The history of chinos and how to wear them nowadays

  • 3 min read

Chinos are currently enjoying a return to prominence as people are finding a place for them not only in the office, but just about everywhere else as well. Let's take a look at the history of these versatile trousers, and how you can best incorporate them into your wardrobe this season.

Chinos have their origins in warfare, as they were part of military uniforms for generations.

Chinos: a brief history

Chinos have their origins in warfare, as they (and their older sibling, the similar yet distinct khakis) were part of military uniforms for generations. They became American army wear during the Spanish-American War.

It's not clear where the name comes from - in Spanish, 'chino' could refer to China (where the pants were made) or toasted (as in their tan-brown colour).

After World War II, returning American soldiers brought the pants into everyday fashion and established the trousers' versatility, pairing them with anything from white t-shirts to ties and blazers.

Chinos enjoyed a period of ubiquity before, unfortunately, becoming associated with boxy '80s and '90s officewear . However, over the last couple of years this middle-management image has worn off, and chinos have returned to popular fashion. So how can you incorporate chinos into your style?

How to wear chinos

Unlike dress pants or jeans of recent times, chinos don't have to be skintight and calf-clinging. A slightly relaxed fit lets you and the trousers breathe easy. A GQ piece this season suggests a looser, more 'slouchy' cut than the tight, straight silhouettes we've seen for the last few years. For large men, GQ recommends finding a pair that has room all the way through - you don't want pants that fit well around the waist but then cling too tightly around the thigh, or balloon out to flap around your calves. You can choose among a wide range we offer here.

Once you've settled on the style you want (or if you can't decide, get a couple), there's the question of what to wear with them. The strength of these pants really is how easily they can be dressed up or down - it's this versatility and code-switching that has given them their longevity. Dressy enough for the office, relaxed enough for the barbecue, chinos can fit in anywhere - provided they're with the right friends.

What to wear with chinos

Chinos come in both formal and casual styles. It's easy to tell the difference - a more formal pair will be cut and detailed like a pair of dress pants, and a casual pair will be styled more like jeans. Take a look at touches like the cut of the pockets (front and back) or whether there are pleats.

For a more formal look, combine chinos with a lightweight dress shirt. recommends a contrasting blazer. Use accessories like ties, belts or even pocket squares to pick up the look.

According to online style guide The Effortless Gent, the easy way to wear chinos casually is to treat them the same way you would a pair of jeans. Chinos can sit comfortably with loafers or sneakers, and a checked shirt.

And it's hard to go wrong with the classic combination of khaki trousers and a clean white polo or t-shirt.

What about the rolled cuff? Mr. Porter says yes, especially in the warm weather, but bear in mind it'll immediately make your outfit a casual one.

Make sure it's bare ankle rather than sock that's peeking out below for the summer look.

If your chinos are a fairly neutral colour, Sample Style Mag suggests pairing them with a bolder shirt, either in colour or pattern. Alternatively, you could reverse it - a bright pair of pants with a more subdued shirt. Experiment, but remember that you don't want every piece of your outfit competing to be the star of the show. Check out our range of chinos here.