Chinos are your go-to pants for smart casual occasions, but with so many variations from which to choose, selecting the right combination of color, style, and fit is a challenge many guys get wrong.
To help you get it right, here’s our quick guide to looking your best in chinos. Everything you need to know to choose the perfect pair of these classic cotton pants.
Where did chinos come from?
It was the Brits and Europeans who originally wore a form of chinos – khaki drill pants that were tough, smart and inexpensive. But it was the soldiers returning from the Spanish American war of 1898 that gave chinos their name. ‘Pantalones chinos’ or Chinese pants were so-called because the original fabric came from China.
In the 20th century, chinos became a summer standard for US Army uniforms, and from there leaked into wider public fashion. By WW2, chinos were a mid-high rise pant with a full cut leg but, since then, low rise has become the standard. We’ve seen pleats come and go, and the addition of elastane has enabled super comfortable stretch chinos to evolve, along with slim fit versions too.
How to choose the right fit for chinos
Chinos should fit snug to your waist without being too tight – if they stay up without the need for a belt, that’s about right. Now pinch around your thighs – you should be able to gather up around an inch of fabric between thumb and forefinger.
If you’re a man with skinny legs, slim fit chinos work best. The leaner silhouette makes the most of your slimmer frame and if you’re a shorter man, this cut also helps to elongate your figure.
Sporting jocks with muscular legs look best in straight cut chinos. Avoid the temptation to go too tight – slim fit will cling to your ample quads but gentlemanly modesty requires that you hint at your athleticism rather than shout about it.
As for large fellows with truly powerful lower limbs, go as wide as you need to in order to stick to the ‘pinch an inch’ fit.
How to choose the right chino style
Flat-fronted pants don’t suit everyone, especially if you’re a bigger man. But while pleats were distinctly out of fashion for a long while, the good news is that finally, they’re back. A return to higher rise, pleated chinos is good news for larger guys – forget the belly over the waistband look, pleats are so much more flattering.
In fact, even men of average build look better in pleated chinos – those low rise, flat fronted, skinny chinos only really look great on younger, slimmer guys. For everyone else, the cut is almost bound to make you look disproportionately heavy on top.
In fact, if it’s a youthful vibe you like, then focus on the pant cuff. Opting for a pair of chinos with no break or rolled cuffs gives you the chance to flash a bit of ankle, and also shows off a nice pair of loafers to best effect.
How to choose the right color chinos
Chinos now come in virtually every color imaginable, but the original khaki drill cotton pants still deserve their place in your closet. These pants go with most outfits and really do suit almost all smart casual occasions. That said, here some other great color combos you might like to try:
- Wine or red chinos with a tattersall shirt and tweed jacket – this is a great choice for those wishing to sport a country look with a twist of color.
- Navy chinos with a white shirt and a pink or yellow blazer – an excellent outfit to wear to summer events
- Charcoal chinos with a polo shirt – a great dressed-down look that’s still smart
Tempted to try more daring color combinations? Use the color wheel to make sure your ensemble works. Colors close to one another naturally go well together – those from opposite sides of the spectrum offer contrast, but should be used sparingly.
Summer and winter weight chinos
Chinos may be the perfect choice for summer, but did you know you can buy winter-weight pants too? As the warmer months give way to fall and winter, slip out of your summer-weight chinos into something more suitable – chinos in a 10oz plus fabric are perfect for the job.
Alternatively, why not give a cavalry twill pair a try? Its diagonal weave packs more threads into the weft of the fabric, making it heavier duty and more wind resistant. Pair your twill pants with a nordic sweater for a rugged winter outfit that’s warm, soft and tactile.
The best shoes to wear with chinos
A classic pair of leather mens shoes offers the perfect match for a pair of equally classic chinos. During the summer months, a pair of loafers, deck shoes, or brogues are just the thing – choose black or brown to match your pants.
During the fall and winter, switch shoes for boots – try Chelsea boots, chukka boots or a pair of traditional brogued country boots to wear with your winter-weight chinos.
Top tips on how to wear chinos
- Chinos are a must for every man’s closet – choose the right fit, waist style, and cuff to suit your age and body type.
- Smaller or slimmer guys suit slim fit, flat-fronted chinos best.
- An athletic build looks best in straight cut chinos with either flat or pleated waist.
- Larger men best suit a wider leg and a pleated waist. If you can’t pinch an inch of fabric around your thigh, go wider.
- Stone or khaki chinos go with anything and suit almost all smart casual occasions, but navy blue is smarter still.
- Summer-weight chinos go best with brogues, loafers or deck shoes.
- When wearing winter-weight chinos, choose Chelsea boots, chukkas or a pair of traditional country boots.