Menswear has moved on from the days when if you weren’t dressed in a suit, you weren’t dressed at all. Granted, choice may still not be as wide as womenswear, but us menfolk gain more wiggle room with each season. Literally, judging by the industry’s current obsession with wider legs.
Enter chinos, the epitome of classic wardrobe staple. Somewhere between denim’s casualness and tailoring’s smarts, chinos go up or down depending on what they are paired with. This versatility has been exploited by every generation of modern times – the US military, 1950s Hollywood, Ivy League preps and every casual Friday since the nineties.
That best-of-both-worlds style comes from a best-of-both-worlds construction. Chinos are cut from a twill cloth of the same name, which makes for trousers that are more hardwearing than wool, but without denim’s roughness.
As with so much in the male wardrobe, chinos have served their time in the ranks. When British generals eventually realised bright red uniforms didn’t exactly blend in, they sought something tough and neutral to camouflage troops. The US military followed suit, making the trousers official uniform in 1902. As soldiers retired, they took their trousers to civvy street. What one protected men on battlefields has since done the same for those everywhere from offices to skate parks.
“Chinos can cater to whatever look you want,” says Jenna Riddle, freelance stylist who has worked with the likes of Nike, John Lewis and Next.
“For a sharp but casual approach, wear them with a layered top half – T-shirts, overshirts, bomber jackets. But if the occasion calls for smartness, opt for a slimmer fit with a tucked-in T-shirt and a blazer. Tonal points if the colour coordinates, but don’t be afraid to mix-and-match either.”
Especially since that keeps your style out of the golf club. “Chinos are older than your grandad and can easily fall into OAP territory. Avoid baggy fits up top and stick to casual pieces that flatter your form – no gilets, upturned collars or rugby shirts.”
The perfect pair also depends on your build. The best chino trousers should be breathable and flattering, but by no means skin tight. The originals were designed to be mobile and that spirit survives. Paired with a high cotton content and they’re guaranteed to survive a day at the office/halfpipe (delete as appropriate).
The humble chino’s greatest asset is its versatility, which is probably why high street chain Topman has been able to transform the wardrobe staple with a smorgasbord of cuts, colours and designs that all nod to current trends.
Available at Topman, priced £32.
You only have to look at its chinos to see why Japanese retail giant Uniqlo is frequently crowned King of the Basics. Like its men’s T-shirts, the firm’s fuss-free cotton twill trousers can do no wrong.
Available at Uniqlo, priced £29.90.
Dickies has been pedalling its wares in the workwear trade since 1918, so you can guarantee it knows a thing or two about chinos. The company has moved with the times, creating new tailored styles of the durable twill trousers that are perfect for year-round use.
Available at Asos, priced £45.
Putting its history of making overalls for railroad workers into practice, today Carhartt WIP steams ahead when it comes to chinos that wouldn’t look out of place alongside a blazer thanks to details such as a concealed fly.
Available at Asos, priced £48.50.
The Spaniards at fast-fashion retailer Mango are well-established menswear masters, as typified by its selection of chinos. Look out for styles with contemporary design details such as cropped cuts and contrasting side trims.
Available at Mango Man, priced £49.99.
In addition to an exceptional selection of suits, British retailer Reiss has also proved it can loosen up with a sleek assortment of chinos. Cut with the same timeless shape as tailored trousers but in a robust cotton-rich twill, they’re hard to beat at the premium end of the high street.
Available at Reiss, priced £95.
It can take months, even years to acquire the perfect broken-in feel, but not with J.Crew. The all-American firm washes each pair of chinos for over 300 minutes, resulting in unrivalled comfort from day dot.
Available at J.Crew, priced £75.
Part of the Slowear group, Incotex sets a high watermark for impeccably cut trousers, most of which come packing pressed creases through the front to keep them looking smart. Buy a pair in classic taupe for a solid choice at weddings and weekends.
Available at Mr Porter, priced £200.
Anyone who likes well-made, accessibly priced chinos will already be familiar with Gap’s selection of slacks. A fail-safe choice for bridging the gap between casual and smart, snap a pair up in every shade.
Available at Gap, priced £44.95.
Club Monaco adds a modern take to classic pieces with particular skill and nowhere is this more obvious than with the New York brand’s line-up of chinos, which offers up the old faithful in a comfortable stretch cotton fabric and full range of colours.
Available at Mr Porter, priced £110.
Levi’s may have made its name in jeans, but as it happens the US brand is also a dab hand at chinos, too. Each follows the same number system as its iconic denims, so you can always get the perfect fit, whether that’s from the classic straight 514s or slim-fit 511s.
Available at Levi’s, priced £35.
One of the most recognisable names of the work pant world, Dockers has managed to transform itself into a true menswear mainstay in recent years. Reassuringly sturdy, the firm’s chinos feature reinforced stitching but remain surprisingly soft.
Available at Amazon, priced £75.
Marks & Spencer
Marks & Spencer has turned out ‘smart’ separates for almost 100 years, but the word takes on a new meaning when it comes to the high street stalwart’s chinos, which are fitted with features such as active waistbands for a better fit and water repellent Stormwear technology.
Available at Marks & Spencer, priced £15.
Gant has been the ne plus ultra of preppy attire for almost seven decades, giving it plenty of time to perfect the chino. To nail the Ivy League look, the lifestyle brand produces a full spectrum of colours alongside more classic shades.
Available at Gant, priced £85.
With a name like Officine Generale, it’s little surprise the Parisian label produces some of the finest examples of this wartime hero. Cut with the heft of workwear but with the clean lines of tailoring, consider it one to enlist in your wardrobe.
Available at Mr Porter, priced £135.