Seven Ways To Look Good In Chinos
Photograph by Mr Marc Richardson
There comes a point every summer (or so one hopes, at least) when it’s too warm to wear jeans. One day they’re right, the next day the weight of denim and the tightness of the fabric’s weave are too much. A cooler alternative must be sought. This is where chinos come in. They’re the warm-weather alternative to jeans but with added versatility, because, while jeans work with jackets, they inevitably dress them down. The right pair of chinos, however, slot in under a blazer and shirt just as well as they do under a plain white T-shirt or a grey marl sweatshirt. They have a sleekness that makes them a touch smarter than jeans, thanks to their inconspicuous set-in pockets, and the fact that they’re a solid colour, with no fade lines.
Chinos were given their name in the Philippines, following the Spanish American War of 1898. American servicemen stationed on the islands, then Spanish-speaking, wore trousers made in the style of British military khakis (“khaki” comes from the Hindi word for soil, referring to the traditional colour of the trousers). As they were in the Philippines, these were made in China – hence “chinos”, which means “Chinese” in Spanish.
In recent times, chinos have played a greater part in office life than in the life of officers, and they had a moment in the spotlight when they became indelibly associated with the dress-down Friday phenomenon of the late 1990s. For good or ill, dress-down Friday has largely overflowed into every other day of the week, but progress has been made in the design of chinos, which were once baggy enough to flap in the wind like a boat sail. Anyone looking to the past for inspiration would do well to go back half a century to the heyday of Ivy League style, when students on America’s best campuses wore them with insouciance, Bass Weejuns and shirts with button-down collars.
Fifty years on, we present a contemporary gentleman’s guide to wearing chinos.
01. Wear with an open-neck shirt
Photograph by Ms Suzanne Middlemass
This outfit is simultaneously more formal but less smart than those worn by the box-fresh trio, top. The wearer’s addition of a rumpled white jacket adds a layer of formality, but somehow the casual blue shirt, worn open necked, and his relaxed demeanour add more of a louche, Bohemian feel. In fact, the overall image suggests an artist dressed for an expensive lunch with his gallerist, which is no bad thing (unless you’re heading up to the boardroom for a meeting).
02. Mix with denim
Photograph by Ms Cat Garcia
This combination of two quite different shades and textures of blue reveals a lot about what counts when a man is putting together an outfit. The fact that the rough denim is so different from the smoother blue trousers gives it almost as much contrast as if it were a different colour altogether. In this case, the denim is worn, slightly unexpectedly, on the top half, and is designed to hint at the style of traditional Western shirts with the yoke extending down over the front of each shoulder. The navy trousers, however, are dark enough to look quite formal and the effect is to make this a fine example of the smart-casual look, appropriate for a weekend lunch or a casual dinner.
03. Keep them casual
Photograph by Mr Yu Fujiwara
This outfit exemplifies the reasons why smart-casual, while it may be confusing as a dress code, is not an oxymoron, because the image we’re presented with is noticeably relaxed, even though we’re looking at a sports jacket worn with what appears to be a matching waistcoat, a white shirt and brown loafers. It puts us in mind of cold drinks (an onion-skin-coloured Provençal rosé, perhaps?) on a warm evening, or lunch in someone’s back garden, rather than the world of work, offices and industry. We put this down to the shirt’s tunic collar, the low-slung trousers, the suede loafers and, crucially, the wallet chain (the popularity of which must be attributed to Milanese style icon Mr Lino Ieluzzi).
04. Try them in blue
Photograph by Ms Cat Garcia
These mid-blue chinos are the colour of jeans and, as a result, demonstrate all the ways that the two styles of trousers differ. Jeans tend to grip the leg and have a shape all of their own, while chinos are made from softer material and carry the smoother line of trousers. This shade of blue is deeply reminiscent of the sea and, combined with simple canvas sneakers, puts us in mind of something that Mr Paul Newman might have worn to go sailing. The bare ankles are key to the summer look – just consider how different this would seem if three inches of sock were visible. Even more important is the simplicity of the untucked white shirt. This is an outfit that would work well for a date – we suggest a seafood restaurant with a terrace.
05. Choose relaxed tailoring
Photograph by Ms Suzanne Midlemass
For those summer days when half the office is away on holiday, and the rest of the office is thinking about going on holiday, a casual outfit dressed up with a soft-shouldered jacket should hit the spot. Carry the jacket over your shoulder while suffering the heat during your commute, relaxed in the knowledge that white shirts conceal sweat marks, and rely on the fact that if you do need to sharpen up your appearance the jacket will render you ready for a meeting or a last-minute dinner reservation. The trousers, white sneakers and sunglasses nail the look that exists between being presentable and being casual.
06. Pair with white
Photograph by Mr Marc Richardson
The famous Pitti wall, a spot at the biannual Florentine trade show where the peacocks of the menswear industry gather each January and June to display their new plumage, is just the place to debut chinos that bear prison-garb arrows or white ankle hoops. Looking beyond the eye-catching details, we’re presented with three pairs of chinos, above, that are in ideal shades of khaki and have an air of casual sophistication, thanks to the box-fresh white sneakers and the equally dazzling T-shirts and shirt. The overall effect is simple, relaxed and clean, and provides a blueprint for casual summer dress.
07. Pay attention to texture
Photograph by Mr Scott Schuman
When it comes to clothes, linen is synonymous with summer. In this case, it’s worn as an unstructured oatmeal-coloured jacket with enough texture to look relaxed, over a starkly white shirt and stone-coloured chinos. The effect is an elegant take on continental European style and combines comfort with sophistication. The dark green pocket square and the Western-style belt significantly add to the overall effect, and give an otherwise simple outfit a welcome injection of personality. A similar look can be replicated for colder months – simply replace the linen jacket with something in tweed, or even a chunky-knit sweater for more casual occasions.