Everything You Need to Know about How to Wear Chinos
How to wear this wardrobe must-have
In the spring of eighth grade, I borrowed a pair of Gap chinos from my friend Kate. I wanted to wear them to graduation rehearsal at the church connected to our parochial school. Wide-leg with that useless hammer loop that no middle schooler needs, and stone-white, these pants were the coolest.
Sitting in a pew, waiting for my turn to walk up to the altar to fake-receive an invisible diploma from my principal, I suddenly realized I’d gotten my period for the first time. Not wanting to call attention to the…situation, I yanked my sweater down towards my shoelaces. Then I walked up in front of my entire class, and accepted that invisible piece of paper with a firm handshake and pained smile. Thankfully, a clean pair of jeans sitting in my locker saved the day. Literally.
The whole experience felt (probably?) a lot like getting a boner during a spelling bee—you know it’s not your fault, that your body doesn’t mean to betray you in front of all your pubescent peers…and also that you should go home, hug your parents goodbye, change your name, and move out of state, never to return again.
So yeah. That, coupled with the fact that chinos on women aren’t really a thing, means I’m not a big chinos person, personally. However, I’m telling you here to do as I say, not as I do (or wear). Because on men, chinos are great, and you almost never find yourself bleeding through a light-colored pair!
Below, everything you need to know about how to wear chinos:
What are chinos? Are chinos different than khakis?
First, let’s start with some terminology. “Khakis” aren’t pants. Khaki is a color.
When someone says khakis, what they’re really talking about are chinos. A simple casual, cotton pant that exists in the middle ground between jeans and dress pants. Think of chinos or chino pants (we’ll use them interchangeably here) as the oxford shirt of pants—versatile enough to be dressed up or dressed down, and always in style.
Khaki chinos are chino pants that come in a tan color. Burgundy chinos are chino pants that come in a burgundy color. And so on.
Chinos are dresser than five-pocket twill pants, which look pretty much exactly like jeans except for the material. But! They’re not as dressy as dress pants, which usually have a tab waistband closure and are made of wool, or some other fancier material.
How to wear chinos
Chinos are the antidote to complaining that jeans are “all” you have to wear. When you want getting dressed to be easy, reach for chinos! They’re so easy to swap in as a substitute, and they’ll put you leaps and bounds ahead of your be-bottom’d brethren.
Like jeans, you can dress chinos up, or dress them down. The beauty of a great pair of chinos is that they go with literally everything. Get preppy with a white dress shirt, navy blazer, and tie. Go for that simple Scandinavian aesthetic with a pocket tee and fresh sneakers. You’d be hard pressed to come up with an outfit that a great pair of chinos won’t complement. We’ll share some outfit ideas below to hopefully inspire you!
SG Says: Joggers are another great alternative to jeans. There are even jogger pants made out of chino material out there! You can read more about this athleisure trend here.
How chino pants should fit
Remember those wide-legged chinos that literally all of us, guys and girls, wore growing up? The ones that made us feel like the fourth member of Blink 182 and fit like your favorite pair of JNCO jeans? Yeah, we’re not wearing those anymore.
Cut and fabric are key to versatility when it comes to chinos. Look for a chino with a medium rise, not too high or too low. Flat front is a must (aka, no pleats!!), and make sure the seat of the pants fit close but not too tight.
And about your backside? A close-fitting seat is the cure for “dad diaper butt.” Brands have been built to address this scourge on men’s style; don’t be a victim of it yourself. Us ladies want to see your cute butt as much as you like to look at ours, so a shapeless, sloppy backside is a definite Don’t.
Make sure the leg is tailored close to the body, and the length falls somewhere between the top of the shoe and the top of the heel. Stay away from chinos that are too washed and distressed as this makes it harder to dress them up.
Shop #SGApproved chinos:
One thing that chino pants have over jeans in terms of versatility is that there are w-a-a-a-a-y more options for colors that are still neutral and super-wearable.
Think about it. As soon as you veer off the path from dark-rinse blue denim, you get into types of jeans (black jeans that make you feel like a rocker) and trends (the light blue “dad” jeans that are cool now but who knows about next season, or next year?)
From there, experiment! Warm weather is great for lighter shades from salmon to sea breezy blue, while the colder months make more sense for darker shades like aubergine and rust.
Chino Pant Styling Tips
- Avoid pleated khaki pants and opt for a more fitted style to avoid looking dowdy.
- Don’t know what to wear? Reach for an oxford cloth button down and a cardigan in an eye-catching color or pattern. If you’re wearing chinos with a tie, be sure to tuck your shirt into your pants.
- Chinos and sporty vests go together like peanut butter and jelly. Don’t be afraid to wear a fun pattern like the one below!
- If you’re going to wear a belt, be sure it goes with your shoes. They don’t have to be the exact same color, but they should be in the same family (say, a maroon braided belt with brown suede chukka boots).
Outfit Idea: Khaki-colored Chinos
Outfit Idea: Olive Green Chinos
SG Says: You can swap in olive green, or its more military-inspired cousin, army green, to any outfit that usually showcases denim. The muted tone of olive green chinos makes them the ideal substitution for jeans or even your staid (though, stylish) khakis because you can style them as you would any neutral wardrobe staple. Want to pump up this color even more? Swap a swatch of olive green for an equally easy-to-wear camo print.
There’s something so manly yet dapper about olive green…especially when you see this color paired with cozy basics in cooler weather.
Outfit idea: Bright-colored chinos
You can choose a bright-colored pair of chinos anytime. We especially like them for guys during the winter months when so many wear dark colors all the time. Stick to rich, jewel tones (i.e., save the pastels for summer), and pair your pants with long sleeve henleys and sturdy outerwear. Weave in neutrals like grey, black, and navy to keep things from looking crazy.
- When going for a bold-colored chino, make your pants the focal point of the outfit by pairing them with neutral pieces or tying the color in small details throughout the look.
- Worried about looking like you’ve got the jump on spring or summer? Keep your winter hues to jewel and earth tones: turquoise, eggplant, forest green, brown, grey, burgundy..
- Unless you’re making a point to color block or go all monochrome, it’s easiest to pair a bright color with classic wardrobe staples like solid henleys or sweaters.
- Add a bit more visual interest to this look by keeping your jacket unbuttoned and henley peeking through.
- Want to make this look work in the office? Swap the henley for a button down and the sneakers for brogues. Then, add a knit tie and mesh metal watch.
How to cuff or roll your chinos
1. Fold vertically, then horizontally.
No need to peg your pants, but if you don’t tighten the cuff a bit, you’ll never get the rolls to stay. Take the fabric at the inner ankle between two fingers and fold over itself, about an inch to two inches, depending on how wide the pants are.
2. Roll once or twice, but not more than three times.
We’re going for rolled pants, not capris. This isn’t Europe.
3. Rough it up.
The look should be a little rough, as if you quickly rolled up your pant legs before disembarking the schooner you sailed in to your private island. Casually elegant, you dig? Yes, you have to spend a little time perfecting the “I didn’t spend any time on this” look. But it will get easier.
3. Wear with a casual shoe.
This advice actually stands whether you’re rolling your pants or not. Chinos are not to be worn with an uber-dressy shoe. Personally, we like a nice low-top Chuck for this look, though chukka boots or a boat shoe would look nice, too, depending on the season.
When to roll your chinos
Just remember: (1) you’re going for easy breezy, not military precision in your cuff, and (2) don’t cuff them too high: Us ladies want to see ankle, not calf.
How to wear khaki shorts
Head to this 5 Days, 5 Ways feature for summertime outfit ideas!
Best chinos for different body types
Ultimately, the best chinos for your body type are the ones that you try on and make you feel like a million bucks. That might mean a little time spent shopping, but we’ve (hopefully!) made things easier with our shopping picks in this article.
What shoes to wear with chinos
The image above from Effortless Gent does a great job of showing you a bunch of the options you have when it comes to what to wear on your feet with chinos.
With a more dressed-down look, it makes sense to go with a sneaker – personally, I’m a sucker for a really bright, colorful low-top with an upturned cuff (like this) which adds a really modern vibe, but you could also go with something a little more on-the-nose, like a lace-up canvas sneaker or a boat shoe.
If you want to dress up your chinos, a loafer or desert boot will do the trick.
Shop #SGapproved shoes to wear with chinos:
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PAIR OF CHINOS RIGHT NOW?
Take Style Girlfriend’s No Jeans January challenge! How? Just go denim-free, all month long. You’ll discover new ways to wear the clothes you already own (like how to wear chinos dressed up and down), and learn what your wardrobe may be missing…