Chinos are the most ubiquitous trousers today after jeans. To the masses, chinos are a dressier alternative to jeans. While they are indeed dressier than jeans, today they aren’t necessarily more stylish. There’s a significant difference between the high end jeans and low end jeans, while chinos don’t necessarily look much different whether they cost $30 or $300. Chinos still have a place in the well-dressed man’s wardrobe for being an easy-to-wear casual trouser, but the stylish man understands their limitations.
Chinos are traditionally defined as trousers made of chino cloth, which is mercerised cotton in a steep left-hand twill weave. The mercerisation gives the cotton increased strength and shrink resistance while also imparting a stuble sheen. Chino fabric can be found in various weights, from light summer weight to heavy year-round weight. They tend to look dressier in lighter weights and are more rugged in heavier weights. Some wrinkle-free chinos have a cheap-looking shine that should be avoided.
Today, chinos are usually defined as cotton or cotton-blend trousers in the style of trousers traditionally made of chino cotton. The style is similar to dressier trousers, usually with hidden stitching, side pockets and set-in rear pockets. While chinos are still usually made of chino cloth, there are poplin and other cotton or cotton-blend trousers that fall into the chino category because they’re made in the classic chino style.
Modern chinos originated in the military in the 1800s, and being a military style makes them appropriate for James Bond. Modern naval officers often wear them off duty as part of their ‘dog robbers’, so it’s appropriate that Bond would wear them off duty.
The term ‘chinos’ is often used interchangeably with ‘khakis’, and while there is overlap between the two, they are not exactly the same. Khakis are cotton trousers in shades of khaki, and they’re made of heavier cottons in all sorts of weaves and finishes. When chinos are in the colour khaki, they can appropriately be called khakis. Chinos traditionally are made in shades of khaki or tan, but also commonly come in navy, black and white. Khakis are usually in a khaki colour. But like how chinos aren’t necessarily made of chino cloth, khakis don’t always come in khaki. Chinos made in heavier weights with external stitching are often called khakis rather than chinos.
The jean-style khaki and cream trousers that Bond wears with his polos and cardigans in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace are khakis but not chinos.
Cotton gabardine is similar to chino cloth, but it has more sheen and thus is dressier. They are worn pressed with a crease down the centre of each leg. Gabardine is smoother than chino cloth, but it’s stiffer and not as soft. While heavier cotton gabardine is used for raincoats, a lighter variety is usually used for trousers to wear in spring and summer. Cotton gabardine trousers are good for pairing with summer blazers, linen or silk sports jackets or a tucked sports shirt or polo.
Chinos are best worn as casual trousers. At their dressiest, they can dress down a blue blazer. However, they are most at home paired with a polo or a summer sport shirt. Shirts can be tucked or untucked. When worn with a blazer they should ideally be pressed with a crease to dress them up. When dressed down, a crease is optional, and no crease may even be more traditional.
James Bond’s Chinos
James Bond wears his chinos and chino-esque trousers for dressing down. Proper chinos in the Bond series started showing up in the 1980s. In The Living Daylights, the casual Bond Timothy Dalton wears tan cotton chinos, which are a little darker than his tan blouson. They’re made in a traditional military style that is full-cut with double forward pleats, on-seam pockets and plain-sewn hems. He wears the same chinos for the final battle with Brad Whitaker but in either dark navy or black.
In Licence to Kill, Bond’s khaki cotton chinos have an even more relaxed fit with with triple reverse pleats and slightly slanted side pockets. This was a popular trouser style in the late 1980s through the mid 1990s.
Casino Royale saw a revival of casual Bond styles, and chinos returned for the Venice scenes. Bond wears navy chinos with a blue rugby shirt as well as khaki chinos with a grey t-shirt. Daniel Craig’s Bond reinvented the character’s casual style, and chinos are a key part of it.
He wears chinos again in Skyfall when he’s at his lowest and off the grid. The chinos are khaki from Topman with a very slim fit. They have a low rise and a too-short hem for a part-hipster, part-1960s look.
In Spectre, Bond wears ‘Aged Gabardine Chinos’ in a dark khaki colour called ‘sahara’ from Brunello Cucinelli. They have a very faded crease, and the aged treatment makes them look more casual than cotton gabardine usually does. They have decorative stitching throughout that make them look more casual as well. Bond initially dresses them down with a navy polo, and he later dresses them up with a linen/silk/wool jacket and a tie. To help them look more casual, he rolls them up at hem. They pair better with the polo than they do with the jacket and tie, but they’re a good way to make a tailored jacket look less formal.
Bond traditionally preferred trousers other than chinos, like stone-coloured linen or cotton-linen trousers with his striped shirt in Thunderball and his yellow shirt and blue t-shirt in For Your Eyes Only. Chinos would have been appropriate in these situations, but tailored linen trousers kick the outfits up a notch. Bond does not overuse chinos and prefers to have a varied trouser wardrobe so he can look his best for any situation.
Great post as always Matt!
Chinos are my favorite trousers for summer
I practically live in the things. Comfy, durable, versatile and stylish. My line of work can be a bit rough on pants at times, so chinos/khakis are a staple. They go great with sport coats, blazers, dress shirts, sweaters and polos.
Once, I was a fan of chinos/khaki. I used to wear them at work and off, in winter and summer, with blazers and polos. I own a number of them. With time, I gradually switched to wool trousers, frescos, and eventually linen, for summer. They drape better, wrinkle less, last longer, breathe more, look nicer and keep their shape, crease and hue through years. Cotton trousers, even the best ones, are subjected to wearing out, yellowing, fading and twisting. And get stained more easily. The same is true for jackets and suits. In the end, animal fibres are the best for outer garments
Chinos are insanely popular in Australia where I live and you see them paired with a lightweight sports coat often. I like them as a casual trouser that is a step up from blue jeans. I think they pair better with a bomber jacket or Harrington jacket then they do with a lightweight sports jacket. I think they can as Bond wears them work with a linen or blend jacket that in a more casual cut. I think investing in a decent brand and quality even though I’ve had some target brand chinos that aged better then the more expensive brands.
I’ve got a target brand pair of chinos in my wardrobe right now that I’ve had for years!
My only problem with them, as with any of the rack trousers, is the low rise. Otherwise, I actually like my cheap chinos! They cost me $7 four years ago.
Possible? Sometimes quite cheap items reveal to be quite good, but…in general, quality and manufacture have to be paid
Daniele, oh believe me I am in no way deluding myself that they’re luxury items! I originally bought them as housework trousers, things in which to clean and paint and get dirty. I’m just impressed that a pair of trousers which cost me so little are showing very few signs of wear after taking a beating for nigh on four years. If not for a few spots of paint if I were to give them an iron they’d look perfectly acceptable worn down the street.
Well, Timothy, I think we can just chalk it up to the inherent durability of chinos, whether you pay $30 or $300 (as long as you’re getting a proper 100% cotton twill, i.e. an actual chino and not something polyester). It’s why chinos are a great option for Bond. They can take a pretty good beating and they look and feel far better than jeans. When they get broken in, they’re almost like pajamas. I think the true nature of chinos leans more towards the $30 end of things. If you’re spending $300, stick to more upscale offerings. Chinos are your beaters. Live in ’em and love ’em.
Matt, what do you think is the best brand for chinos that Bond would wear? Chinos were something I always had trouble with when determining their quality especially with their being little difference in quality between a 30$ and 300$ one.
Another good entry Matt.
Chinos were very popular in England towards the end of the eighties – there was a subtle fifties revival creeping into style and pop culture (James Dean-esque Nick Kamen in the Levi’s TV ads, Southern Comfort’s ‘Who are you mixing it with?’ cinema ads, etc) and looser fitting pleated trousers were in evidence, so the cotton version was a part of this look. It was common to see lads wearing a blazer and chinos – and often even a tie (shock!) at the pub or nightclub. Along with this came the immersive association of chinos with office wear due to the onset of the now all-pervasive relaxed ‘business casual’ dress codes. When suit-and-tie was no longer the default white collar garb, to avoid the potential minefield of poorly defined ‘business casual’, many men played it safe with chinos. This was even mentioned in ‘Seinfeld’ with Gerry breaking up with a girl because she liked chinos and expressing his derision for the tag line “If they’re not Dockers then they’re just pants”.
Then came the inevitable backlash. Stylish men stepped away from chinos, as in their least-flattering form – baggy, shapeless, multi-pleated (see Dalton in LTK above!) they seemed to represent the worst aspects of the office drone work uniform.
But expressing a dislike for chinos is like expressing a dislike for jeans. They are as varied as they are common and it shouldn’t be too hard to find a good version. I think chinos can be a useful alternative to the ubiquity of jeans, a notch or two more formal, and as stated they can be very versatile too as long as we pay attention to cut, fit etc and not fall into the trap of the office drone. Navy and black versions start to look tired very quickly as the cotton doesn’t hold dye very well after a few washes. Stone, beige and olive aren’t very adventurous. I like them in bolder colours in the summer and I never wear them for work!
I cant take Khakis when paired with a shirt and blue blazer seriously anymore. Just travel through any airport worldwide and see. You just look like the American CEO of a failing tech company or a middle aged sales manager for a mid-west paper company.