Difference Between Khakis and Chinos


What’s the Difference Between Chinos and Khakis?

chinos vs khakis difference illustrated with two men

Here’s a question you’ll see on every menswear forum out there — just what’s the difference between khakis and chinos?

Unfortunately, most places try to answer the question by diving into the history of the two words. And while that’s interesting, it doesn’t actually help someone who’s shopping for dress-casual trousers very much.

Chinos vs. Khakis: The Difference

illustration of difference between khakis and chinos trousers

So here’s your definitive answer, insofar as there is one. Manufacturers and advertisers have strayed from these boundaries enough that you’ll have to take this with a big old grain of salt, but broadly speaking here are the differences:

  • Khakis are thick, straight-legged, and typically pleated (although plain fronts are available from most brands these days). They have cuffs at the bottom hems.
  • Chinos are lightweight, tapered so that they narrow as they go lower on the leg, and can be either cuffed or uncuffed. They are generally flat-fronted.
  • Both styles are made from cotton twill, and are traditionally dyed somewhere in between a very pale cream color and a dark tan.

Of the two, khakis are more toward the sturdy work-wear end of things, while chinos are lighter and a bit dressier.

Now, are you going to find exceptions to these rules? Of course you are.

Manufacturers have been labeling any old cotton dress trousers as either one of these words, or sometimes as both, for years. It’s entirely possible to find something being sold as “khaki chinos.”

(Technically, that could even be correct. The original meaning of “khaki” is a specific color, from the Urdu word for “dust,” unrelated to any specific style of trouser.

Chino,” on the other hand, was a specific weave of lightweight cotton twill. So if you took chino cloth and dyed it khaki, you would in fact have “khaki chinos.” Confusing, no?:)

So don’t take any of this as gospel. There’s no real guarantee that chinos from Brand A are going to be lighter and dressier than khakis from Brand B. You’ll have to look at specific types of pants, see what their materials and details look like for yourself.

But in generalkhakis, sturdy and utilitarian.

Chinos, lighter and a bit dressier.

Khakis will look more blocky; chinos more streamlined.

Or at least that’s the theory.

A Quick History of Khakis

man wearing khakis walking down the street

Of the two terms, “khakis” is older by the better part of a century.

The first khaki trousers were made in 1846 when a British officer serving in the Punjab region traded his company’s hot wool trousers and jackets for lighter cloth and looser cuts made from native cotton. He dyed them with a native plant called mazari, which produced a dusty tan color that the locals called “khaki.”

The colonial military stationed in India adopted khakis as their uniform trouser by 1848, and it spread through the rest of the British Empire until the entire British army formally adopted the style as their uniform in 1884.

A Quick History of Chinos

man wearing chinos

Much of the confusion between khakis and chinos can be traced to the origin of the latter style: “chinos” were khakis, of a sort.

Chino cloth was a lightweight twill weave from China (hence the name). The British and French military were both using chino to make their khaki uniform trousers by the latter half of the 19th century.

guy wearing chinos and white sneakers

When American soldiers serving in the Philippines during the Spanish-American war needed uniform trousers, they found it cheaper and quicker to import from China rather than the United States. Their trousers were made simple and tapered, without pleated fronts, to save on cloth costs, resulting in a smooth, simple style.

The same basic style was used for uniform trousers during World War One, and returning soldiers from both wars brought them into civilian settings. University students in particular took to chinos after WWI, and they have been part of the fashion landscape ever since.

So why are they called khakis? Here’s your basic breakdown: khakis originated as a broad category of military trousers, and one specific subset of them evolved into chinos. Buyers have been confused ever since!

But broadly speaking, if you think of khakis as thicker, more squared-off garments, and of chinos as slimmer, more tapered and dressier pants, you’re in the right ballpark. Good luck!

FAQs: Khakis vs Chinos: What’s The Difference?

What is the main difference between khakis and chinos?

The main difference lies in the fabric. Khakis are typically made from a heavier, more rugged fabric, while chinos are made from a lighter, smoother fabric.

Can chinos be khaki-colored?

Yes, chinos can be khaki-colored. The term “chino” refers to the style of the pant, not the color.

What is the difference in fit between khakis and chinos?

Khakis tend to have a more relaxed and straight fit. On the other hand, chinos often have a slimmer, more tapered fit.

Are chinos dressier than khakis?

Chinos are generally considered to be dressier than khakis due to their lighter fabric and slimmer fit, though this can vary depending on the specific style and brand.

Which is more durable, khakis or chinos?

Generally, khakis are more durable due to their heavier fabric, making them suitable for jobs that require a lot of physical activity or outdoor conditions.

Can khakis be worn for business casual attire?

Yes, khakis can be part of a business casual outfit, especially when paired with a dress shirt or polo.

Are chinos suitable for formal occasions?

While not suitable for strictly formal occasions, chinos can be dressed up for semi-formal events or business casual environments.

What are the washing instructions for khakis and chinos?

Always check the garment’s care label. Generally, both can be machine washed with similar colors. Hang them to dry to prevent shrinkage and maintain the shape.

Are chinos and khakis the same as dress pants?

No, chinos and khakis are less formal than dress pants, which are usually made of a finer wool or wool blend fabric.

What shoes work best with khakis?

Khakis pair well with casual shoes like loafers, boat shoes, or even clean white sneakers for a more relaxed look.

What shoes should I wear with chinos?

Chinos are versatile and can be paired with a wide range of shoes, from formal oxfords and brogues to casual sneakers.

Can khakis or chinos be worn with a blazer?

Yes, both can be paired with a blazer for a smart casual look. The color and style of the blazer should complement the pants.

What’s the price difference between khakis and chinos?

Price varies widely based on the brand, fabric quality, and design. However, due to the heavier fabric and durability, khakis can sometimes be more expensive than chinos.

What’s the appropriate occasion for wearing khakis?

Khakis are great for casual events, outdoor activities, or work environments that don’t require a formal dress code.

Where can I wear chinos?

Chinos are versatile and can be worn to a variety of events, from casual social gatherings to a business casual office environment.

Can women wear chinos and khakis?

Absolutely. Both chinos and khakis are unisex styles and can be found in cuts and fits designed for both men and women.

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