What’s The Difference: Chinos Vs. Khakis

There is a practiced imprecision to the way that many of us refer to articles of men’s clothing. Both in casual conversation and in more formal venues like published articles or advertisements, items of clothing like button-ups and button-downs, oxfords and brogues, and Harringtons and bomber jackets get mistaken for one another and grouped in the same category.

There is an argument to be made about how the fine details and distinctions between different styles of men’s clothing aren’t really worth worrying about all that much. ‘Close enough’, some would say. But it is our belief that maintaining some degree of rigidity when talking about clothing is helpful and important. Not only does applying names incorrectly or loosely erode the very meaning of the word, but it makes it harder for men to find or describe the particular items or styles of clothing they like the most.

That, in short, is why we decided to take the time to outline the differences between two popular items that a lot of guys have in their wardrobe; khakis and chinos. The two styles of pants have a lot in common, but they’re different in some key ways. Whether you just want to brush up on your own definitions, or are on the hunt for a new style of pants to wear to the office or on the weekend – take a look through and find out for yourself the difference between chinos and khakis.


Born Out Of Necessity

Like most every other item of clothing worn by men, Khakis have their roots in military uniform. During British colonial rule in India, soldiers grew weary of wearing thick, heavy wool uniforms. They simply weren’t suited for the hot, humid weather. Instead of just keeping a stiff upper lip, the military adopted a new type of clothing cut from a lighter weight cotton fabric. That fabric was then dyed with Mazari, giving it a dusty and tan color – hence the name ‘Khaki’, an Urdu word for ‘dust-colored’. After long enough, this new fabric became the preferred style for British forces and even became common civilian wear as men came home from their service with a new preference for their khakis. The word Khaki is actually derived from an Urdu term for ‘Dust-colored’

Today, khakis are far from what one would call tactical clothing. Yet, with that said, there are some elements of the khaki style that still herald back to their martial origin. First and foremost, they’re generally made from a durable heavyweight cotton fabric and given a looser, straight cut. In addition to the thicker fabric, pants made in a khaki style also feature exposed stitching, a pleated front, and larger cuffs at the bottom.

It’s worth noting that even if a pair of a pair of pants exhibits all of these qualities, they may not be labeled as Khakis. This isn’t because we’re leading you astray here. Quite the opposite. A lot of marketers and clothing brands simply don’t care all too much for specifics and can sometimes label pants made following the traditional khaki style as chinos or something else altogether.

Our Khaki Pick: M2 12 Wale Cord Khakis

When it comes to making a great pair of classic Khakis, the first place any guy should look is Bill’s Khakis. The whole brand was founded back in 1984 when its founder couldn’t find a pair of Khakis as good as the pair he bought at an Army Surplus store. Now, over 30 years later Bills is the best in the business. They make all of their clothing right here in the U.S., and aren’t afraid of making clothing the old-fashioned way.

Purchase: $175


Lightweight And Ready For Action

One of the reasons that khakis are often confused with chinos is because the latter were originally made as a cheaper version of the former. By the turn of the century, the khaki pants originally worn by the British military had caught on around the world. They weren’t, however, making them at out of the same heavyweight fabrics they originally used for khakis. Instead, the British and French military were sourcing a thinner cotton twill from China.

This style of pants didn’t gain all that much popularity in the U.S. until the Spanish-American War. American soldiers stationed in the Philippines were having a hard time sourcing fabric from the United States (it was too expensive to ship), so they instead looked to China to send over fabric to be made into uniforms. In part, because the military was looking to save on fabric costs, these pants ended up being cut slightly closer to the leg and often skipped the pleated front.

Today, when you come across a properly labeled pair of chinos online or in a store, you’ll notice they’re often still made from a lighter weight fabric, have a close-fitting cut, and feature hidden stitching. Generally speaking, chinos are considered to be the more formal of the two styles. These days, no one is really going to put up too much of a fuss if you come in the office with casual clothing, but if you want to sport some office attire that is a bit more formal – these are the ones to go with.

Our Chinos Pick: Bonobos Off Duty Chinos

Bonobos got their start in the online retail world by making the best and most comfortable chinos on the market. Now, years later they’ve ballooned into one of the most successful menswear sites on the internet. Their chinos? They still rock. Made from a blended cotton fabric milled in Italy, they’re lightweight, flexible, and sharp as hell.

Purchase: $128

The Bottom Line

Shared origins and distinct styles

In conclusion, both khakis and chinos share a very similar history, and as a result, have many of the same qualities. When it comes down to it, though, chinos are lighter, slimmer, and more formal while khakis are thicker, looser, and have pleated fronts.

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