THE ESSENTIALS is an ongoing series where I show you pieces that belong in every guy’s closet. By building a closet with these core essentials, you make it nearly impossible to ever put together a bad outfit.

The last 20 years has solidified the chino firmly as the pant of choice for the working man. For good reason. First, they’re comfortable, always important when it comes to clothing. They’re also extremely versatile, particularly for the man who rarely finds himself in a suit.

The chino gets it’s name from the cloth it’s made of – a lightweight cotton twill fabric, originally designed for British and French military uniforms. It made its way into the wardrobes of the working civilian at the turn of the 20th Century, becoming a favorite with male style icons, like Steve McQueen

For a piece of clothing to make The Essentials list is quite a big deal, but the chino has earned its place. I would be so bold to say that if you want a truly versatile wardrobe and could only pick one type of pant, the chino would be it.

chino casual formal scale

WHY THE CHINO IS THE MOST VERSATILE PANT IN THE WORLD

On the scale of casual and formal, the chino hits that sweet spot right in the middle.

Being one notch removed from casual and formal makes it easy to dress up and down, depending on the situation you find yourself in. One can easily make it casual with a pair of sneakers, t-shirt, and a leather jacket. Or dress it up with an unstructured sports coat, button-up and loafers, a favorite look of the Italians.

what makes a chino pant
KHAKI CHINOS BY J.CREW

 

 

 

HOW TO WEAR THE CLASSIC KHAKI CHINO (AND BEYOND)

Chances are, you already have a pair of khaki colored chinos in your closet. But how do you go beyond that and incorporate navy, green or even grey into your look? I’ll show you some foolproof ways to think about colored chinos below. Before we get into that, let’s cover the original: the khaki chino.

chino combo 1 khaki and white
KHAKI CHINOS: J.CREW, $75 | WHITE OXFORD SHIRT: J.CREW, $69 | WHITE STAN SMITH SNEAKERS: ADIDAS, $75 | INDIGO COTTON JACKET: BLUE BLUE JAPAN, $485 | SOCKS: J.CREW, $14 | PHOTO VIA MARC RICHARDSON

THE CLASSIC COMBO:
THE KHAKI CHINO + WHITE

What is it about khaki and white? It’s a color combination that’s nearly impossible to mess up. Maybe it’s the callback to preppy Americana that makes it so timeless. While this look definitely signals a shift to warmer weather, it’s not impossible to wear in the colder seasons. In this case, I recommend a beautiful indigo blue jacket (another classic pairing with khaki.) No show socks can often come off as trying too hard, so let’s remedy this by adding some much needed pattern to this clean look.

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chino combo 2 green and brown
ARMY GREEN CHINOS: J.CREW, $75 | BOOTS: THOROGOOD, $375 | DENIM JACKET: J.CREW, $130 | 1950S MARLED COTTON SWEATSHIRT: LEVIS VINTAGE CLOTHING, $165 | PHOTO VIA FARFETCH

THE MILITARY HERITAGE:
THE ARMY GREEN CHINO + BROWN

An army green chino begs to be paired with a beautiful brown boot. Sure, not every man is cut out for the military, but military looks work on almost any guy. Paying homage to the origins of the chino are a nice touch. While we’re at it, let’s throw in a vintage grey sweatshirt – like this model from Levis that’s actually an original design from the 1950s. A deep brown leather jacket would be an amazing addition to this look, but it’s hard to go wrong with a beat up denim jacket.

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chino combo 3 grey chinos
STRETCH COTTON CHINOS: NN.07, $160 | RACER LEATHER JACKET: BELSTAFF, $1495 | CLASSIC RAGLAN HENLEY: RAG & BONE, $75 | SUEDE CHUCK TAYLOR ALL STARS: CONVERSE, $95

THE DENIM JEAN ALTERNATIVE:
THE GREY CHINO

Grey chinos will fool you. The twill weave, similar to denim, along that certain shade of grey gives off heavy denim vibes from afar. (As evident in the photo of Mr. Law above) The Monet effect is perfect when you’re looking for something a little more comfortable than that pair of raw denim. Wear it in any situation that might make you reach for your jeans. In this case, that means a black leather jacket, clean henley and a trusty pair of red Chucks.

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chino combo 4 navy chinos
STRETCH COTTON TWILL CHINOS: GANT RUGGER, $165 | HUDSON PATCH POCKET SPORTS COAT: SUIT SUPPLY, $499 | LUDLOW SPREAD COLLAR SHIRT: J.CREW, $88 | SAMURAI PRINT POCKET SQUARE: RUBINACCI, $140 | BROWN DOUBLE MONK STRAP SHOES: SUIT SUPPLY, $299 | PHOTO VIA THE IMPRESSION CFDA

THE OTHER DRESS PANT:
THE DARK NAVY CHINO

For those that find themselves in suits often (or just prefer it that way), the dark navy chino will be your best friend. Sure, you’ll often find men sporting the khaki chino and navy blazer combo come Spring. But if you want to give off a serious vibe over a relaxed one, flip it. This is a good opportunity to mix colors. If you’re going to pick a navy blazer, you might as well just wear a full navy suit. Considering the chino is a bit on the casual side, choosing a sports coat with patch pocket keeps with the theme. Double monks are, excuse my language, badass and a breathe of fresh air in comparison to classic oxfords everyone wears. A fine striped pale blue oxford shirt keeps it business appropriate. Whether you decide to wear a tie is up to you. Personally, I’d just go with an interesting pocket square and call it a day.

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peter@theessentialman.com'
Author

Hi, I'm Peter. I spent 11 years as a menswear designer here in NYC. Now, I help some of the most successful men look really good as a Private Personal Stylist and writer of The Essential Man. You can learn more about what I do by clicking here

  • gesunelson

    Great article. A good fitting pair of chinos should be a staple in every man’s wardrobe. I have all the colours below as well as a dark brown pair. For some reason, it’s the navy pair that’s usually the challenge to wear – I tend to go with dark denim. I like how you’ve matched the pieces below and I think it’s a good reference for guys who want to try something different. Also, thanks for the heads up on the suede high tops – I have a pair in canvas but this looks pretty cool.

    • Yes! Like I was saying in the email to you (for those that are reading this comment), I think most guys tend to think re: navy chinos “They’re blue and close to navy dress pants, I might as well just wear dress pant or jeans” But they’re definitely under appreciated.

    • Peter Nguyen

      Yes! Like I was saying in the email to you (for those that are reading this comment), I think most guys tend to think re: navy chinos “They’re blue and close to navy dress pants, I might as well just wear dress pant or jeans” But they’re definitely under appreciated.

  • Agree with Nr Nelson – great article and brown chinos work very well too (esp. with a navy sportscoat).

    • Yes! Probably even a better combo as more guys would most likely have a navy sports coat vs brown one.

    • Peter Nguyen

      Yes! Probably even a better combo as more guys would most likely have a navy sports coat vs brown one.

  • MarkinTex

    I’m a big fan of chinos, have and wear more pairs of chinos (usually in khaki or stone/cream) than any other pants. For my climate (Gulf Coast – hot humid summers and mild winters but with occasional cold snap) they are the most practical pants. I only wear shorts on weekends, and then only during the day when I’m going to be hanging around the house or doing something like sailing, going to the beach, etc., I have pretty European attitudes about men in short pants, and denim is just too hot and holds too much moisture.

    I am a little confused about some of the information in the article, though. First, I know that chino is a type of twill cloth, but it has also come to be a particular style and cut of pants, made popular by Ivy League men in the mid 20th Century. The picture of Steve McQueen seems to have him in white jeans, not chinos in style or cut, and the way the material puckers in the seams makes me think they are demin.

    Next, the idea of wearing sneakers, especially white sneakers, with chinos makes me cringe. It just looks dopey, like a public middle school kid whose school makes them wear a school uniform, or reminds me how David Letterman used to dress in the 80s, khakis, sportcoat, and sneakers, though I guess that was before most guys here’s time (ditto wearing an uncollared shirt, but especially a graphic tee). There are so many other great brown or cordovan leather shoes that look so much better than sneakers: weejuns (penny loafers), deck shoes (boat shoes), camp moccasins, blucher moccasins, desert chukkas, etc.

    Last, I can’t believe you’re advocating wearing a pair of navy chinos with a navy blazer. Trying to “match” the color of pants closely to a sportcoat, making it look like you’re trying to wear a suit, has been a hard and fast mens’ fashion faux pas since time immemorial. It just looks bad. Either wear a real suit, or else make sure your pants and sportcoat colors are far enough apart that it doesn’t look like you’re trying to cobble together a suit.

  • David Lara

    Really great post man! You’ve helped to establish a baseline for my chinos. Thanks!