How To Wear Chinos: All You Need To Make Khakis Work

by   |  in Smart Casual

So you want to know how to wear chinos (aka “khakis”), and I don’t blame you. They’re arguably the most versatile pant option out there.

Denim (even the dark, inky variety I always suggest) still tends to skew casual on the formality scale.

Chinos, however, have the ability to go either way. And since most offices have adopted a business casual dress code, chinos are the perfect pant for modern workplace style.

So let’s get into this quick guide about how to wear chinos.

Need chinos now? Here are my recs

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The Difference Between Chinos and Khakis

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chi·no [ˈCHēnō/] n. 1.) a cotton twill fabric, typically khaki-colored; 2.) casual pants made from chino or a similar fabric

The terms “khakis” and “chinos” are often used interchangeably, though the correct word is actually chino, which applies to the actual pants themselves.

Khaki is, arguably, the most common color of chinos – which is probably why the terminology gets confusing.

So khakis are chinos, but chinos aren’t necessarily khaki-colored.

man wearing tan khaki chinos and light blue button up shirt
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Five Ways To Wear One: Khaki Pants


The Difference Between Formal and Casual Chinos

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formal vs casual chinos - effortlessgent
Casual: Levi’s | Formal: Brooks Brothers

The stylistic differences between a “formal” pair of chinos and a “casual” pair are slight.

Formal chinos tend to look like dress trousers, except they’re made of cotton twill instead of wool. Look for extended tab waistband closures, front slant pockets, back welt pockets with button closures, optional pleats, center creases, and cuffs.

Casual chinos tend to look like your favorite pair of denim – standard side pockets, back patch pockets, rivets or bar tacked stress points, flat felled seams, and standard hem.


How to Wear Chinos (formally to casually)

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Formal scenario: Let’s imagine you want to wear chinos to work. Your office is business casual, and you’re not sure what to wear with them.

Treat your chinos like dress trousers. Wear a dress shirt, silk knit tie, sport coat, and leather loafers.

Too dressy for your office? Start dressing down elements one by one. You could:

  1. Lose the tie
  2. Swap your dress shirt for a sport shirt or OCBD
  3. Choose minimalist sneakers over loafers
  4. Use a casual military-style or Harrington jacket instead of a sport coat

Casual scenario: Wearing chinos casually is easy. Treat them like you’d treat denim.

Wear a plaid sport shirt and Top-siders (or better yet, blucher moccasins). How about a blue chambray shirt and driving moccasins? Printed polo and fresh sneakers?



“Can I Wear Chino Joggers?”

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chinos guide
Bonobos Joggers (similar)

Joggers are a type of casual pant made from fabrics like twill, chambray, and sometimes wool. They have a regular waistband (though sometimes elastic) and an elastic hem. They’re like a hybrid pant / sweatpant… thing.

Are they OK to wear? Sure, why not. As long as you’re expected to dress casually wherever you’re headed, you can pull it off.

Should you adopt the trend? Depends. As I write this, the jogger style is still current. Although, it’s been in stores for a few seasons at this point.

If it’s a trend you want to incorporate into your wardrobe, I say go for it. Keep in mind, though, that this style in particular skews far to the casual end of the style spectrum.

These pants are perfect for lounging around, running errands, and hanging out with friends – but are not business casual appropriate.


Summer Chinos vs Winter Chinos

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“Is there a difference between the chinos you wear in winter vs. the ones you wear during summer?”

Your standard, run-of-the-mill chino should work for you all year round. Still, it’s possible to find lighter- and heavier-weight versions as those specific seasons approach. You’ll certainly be more comfortable wearing seasonally-appropriate versions, that’s for sure.

What differentiates the warm-weather from the cold-weather chinos?

Pay attention to fabric weight, fit, and color. Let’s break down each of these.

Fabric weight

When shopping around for your warm-weather chinos, look for those marked “lightweight”, “summer weight”, or “tropical weight”. They’re usually around 5-6 oz. fabric weight.

Standard fabric weight is probably around 7-9 oz.

Heavier weight twill is 10+ oz, which would work great for cold weather.


Casual chinos not only resemble the look of your favorite pair of denim, they also wear and fit the same way. Casual chinos will typically have a regular or slightly lower rise, be cut slim, and have a minimal break.

Formal chinos should fit more like dress trousers.

Remember, your main goal when looking for well-fitting trousers is to maintain a clean line from the waist to the leg opening. Too tight or too long and you compromise the drape and clean lines.

Same goes for your formal chinos: a bit looser (like your dress trousers), a slight taper from knee to ankle, and little to no break at the hem.

Clean lines, clean lines, clean lines!


The most versatile colors all year round are navy, charcoal, caramel / British khaki (a darker shade than your usual khaki), and olive.

Summer is the perfect time to wear light, pastel shades, and other interesting colorways.

Light pastels and vibrant shades (think seafoam green, salmon, red, stone, white, and sky blue) are evocative of warm weather and tropical locales – they work perfectly during the spring and summer.

In the winter, wear rich, deep colors. These are associated with the changing of the seasons (think autumn leaves turning from green to yellow, orange, red, and finally, brown) and the upcoming holiday season (for US & Canadian readers – What colors come to mind when you think of Thanksgiving?)

Mustard, burgundy, emerald and forest green, bright navy, eggplant… all these colors are great for the colder seasons.


Types Of Shoes To Wear With Chinos

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If your outfit is casual, you may want to give minimal canvas / leather sneakers, Top-siders (boat shoes), or desert boots a shot.

Contrast is a good thing. For your standard pair of khaki chinos, white shoes work. Dark brown leather or navy too. So long as your shoes aren’t an exact color match of your pants, you’re fine.

For formal trousers, you can’t go wrong with brown brogues or oxfords. If it’s warm out, experiment with suede loafers or drivers (depending on the formality of the situation, this may or may not be appropriate).


My Chino Recommendations

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