Chino pants and “Khakis” are actually separate and distinctive things, but have similar origins. Chino pants were actually a variation of “khaki pants.” Here’s a look into both of them for clarification.
Chino pants are usually lightweight, cotton blended pants that come in a wide array of colors and are woven in a twill weave. Chino by definition is a style of pant which may come in any variety of colors. “Khakis,” however, refer to the color of the pants and are not exactly the same style of pants as chinos are. While traditional “khaki” pants might be made of heavier twill weave material and be cut with a looser style, and they traditionally are pleated front, men's chino pants have lighter fabrics, have a more tailored cut, and have visible stitching lines, giving them a dressier look than a traditional “khaki pant” might have. These details make them ideal to wear as a pant for business casual occasions or to the office. Khaki pants, on the other hand, tend to be pants made of heavier materials like canvas, cut looser or boxier, and can be used for a variety of rugged purposes. They are typically too casual for a traditional office environment, but might function sufficiently for casual outings to the park or other outdoor activities.
In the 19th century, British Lieutenant Sir Harry Lumsden sought to camouflage his troops using local fabrics and dying methods to make fabric which would transform his troops’ white uniform trousers into a duller tan color to blend more appropriately with desert terrains. Calling the color “khaki,” which reportedly took its name from the Hindi word for ‘dust,’ these ‘khakis’ pants were quickly adopted across multiple regiments and in multiple armies.
These “khaki” pants carried forward and during the Spanish American war of 1898 were beginning to be designed with lighter weight fabric which originated in China, thus the derivation of the word “chino.” Beneficial for the fabric’s lightweight coolness and neutral color for camouflage, chino pants soon became popular pants across multiple army regiments and in multiple countries as well for ease of movement and comfort in warmer climates. They were introduced to the American military in the early 20th century and were popular during both World Wars for American troops. Troops returning from both World Wars and college students after World War I in particular integrated khakis and chinos into everyday life and they have survived ever since.
Fast forward a few decades and today’s chino pants are now acceptable for every day wear and are a staple in most men’s business casual wardrobes. Today they are offered in a variety of colors, cotton blends and synthetic fabrics, and offer leg styles from straight to slim. They serve as a great middle ground between casual jeans and formal suit pants and trousers. They offer a cleaner line than traditionally pleated style “khaki” pants, and pair nicely with a variety of men's shirts.
Pair chino pants in a large selection of color offerings with men's polo shirts and you’ll enjoy flexibility and functionality for casual or office wear. Wearing chinos with a polo shirt can take you from office to afternoon client meeting to an afternoon on the links or an evening birthday party with ease.
For crisp fall days, men's chino pants can be paired with a men's cashmere sweater or men's cardigan sweater to add polish and warmth in a chilly office or on date night. On more casual days they can pair nicely with a men's flannel shirt for an afternoon visiting wineries or shopping.
While many manufacturers today will use the terms “chino” and “khakis” interchangeably, the notable differences are that chinos are an offshoot of the original “khaki” pants and tend to have lighter fabrics, a cleaner line and a dressier look while khakis are more utilitarian. Both styles of pants can be pleated or plain, cuffed or uncuffed, but the lighter fabric of the chino (and now in no iron cotton) lends itself better to office attire and to easy care and functionality in a variety of settings.