The Ultimate Guide To Men’s Chinos
We break down everything you need to know about chinos, including what makes a great pair and the most stylish chino brands for men.
Chinos are like jeans and T-shirts in that it’s hard to overstate their importance or their endless popularity in menswear. One of the true fundamentals of a modern wardrobe, they’re unshowy and incredibly versatile, capable of blending in with just about everything – and we do mean everything – that you can throw at them.
Tailoring, streetwear, preppy fits, summer looks, workwear vibes – whatever your style, there’s a pair of chinos that can do the leg work. Hardwearing yet smart, crisp yet casual, they are trousers that do whatever you want them to do, which is why your wardrobe should be full of them and in an assortment of styles and colours.
History of chinos
Like just about every great piece of timeless menswear, chinos have their origins in the military. A bit of enterprising experimentation by one Sir Harry Lumsden in 1848 led to the British Officer creating ‘khakis’. While stationed in India, Lumsden was looking for ways to camouflage his white uniform and created a dye concoction of coffee, curry powder and mulberries. It was dubbed ‘khaki’ after the Hindu word meaning ‘dust’.
Khakis and chinos are often used as interchangeable terms, but the first recorded use of the latter came in 1898 in the Philippines. The American Armed Forces were fighting in the Spanish-American War, wearing khaki uniforms sourced from tough twill cotton, which at the time almost exclusively came from China. Spanish was the official language of the Philippines at the time, and so the local manufacturers referred to the fabric as ‘Chino’.
Like the parka jacket, field jacket and many other military classics, the end of World War II saw a massive amount of chinos hit Army Surplus stores in the US, which were a cheap hunting ground for students. They soon became popular on campuses across the US but notably on the East Coast where Ivy League students slid them straight into their early preppy aesthetic.
Ever since, chinos have had a decidedly preppy feel, but are now completely democratised across many styles and cultures, thanks to modern slim fits that can be worn in both a smart and casual way.
What makes chinos chinos?
Chinos haven’t evolved a great deal from the original style created all those years ago. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The cut has certainly developed in line with broader men’s fashion trends, going slim and tapered at times, loose or cropped at others.
The cotton twill fabric has also improved dramatically in terms of texture and comfort. Plenty of cotton cloths are now woven with a synthetic stretch material for additional comfort, or a natural fibre such as linen to make them more summer-specific.
Traditionally, chinos are flat-fronted trousers, but you can find plenty of pleated designs cut in cotton twill that are, for all intents and purposes, chinos by another name. Right now, slightly cropped legs are popular, finishing a touch above the ankle. But if you’re not sure about flashing your skin or socks, you can always buy regular length styles and give them a turn-up or two to find out.
Chinos will typically feature three or four pockets (with one or two at the back) but you also see styles that borrow the additional coin pocket from jeans and other five-pocket pants. These days, you might even find some with elasticated waistbands – although whether they’re technically still chinos is the kind of thing that classicists on style forums get picky about.
What to know before you buy chinos
Chinos usually come in a straight fit that’s not too slim and not too baggy. This means they should fit true to size, both at the waist and the inseam length. Some labels still sell chinos by waist size only, but it’s better to seek out a brand that offers leg measurements too (usually between 30 and 34 inches).
If you have drastically different measurements between hips and waist, it might also be worth finding out what kind of rise the chinos have. That’s the measurement from the middle of the crotch seam, right between your legs, up to the top of your waistband, and may affect the size and style that suits you best.
A good starting point is to measure the waist and inseam of existing trousers that fit you well, then go from there.
While the classic chino is a relatively generous straight-cut design, there are also slim-fit and relaxed-fit options to choose from. The straight cut is trend-proof and works for the majority of body types and dress codes, but it looks particularly good slotted into in smart casual preppy fits.
You’ll feel the difference in slim-cut chinos, especially around the butt, crotch and thighs, and the style may also taper towards the ankle. Flattering on those with slimmer builds, these leg huggers dress up or down nicely – especially in black or navy.
In recent years, looser trouser styles like carpenter and cargo pants have been popular as dress codes continue to loosen up post pandemic. Likewise, chinos have become more accommodating, with a greater number of loose-fit designs on offer. Undoubtedly comfortable, these styles usually (but not always) lean casual and the wider drape gives a distinctive silhouette, especially with chinos cut from heavier twill.
Traditional army chinos came in khaki green and various shades of beige, and these remain some of the best-looking styles to wear in 2023, especially if your look leans casual.
After Ivy League students co-opted the style, chinos became available in a much wider spectrum of colours. Black, navy, grey and brown are all popular and easy to wear to this day, while certain members of the upper classes have taken red or mustard chinos to heart.
Our advice? Unless you often visit the polo club, stick with neutral tones.
Chinos are traditionally a flat-fronted trouser, but the style has adopted pleats at various points in menswear history. One of those eras is right now, with pleats becoming a distinctive detail reminiscent of the 1940s and 50s.
They have the added bonus of allowing more room for your thighs but remember that pleats on a slim-cut pair of chinos will still be snug. Pleats don’t automatically mean a wider cut.
Chinos are typically made from 100% cotton with a twill weave that is meant to be sturdy and long-lasting (a by-product of the pants’ history as militarywear). They tend to be softer and more lightweight than jeans, making them a good warm-weather alternative to denim.
As with jeans these days, modern chinos are sometimes made with synthetic materials like elastane to add a bit of stretch for even more comfort or manoeuvrability.
The best men’s chino brands
London label Percival’s remit is classic wardrobe staples with a twist. And in the case of its chinos collection this translates to a limited-edition run of straight-leg pants in a cotton blend, which features 3% elastane for comfort.
Draping nicely thanks to the weight of the material and regular up and down cut, they’re available in five neutral colourways – camel, olive green, navy, black and brown – that will slot seamlessly into your daily rotation.
L’Estrange has stripped back the male wardrobe to a small selection of modular pieces that can be mixed and matched every day. The idea being that the less you buy, the better it is for the environment. A noble endeavour, sure, but what does this mean to you?
Well, its take on the chino is titled the ’24 Trouser’ because it’s designed to be worn all day long, no matter the occasion. Crafted using a custom-made cotton-blend fabric in partnership with an Italian mill, they are cut slim and feature a hidden drawstring waist for unparalleled comfort.
Relaxed yet sophisticated, they can be subbed in for your jeans as easily as they can your dress pants – making them perhaps the only chinos you’ll ever need. Mother Nature would approve.
An Italian direct-to-consumer brand, Luca Faloni is clearly proud of its heritage. Everything the label produces is ‘Made in Italy’, from the fabrics sourced from the country’s finest mills to the local artisans which craft each and every piece.
So, its chinos are as you would expect: superb. Made in northern Italy from a smooth premium cotton twill with 3% elastane for added comfort, they will adapt to your shape from the very first wear, while the classic mid-rise and slightly tapered fit means they work for all body types.
But it’s the attention to detail which really sets these chinos apart from the rest. Things like a triple horn button closure, an internal waistband to keep your shirt neatly tucked in and a central fastener to secure your belt in place. Bellissimo.
Wax London is quickly becoming one of our favourite brands. Family run with a clear focus on sustainability throughout its collections, the British label offers a fresh, contemporary approach to menswear that many of the big boys seem to be lacking these days.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with its line of chinos. Aside from classic flat-fronted styles, there’s also designs with cropped legs, drawstring waists, pleats, wide cuts… all coming in a plethora of fabrics, including heavyweight twill, 100% organic cotton and cotton-elastane blends.
If you want to bring some variety to your legwear rotation, look no further.
Scandi brand ASKET likes to keep things simple, which is why they have created a classic chino and a heavy twill chino. Two styles, multiple colours. Why complicate things?
The chino is made from an Italian mid-weight satin weave with just a hint of stretch, and embellished with a tonal herringbone interior and pressed French seams. The heavy twill chino meanwhile is cut from a heavyweight, Italian-made organic cotton twill that is built to last.
Both have a clean tailored finish that work well with lo-fi sneakers.
The Japanese retailer arguably does everyday essentials better and cheaper than pretty much anyone else, and so it goes with its chinos. For the price of four or five cocktails in a metropolitan city, you can pick up a fresh pair of classic chinos in a slim or regular fit, and in 100% cotton or stretch cotton.
The construction quality is good, and the cotton isn’t bad either, so fill your boots with the various colour options to build a really versatile wardrobe.
From the brand that has come to define modern preppiness, J.Crew’s chino collection is predictably vast. And it doesn’t cut any corners despite the very accessible price point.
The vast majority of styles are woven with elastane to create a stretchy and very comfortable fit. There are also a plethora of cuts to choose from, including skinny, slim, straight, relaxed, giant and drawstring. Every cut comes in a wide variety of tones too, from classic khaki to summer-ready pastels.
If you don’t want to complicate matters by shopping around, you’ll find all you need at J.Crew without breaking the bank.
Like Uniqlo, GAP has been an ever-present stalwart of the high street thanks to, ‘Ye aside, its dedication to producing affordable timeless classics. Its casual trouser collection features a number of chino styles in various fits and colours, constructed from a unique cotton twill called GapFlex, which is a smooth, stain-resistant weave with stretch technology.
For less than $35/£35, you get style, comfort and a solid everyday trouser you can easily integrate into your wardrobe.
For an elevated take on the classic chino without blowing the budget, COS is one of your best options. Fashion-forward and innovative with its fabric considerations, COS’ chino collection is, creatively speaking, excellent.
From wide-leg cotton twill styles by COS Atelier, to relaxed-fit wool tapered chinos with single pleats via a classic tapered design constructed from a Tencel blend, COS’ chinos have more of a tailored feel than its competitors, making them great for those who prefer a smarter modern aesthetic.
A Day’s March
Swedish label A Day’s March is renowned for its pared-back staples in high-quality fabrications, and you can always count on a clean neutral colour palette, too.
While the brand make a dedicated chino pant in organic cotton twill, a lot of its other cotton trouser styles also fit the bill – its ‘Smart Trousers’ and ‘Redwood Trousers’ in cotton Tencel being cases in point.
With sleek and wide-leg fits to choose from, A Day’s March are a great option for those with an elevated casual style.
While the brand don’t call them ‘chinos’, Oliver Spencer’s perennial cotton trousers fit the bill. Almost exclusively cut in 100% organic cotton, Spencer has a template of styles to suit every wardrobe, from the contemporary cropped judo trouser to tapered fishtail and drawstring silhouettes.
The fabric and build quality is second-to-none and Spencer has worked the trousers into his collections seamlessly that you can often wear them as part of a casual ‘suit’.
Polo Ralph Lauren
Of course the master of modern prep does a great line in chinos. Ralph Lauren’s Polo label is the epitome of collegiate cool, of which the classic chino plays an integral part.
The relaxed-fit Burroughs style is a favourite, inspired by vintage trousers and cut from a cotton chino fabric that is made with ring-spun combed yarns.
You’ll also find myriad other chinos too, from slim-fit stretch styles to pleated cargo pants.
Italian trouser specialist Incotex is part of the Slowear group and makes exceptionally high-quality cotton chinos. For those who want an elevated tailored approach to their casual strides, Incotex’s chinos are on the money.
With a slim tapered fit in the classic Italian style, most of Incotex’s chinos are woven with elastane and/or Spandex for a super-comfortable fit.
The epitome of relaxed Parisian sophistication, Officine Générale’s tailored trouser collection is exceptional year after year. Its chino pants are high quality and beautifully made, leaning much more towards a smart tailored trouser than your average casual chinos.
Its Hugo trouser is a stunning modern rendition of the classic, cut in Italian cotton twill with single pleats and a slight crop. Perfect worn with a simple plain tee and lightweight blazer.
Copenhagen-based NN07 takes an uncompromising approach to its aesthetic, which is always refreshing in a fashion market that seems to shift direction on a whim. For NN07, sleek minimalist style is everything, and that’s where chinos feel right at home.
NN07 probably has the best selection of chinos on the upper end of the market, with a total of 11 different fits to choose from, all constructed from high-quality cotton and organic cotton, and available in a predictably Scandi colour palette ranging from classic khaki to black via green, brown and grey.
Rag & Bone
New York outfit Rag & Bone are masters at that easy-going urban vibe and has perfected its chino styles, using some really innovative cloths.
Its Fit 2 Action chino is cut from a loopback soft twill that has the feel and softness of French terry cloth, which is really unique. Otherwise, its Fit 2 Stretch twill chinos are a traditional lightweight mid-rise style that comes in a variety of great-looking tones to add a tonne of versatility to your wardrobe.
Between Alex Drexler, his dad (former CEO of GAP and J.Crew) and Somsack Sikhounmuong (formerly design director at J.Crew), they have a world of menswear experience, specialising in that modern preppy aesthetic which the chino plays an integral part.
Hence Alex Mill’s chinos are some of the best on the market. Its flat-front option is made from a slightly stretchy, medium-weight fabric with a slight crop in the leg, while the pleated and field pant variations have a great vintage feel about them.
How to style chinos
Chinos are so incredibly versatile that it would be hard to find a way to get them wrong. They come in a large variety of colours too, and which tone you choose will go some way to determining how to wear them.
The traditional khaki shades naturally lean on a workwear aesthetic and can be worn in a relaxed way with contemporary crew neck sweaters and hoodies, combining well with other neutrals, as well as earthy hues such as tobacco, olive green and brown.
Lighter khaki styles can be dressed up a little more with a pair of loafers or minimal sneakers, along with a preppy look up top with an OCBD shirt, cardigan and lightweight windbreaker layered together.
Darker chinos such as navy, dark green, and black lend themselves to a smarter styling approach, paired with a softly tailored cotton blazer or a rollneck sweater and blouson.
Ultimately though, chinos tend to be all things to all men, and there’s very little you can do to get the ‘wrong’ – aside from putting them on backwards.