What Are Chinos? The Origins of the Premium Pants and How to Wear Them

Two men wearing coat and pants

VIA Pixabay

Who doesn’t love the feeling of cotton on their skin? It’s cool, comfy and goes well with just about any outfit in your wardrobe. Chinos are considered one of the most essential of men’s pants. We know how much you love your jeans, but allow us to tackle what are chinos and why these premium pants can quickly become one of your most favorite articles of clothing.

What Are Chinos?

What are chinos, and what sets them apart from other types of men’s pants? Chinos are made from lightweight cotton twill fabric — a material that’s not too dissimilar from the heavier kind of twill used in jeans. Chinos typically come in various shades of brown or neutral colors, but there are other colors to explore, too. Chinos are made in a standard trouser form, which makes them ideal for most body types.

Chinos are mostly worn during the spring and summer months because they are cool, comfortable and possess the same versatility as jeans do when it comes to mixing and matching with tops and shoes. Chinos are available in cotton and cotton-blend styles and fit perfectly into that awkward middle ground between casual and formal wear. Dress it up by wearing a long-sleeved, button-down dress shirt on a workday; dress it down by wearing a plain, cotton white shirt for a more casual feel while you’re out doing errands. Chinos come in a variety of colors, so they’re never boring to wear.

The History of Chinos

A man standing wearing green pants

VIA Unsplash

What are chinos when they were first created? Chinos were originally made with 100% cotton before they evolved into cotton-synthetic blends. They were developed during the mid-19th century for British and French military uniforms and were designed to be durable and comfortable for the soldiers to wear.

The name “chino” (originally from the Spanish term “pantalones chinos,” meaning Chinese pants) was derived from the twill fabric which originated in China. Chinos have since evolved into what common folk would wear in the United States. Veterans returning from the Philippines wore twill military trousers and were mostly responsible for turning chinos into everyday wear for civilians.

How to Wear Chinos

Man wearing black pants

VIA Unsplash

Nowadays, chinos are made using cotton-synthetic blends and come in a variety of colors, cuts, and styles to suit every size, body type, and personal style. What are chinos when it comes to size, build, and individual style? How you dress is all up to your liking, so all we can do is suggest. You’ll be happy to know that chinos are highly versatile and can accommodate a wide range of mixing and matching. Aiming for a new casual attire? A formal ensemble? Chinos have got both covered.

The Right Fit

Before even thinking about mixing and matching that pair of chinos with the rest of your outfit, it’s important to nail the right fit. The right fit is one that suits your size and body type. After all, what good are chinos if they don’t fit you properly?

General Rules

These rules apply no matter your size or body type, so keep them in mind when you’re shopping for chino pants:

  1. Chinos shouldn’t be too long lest they look crumpled and sloppy. If those chinos fit but are too long for you, have them hemmed at the right length.
  2. Chinos should fit perfectly around your waist without needing a belt (you can still wear one to enhance your look).
  3. The waist should sit lower compared to suit pants but should rest in between the upper and mid-hip-bone area — anything below would look awkward.
  4. Chinos shouldn’t hug your butt too tight or make it look saggy.
  5. Chinos should lie comfortably close but not too tight on your thighs.
  6. The rule of thumb is to be able to pinch about an inch to an inch-and-a-half of fabric on either side of the thigh. Anything beyond that is too loose.

There are also some rules that apply depending on your build: 

Slim Builds to Regular Builds

For slim or regular builds, fitted chinos typically look good because they’ve got that “tailored look” that’s neither too tight nor too baggy. Fitted chinos also make you appear taller and leaner. Slim-fit chino pants especially look great on men with slim builds because they hug the thighs, knees, and calves and taper from knee to ankle.

Regular Builds With Heftier Physiques

Even men with regular builds can be top-heavy (or have large thighs, at least). If this is your body type, then straight-leg chinos will fit better because you will appear well-proportioned. We recommend avoiding the tapered look altogether.

For Larger Builds

If your body type is on the larger-built side, straight-leg chinos are the best way to go because it creates a balance in proportion between your top half and bottom half.

The Right Color

When it comes to choosing the right colors for your chinos, it really all depends on your personal sense of style. However, it always pays to have the basics for a “meeting with your boss or an important client” work day: navy blue, dark gray, khaki, cream, or white chinos are considered classic must-haves. Bright-colored ones, such as red, emerald green, and maroon, are best worn in a casual setting.

The Right Style

What are chinos when it comes to style? You’d be surprised how pulling off the right look with chinos can be so easy. Whether you’re a casual dresser, a working professional who’s always interfacing with clients, or are in need of a quick business casual attire, chinos can work wonders for your outfit. If you’re a bit unsure about your fashion choices, here are some recommendations that will help guide you through the decision-making process.

The Casual Look

You probably won’t even need suggestions for this type of look. However, even casual has variations: street, smart, sporty, active, and rugged can all fit into this category. The most wonderful thing about sporting a casual look is that you get to wear brightly colored chinos (like dark red, green, or maroon). We won’t go through the whole spectrum of casual but here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. For a street casual look, a basic white tee or a printed shirt will go well with a pair of fitted chinos.
  2. Chambray or linen shirts that are worn with slim-fit chinos will be a perfect low-key outfit for a day in the park.
  3. For a smart-casual aesthetic, wear dark-colored chinos with a neutral-colored shirt (sleeves rolled up, of course).
  4. A gingham shirt and a pair of loafers worn with chinos give the impression of a casual yet polished look.

A Dressier Appeal

While chinos can’t entirely take over the role of dress pants (the farthest you can really go is business casual), they can be worn on occasions that have no strict dress codes but still require a bit of sophistication. For those in-between casual and formal days, here are some recommendations that might work. To achieve that classy look, stick to basic and classic colors and choose one of these options:

  1. Wear light-colored chinos with a dark-colored suit for a snazzy look.
  2. Give that outfit some modish appeal by wearing a dark-colored blazer over light-colored chinos or a bright-colored blazer over dark-colored chinos.
  3. If you’re not too confident about donning a suit or a blazer, pair those chinos with a dress shirt, a polo, or a V-neck sweater.

The Right Shoes

Because chinos are versatile, the type of shoes you wear with them will depend on the look you want to achieve. White canvas sneakers worn with light-colored chinos have universal appeal, but who says you can’t wear them with dark-colored chinos, too? Loafers, topsiders, moccasins, and espadrilles exude preppy while Oxford and Derby brogues are just downright dressy.

How Not to Wear Chinos

Four men sitting on rolling chair

VIA Unsplash

There are general rules on how to wear chinos and there are also rules on how NOT to wear them. To keep looking your best when wearing chinos, avoid these common mistakes:

  1. Do not wear chinos to events that have a formal dress code. While chinos will work for a business casual setting, wear the appropriate attire if needed.
  2. Do not wear chinos longer than a quarter break. Wearing them at ankle length is better in some cases.
  3. Do not wear pleated chinos or ones with pressed creases because they are unflattering on the majority of body types.
  4. Do not buy chinos with pre-cuffed hems because it will be difficult to get that crease out. The hem will also be very thick and won’t look right.


Now that we’ve provided you with all the information you need about what are chinos, where they originated, how to wear them, and how not to wear them, it’s time for you to start shopping for the best pair.

What are chinos about, essentially? They’re about comfort and finding a middle ground between casual and formal. Of course nothing beats an old pair of jeans when it comes to casual comfort, but we need a little variety in life from time to time. Rest assured that when it comes to chinos, the one thing you will never have to worry about is comfort.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.