Chino Pants: Business Casual or Formal?

Are Chino Pants Considered Business Casual or Business Formal?

Every man should have at least one pair of chino pants in his wardrobe; simply put, they are a wardrobe staple. Men’s chinos are made from twill fabric. Twill was once made from 100% cotton thread, but nowadays, twill fabric can also be made from a cotton-polyester blend. This gives the material a little bit of stretch and makes it less likely to wrinkle badly. Today’s chinos also are usually machine washable, which cuts down on dry cleaning costs.

If you’re a sartorially challenged person who has wondered whether chino pants are considered business casual or business formal, read on to find out.

Business Casual vs. Business Formal

The term business formal best describes what used to be the typical white-collar office “uniform”: suit, dress shirt, tie, dress shoes. In some industries, notably legal and finance, business formal is still the norm. Even there, though, the rules are relaxing. Some companies allow their male employees to wear dress pants, sports jackets, dress shirts (with or without a tie), and more casual shoes. Business casual is one step down. Once limited to “casual Fridays,” business casual is quickly becoming the norm for office dress codes. And the base for such outfits is — you’ve guessed it — chino pants.

What Are Chinos?

Although chinos are sometimes referred to as khakis, this is not accurate. Khaki is a color similar to tan and is often used interchangeably. Depending on the manufacturer, that tan may have undertones of brown or olive green. Chinos, however, can be found in other neutral colors besides khaki, including black, navy, gray, and (true) olive. As fashion rules have relaxed, so too has the idea that pants can only come in certain colors; you now can find chinos in other colors, such as teal, burgundy, and hunter green. Chinos also come in several different style options: pleated or flat front and straight leg or slim leg.

Button-Down Shirts

Some offices lean toward a more conservative version of business casual. In these instances, your best bet is to wear your chinos with button-down shirts. However, men’s formal dress shirts worn with suits tend to have limited color and pattern options — think white, light blue, thin stripes, or windowpane checks — men’s casual shirts come in a wider variety of colors and styles. From black with a black shirt to burgundy chinos with a navy and pink plaid shirt to classic khakis with a light blue oxford shirt, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination and taste.

Depending on the office, men’s ties may also be considered part of a business casual wardrobe. Here, too, the options have increased. No longer are ties either classic rep stripes or muted paisley prints in neutral colors, with some red or yellow thrown in for excitement. Instead, today’s ties come in pretty much any color, and patterns range from watercolor abstracts to holiday or sports themes, making it easy to find one you like.

Polo Shirts

The other shirt associated with business casual is the polo shirt. Like button-down shirts, men’s polo shirts have collars, but polos are not button-downs. Instead, they are pullover shirts with two or three buttons. You should always leave the top button undone; also, never wear a tie with a polo shirt. The softer shirt fabric and the formal tie simply do not pair together nicely. Polos also come in both long and short sleeves that may or may not end in a band. These shirts come in a rainbow of solid colors, as well as stripes, paisleys, geometrics, and fun mini prints (think palm trees, seagulls, feathers, golf clubs, and the like).

Accessories With Chinos

In the office setting, it’s best to wear your shirt tucked in, which means belts are a necessity — untucked shirts can be a little too casual. Dress belts worn with suits are usually black, brown, or burgundy leather without much embellishment, whereas the more casual men’s belts worn with chinos may come in tooled leather or braided cording. Shoes, too, are less formal; people tend to wear leather-soled shoes with suits, but you can wear chinos with rubber-sole shoes or even clean sneakers. As for socks, from superheroes to poker chips to cats and dogs to classic argyles, anything and everything goes.

When Else to Wear Chinos

You’re not limited to wearing chinos at the office. When you want to go out but don’t want to wear jeans, grab your favorite chinos. Wear them with your favorite printed button-down shirt (untucked!) and boat shoes (without socks, of course) for a relaxed vibe. This look will take you from the bar to the barbecue. Wear your chinos with a men’s cardigan sweater layered over your polo shirt.

While chinos are not considered formal business wear, they are most definitely business casual. How casual depends on you and your office, but if you build your wardrobe around chinos and button-downs or polos, you’re sure to be appropriately dressed.


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