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.