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The Essentials

Essential No.4: Chinos

The timeless summer trousers beloved by everyone from prepsters to mobsters. Plus the men who wore them well

Many of today’s most coveted items were originally developed for the military before their cooption by civilians. Just imagine life without duct tape (originally for sealing ammunition cases), microwaves (inspired by the radio transmitters of WWII), and lastly, but not least-ly, chinos. They may represent the apogee of the smart-casual trouser today, but chinos – named after the twill weave from which they’re made, which was first manufactured in China at the end of the 19th century – were first designed for British and French military uniforms.

Chinos really come into their own in summer, as the warm-weather, versatile alternative to jeans. They’re equally at home anchoring an Ivy League look with a blazer and button-down shirt, or lending some lounge class to a plain white T-shirt or polo. Banish all memories of the dress-down-Friday phenomenon of the late 1990s, when offices were awash with shapeless iterations of the trouser that put the “no!” into chino; today’s sleek, fitted versions hark back to the classic, elegantly understated models of the 1950s and 1960s.

The chinos we’ve chosen for our Essentials list come from the Italian brand Incotex, who pioneered the smart-casual Riviera look in the 1950s. With more than half a century’s experience under its belt, Incotex knows its chino chops, exemplified by this slim-fit pair in classic taupe, crafted using a new “four-season” weight of cotton-blend fabric so they can be worn throughout the year. In short, chinos are timely, yet timeless. If you need any further convincing, take a look at the way in which the following men styled them up.

MR FRANK SINATRA

  • Mr Frank Sinatra on-set of None But The Brave, 1965. Photograph by Mr David Sutton/mptvimages.com

“I am a thing of beauty,” Mr Frank Sinatra once opined, and who would dare to disagree, given his musical genius, his Mobbed-up connections, and – the clincher, surely – his devil-may-care way with a pair of chinos? Mr Sinatra is pictured here on the set of his 1965 movie None But The Brave; a comment, perhaps, on his temerity in giving his khakis a sprezzatura tweak with the simple addition of a chunky turn-up (we very much like the frayed, pre-loved edging) and teaming them with the kind of swingin’ polo and clubhouse cap that says he’s going to be swapping the set for the links as soon as he’s nailed the next goddamn take.

Wear them with

  • Polo Ralph Lauren Slim-Fit Cotton-Piqué Polo Shirt

  • A.P.C. Coated Cotton-Blend Baseball Cap

MR JEAN-LUC GODARD

  • Mr Jean Luc Godard during the shooting of Le Mepris, France, 1963. Photograph by Mr Jean-Louis Swiners/Gamma-Rapho

There’s plenty to love about this shot of Mr Jean-Luc Godard on the set of Le Mépris in 1963: the perky widow’s peak; the perfectly-poised Wayfarers; the antic angle of his pipe; the triumphant grin that says, “I just married Anna Karina and you didn’t.” But the best thing of all? The object lesson in peppy prep that comes with pairing your chinos with a crisp, fitted white shirt and a skinny plaid tie. No wonder Mr Scott Sternberg named his late, lamented mod-prep label Band Of Outsiders after one of Mr Godard’s films. This look is as nouvelle as the day it was captured, and there’s nothing vague about it.

Wear them with

  • Lanvin Slim-Fit Cotton-Poplin Shirt

  • Brunello Cucinelli Navy Striped Cotton and Linen-Blend Tie

MR PAUL NEWMAN

  • Mr Paul Newman, California, 1957. Photograph by Mr Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos

“Oh, when the Jets fall in at the cornball dance, we’ll be the sweetest dressin’ gang in pants…” Yes, we know that Mr Paul Newman didn’t actually appear in West Side Story, but he looks a Jet all the way in this lean, mean, moody shot from 1959. It’s in the cylinder-clickin’ pose, the swagger of the fitted bomber, the gold-medal-kid flash of the jewellery, the cockily-clasped alcoholic beverage, the exquisitely-scuffed sneakers, and particularly in the little-world-step-aside sand-coloured chinos, with rumble-ready turn-ups and gunslinger pockets. Proof that, while chinos may sometimes be vanilla-ish in shade, they certainly needn’t be vanilla-ish by nature.

Wear them with

  • rag & bone Avery Shawl-Collar Textured-Knit Cotton Cardigan

  • Converse Jack Purcell Signature Nubuck Sneakers

MR TOSHIRÔ MIFUNE

  • Mr Toshiro Mifune, sitting on a gondola, Venice, 1961. Photograph by Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche Srl

The Japanese actor and muse of director Mr Akira Kurosawa, Mr Mifune originated the “roving warrior” archetype, later referenced by Mr Clint Eastwood and others, in films such as Seven Samurai and Rashômon. Here, being piloted down Venice’s Grand Canal in 1961 in the shadow of St Mark’s Square, he proves himself just as much of a top dog – if not top doge – off-screen. This is due in no small part to the unflappable authority conferred by the perfectly-fitted polo and exquisitely-pressed chinos combination. It’s a look as timeless as it is covetable, and one that would grace any gondola (or rickshaw, or even tuk tuk) today.

Wear them with

  • Lacoste Cotton-Piqué Polo Shirt

  • Mondaine Helvetica No1 Light Stainless Steel and Leather Watch

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