work just as well with dress shirts, sports coats, ties and formal shoes. However, just like we avoided dressing up the first style too much, we are also going to want to avoid really casual pieces such as your battered Converse, old faded graphic t-shirts and the like.
These come in at a higher price point, as you would probably expect, but invest wisely in one or two timeless, neutral shades and they will serve you well for many years:
Now I’m not saying that you need to own numerous pairs of the chino styles above. Most guys understand what their style is these days, so why not identify the chino that sits best with how you dress and then buy a couple in different colours? That way, you won’t end up with a traditionally dressier lower half with an extremely casual top half.
Or buy all of them. Or none of them. This was just a quick note on the fact that, despite what some stores will have you believe, you can’t always wear one pair of chinos in every scenario. Take the information and do with it as you see fit. Personally, I only wear them casually so a standard pair does me just fine. How about you?