Chinos and khakis might just be the most versatile pants in your entire wardrobe, but you may not even know the difference between the two. For many people, these two types of pants are so ubiquitous that it’s easiest just to lump them together. Even so, there are some subtle differences that are worth learning that won’t only make you a better dresser, but will help you make more informed decisions about which versatile pants you should buy. Here’s what you need to know.
What are Khakis?
The word “khaki” is a Persian word for dust, which makes sense given the origins of khaki pants. British military officers wore uniforms of this color. The “dusty tan” color that gives khakis their unique look not only suited the environment, but proved quite versatile. However, to make matters a little complicated, not all khakis have to be the dusty tan color, as you can tell by browsing our famous Charleston Khakis.
What are Chinos?
Chinos get their names from a type of cloth—Chino cloth—that comes from China. They were essentially formed as an alternative to khakis, offering a more affordable way for other military officers to wear comfortable, lightweight uniforms.
The Differences Between Khakis and Chinos
Now that we’ve defined the two, let’s focus more on what makes them different:
- Stitching. If you need to take a closer look at the pants to find out what they are, your best bet is with the stitching. The stitching in khakis tends to be visible, while with chinos, the stitching will be hidden from view. The result is that chinos will have a sleek, “polished” look that makes them more appropriate for business settings. This isn’t to say that khakis can’t be worn for business situations, but they do tend to be more versatile for casual settings.
- Fabric. Khakis tend to be made from sturdier materials, which reflects their origins in the British Empire. That tends to mean heavier fabric, such as cotton twill. More often, you’ll see chinos using a cotton-polyester blend that makes for a more lightweight fabric that’s appropriate for indoor settings.
- Shaping. Khakis tend to be worn straight on the leg, giving them an overall thick appearance. Chinos, on the other hand, taper closer to the leg, which makes them sleeker and more appropriate for dressing up for formal occasions.
How to Wear Khakis vs. Chinos
In broad strokes, you can use the two pants interchangeably and most people won’t notice. However, you’ll notice. That’s why it helps to know the difference between the two when it comes to matching.
Ideally, you’ll match khakis with items you might also wear outdoors, such as a golf outfit. You can wear khakis with a button-down dress shirt for a business casual look, of course, but that look is often better suited to chinos if you have them.
Chinos, with their tapered and lightweight fabric, will be better suited for interior settings and the office environment, not to mention formal occasions such as weddings.
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