Choosing between dress pants and chinos can be confusing. They both have a smart style and look sophisticated. But, is it OK to wear my chinos to my best friend’s wedding? Or should I wear dress pants as part of a suit? It’s a tough decision. Chinos or dress pants? What is the difference?
Chinos are smart casual pants, made from lightweight twill, they have a tapered leg and a narrow ankle. They are relaxed and easy to wear for office wear or a night out. Dress pants are tailored, formal, and usually part of a suit. Worn at board meetings or weddings, they are made from wool and partly lined.
In this article, we’ll explore the differences between the two styles of pants. Ready to learn when to wear chinos and when to up your game and go for dress pants?
- What Are Dress Pants?
- What Are Chinos?
- Chinos vs Dress Pants: Key Points
- What Is the Difference Between Chinos and Pants?
- Can I Wear a Suit Jacket With Chinos?
- Are Chinos Business Casual?
- Chinos vs Trousers
What Are Dress Pants?
Dress pants are a formal style of pants. These are the kind of pants you would wear as part of a suit, either a three-piece with a jacket and waistcoat or a two-piece with just a jacket. They are normally black or navy blue. Expensive suits are made from wool and wool blends, while cheaper suits can be made from polyester.
They are called dress pants as they are the type of trousers you would wear to a posh event like a wedding. Or somewhere you have to “dress up” to attend, like a high-end restaurant where you have to wear a tie. You can also wear dress pants for white-collar jobs such as a bank manager or an attorney.
So, when you think dress pants, think smart, formal, and professional. These are not the pants for construction work or chilling out at the beach.
The term “dress pants” is quite broad as there are three styles that can be covered under the heading. Each one has a slightly different level of formality and is, therefore, better suited to different occasions.
Two-Piece Suit Pants
These are the ones you would wear to work in an office or for a job interview. This category can be made from wool or wool blends, but they are more likely to be made from polyester.
They are designed for regular daily use and are slightly easier to care for. Because of this, they tend to be cheaper than more formal suits. They have a more relaxed image too.
Day suits are dress pants paired with a jacket, known as a two-piece suit. Most of the time, the jacket is omitted and the dress pants are worn with a button-down shirt tucked in at the waist.
The colors tend to be more relaxed as well. Available in traditional colors like black and navy blue, these dress pants can be gray, brown, beige, and even pastel shades.
Three-Piece Suit Pants
The next level in formal wear are dress pants worn as part of a three-piece suit. The difference here is the jacket and pants are teamed with a waistcoat, also known as a vest. This raises the bar for the professional image quite a bit.
These dress pants will be a little more expensive and will likely have a higher quality of tailoring. Ideal for formal board meetings, publicity events, and weddings, these pants are usually always worn with a jacket.
The colors are more traditional. Navy blue and black are considered the go-to colors for this level of formal attire, but modern colors can also include gray and brown.
The tuxedo is the cream of the crop and absolute pinnacle of formal wear. Also known as a dinner suit, this is the style of pants you would wear to a classy, sophisticated event. If your wedding invitation says it has a black-tie dress code, tuxedo pants are the way to go.
Tuxedos are suits, so the dress pants are essentially the same as other dress pants, with several key differences. These dress pants have a satin stripe down the side of each leg to match the satin embellishments on the jacket. Designed for occasional wear, they are far too delicate to be worn every day at the office.
Traditionally, tuxedo dress pants would be midnight blue, black or white. Even today, these colors are the epitome of style and elegance, particularly when worn with a bow tie. However, modern color options are a little more varied.
Although they are designed for different events, dress pants should be styled in similar ways. As they are tailored, you should always wear them with dress shoes like brogues. No dress pants will look good over the top of a pair of sneakers.
When you wear dress pants, you need to pair them with a dress shirt. This should be tucked into the waistband. Even the day suit option is too tailored to look good with a lumberjack shirt, ripped t-shirt, or drag shirt tails.
What Are Chinos?
Chinos are smart casual pants, available in a wide range of colors, chinos can be worn at the office, at the park, and for relaxing in front of the TV. Chinos are so versatile that they have become an acceptable form of menswear in many modern offices.
All chinos are cut in the same way. They have a flat front free from pleats. Wider at the hips, they taper gradually down the leg to end in a narrow ankle. This can either meet at the top of the shoe or just a little higher.
Where you can wear your chinos is largely dependent on the color. Darker shades make the perfect business attire, while pastel shades can add a touch of relaxed finesse to your image. In contrast, chinos are better styled with your shirt untucked than dress pants.
Because of this, they look great with polo shirts, t-shirts, and button-down shirts. You can wear them with loafers, brogues, and sneakers. Turn the hem to form a turn-up and you have a classic beach look to wear with flip-flops.
With a foot in casual and semi-formal camps, they look great on anybody and can be worn for almost any occasion. You could say they form a bridge between the super casual look of jeans and the overly formal world of dress pants.
However, chinos are not smart or formal enough to be worn to a black-tie event. Nor are they suitable as part of a wedding suit for a groom. Not yet, anyway. Things are changing in men’s fashion, but for now, your chinos are best kept for less formal events.
Chinos vs Dress Pants: Key Points
Dress pants and chinos are different styles of pants. Although you can wear them to semi-formal events, dress pants don’t portray a relaxed image.
This means you might be overdressed if you wear your dress pants to a barbecue. Similarly, wearing chinos to pick up an Oscar could be too casual.
It can be tricky to work out whether you should wear chinos or dress pants. The following table takes a look at the properties of each. Putting them side-by-side should make it easier to see which style will suit your next event best.
|Appearance||Flat front, tapered leg, a narrow ankle that hits slightly above the top of the shoe||Pleated front, straight cut leg, a regular sized ankle that sits on and frames the top of the shoe.|
|Care and Maintenance||Machine washable||Dry clean|
|Material||Lightweight twill weave |
Usually cotton or stretch cotton
|Usually wool or wool blends|
|Style||Smart casual or business casual|
Usually part of a suit
|Uses||Casual and semi-formal events|
Office wear, parties, night out on the town
Weddings, board meeting, a night at the opera
What Is the Difference Between Chinos and Pants?
The truth is there isn’t much difference between chinos and pants. Chinos are pants. They are a specific type of pants named after the fabric they are made from. “Pants” is just an umbrella term for many men’s trousers.
Having said that, when you think of pants, the first image that pops into your head is probably suit pants or dress pants. These are more likely to be called “pants” as other styles, like khakis, chinos, and jeans, have another name they can go by.
One of the main differences between chinos and dress pants is their intended purpose. Chinos are fun-loving casual garments suitable for a trip to the park or a day in the office, while pants, particularly dress pants, are meant for more formal uses.
In this section, we’ll look at the differences and similarities between chinos and dress pants. Comparing them will help you decide which style suits you and your lifestyle best.
When you look at a pair of chinos next to a pair of dress pants, their differences are easy to see. While the dress pants have a formal appearance, your chinos are more laid back.
Chinos have a distinctive style. Flat-fronted and free from pleats, chinos have as much in common with jeans as they do with dress pants. They are lightweight cotton pants with a twill weave reminiscent of the weave used in jeans, giving them a relaxed and casual feel.
Your chinos are similar to jeans; they can be worn for the same event. But, they also have elements of style inherited from dress pants. This isn’t surprising. Chinos did start as part of a military uniform, after all. However, chinos will always be smart/casual or business/casual due to their structure.
In contrast, dress pants look and feel more formal. For one thing, they are tailored. It’s all about the detail with dress pants. From the flattering pleats to the stylish center crease running the length of each leg.
Rather than a visible button on the waistband like chinos, many dress pants hide the button under a placket. It gives a more polished look to the pants.
Another difference between dress pants and chinos is dress pants will sometimes have a “V” shaped notch at the center back of the waistband. This allows more freedom of movement at the waist and stops the trousers from pulling away from your middle when you sit down.
The whole purpose of dress pants is to give you a look and feel of a polished individual. They are designed to make you look professional, smart, and sophisticated.
Care and Maintenance
Caring for chinos is relatively simple. Check the care label for the correct temperature, and throw them in the washing machine. They are made from 100% cotton or a cotton blend and are fully washable. So you can just wash them and go.
Drying is simple too. The garment’s care label will let you know if your chinos can be machine dried. You might need to turn the heat down if your chinos contain polyester, but usually, these pants are OK in the dryer.
If you take them out while they are still damp, you can reduce the amount of ironing you’ll need to do. Air dry them from scratch and you might not need to iron them.
Dress pants are not as easy to care for. How you care for them depends on the fabric they are made from. You can get expensive pants made from wool or a cheaper easy-care version made from polyester or a polyester blend.
Polyester dress pants tend to be washable. However, you do have to be careful and follow the directions on the care label. If your dress pants are wool or a wool blend, then it is a good chance they will only be dry clean.
Dry clean only pants are less convenient than washable ones. You have to make a trip to a professional dry cleaner, leave the pants, and then pick them up on a different day. The process of having your dress pants dry cleaned can be time-consuming. It can also be expensive.
Depending on how often you wear your dress pants, you might not have to clean them as regularly as your chinos. However, you will need to press them almost every time you want to wear them.
Keeping the pleats and the center crease down each leg pristine takes care, maintenance, and time spent at the ironing board. Dress pants are not as wash-and-wear friendly as chinos.
Chinos are known for their lightweight cotton twill weave. While the actual fiber content can vary between 100% cotton and a cotton blend, your chinos will always have a high percentage of cotton content.
It’s cotton that gives chinos the distinctive features they are known for. Their similarity to jeans and incredible breathability, for instance, as well as being an easy-wear trouser that is super light and comfy.
Cotton does have some disadvantages, though. Chinos can feel as uncomfortable as jeans when they are wet. Dried cotton fabric can sometimes be rough and scratchy to wear. You can combat the roughness by adding a little distilled white vinegar to the final rinse. It will act as a fabric softener and smooth out the cotton fibers.
On the other hand, dress pants are traditionally made from wool or wool blends. Wool is breathable like cotton, but it can be scratchy to wear and a little heavier. It can also feel warm, particularly if it’s 100% wool.
Wool can feel soft and cozy. Most dress pants have a partial lining at the waist and hip section to counteract any scratchiness in the wool. As the lining tends to be either polyester or sometimes silk, this can feel luxurious next to the skin, making your dress pants a delight to wear.
You can style chinos in several ways. They are versatile and adaptable to most casual or semi-formal events. Pair them with a t-shirt and sneakers; you have an acceptable alternative to denim jeans. Raise the fashion bar by combining loafers with a jacket. You have an up-market look for a day at the office.
However, the color of your chinos matters. For semi-formal events, you’ll want to wear a dark shade. Something like navy blue, black or brown. These colors look more professional and will give your chinos more of a suit pant feel. Pastel shades, light browns, and orange hues are perfect for more casual situations.
Although you can team your chinos with a jacket, make sure it’s not a jacket from a two or three-piece suit. This will make you look mismatched. Go for a standalone jacket or a blazer. These will lift your chino’s appeal, not make them look out of place.
Dress pants are designed to make you look smart and professional. They don’t go well with distressed t-shirts, hoodies, or tank tops. Pair your dress pants with a dress shirt and brogues. For an extra pop of sophistication, put a tie around the collar to hide that top button. You’ll be the picture of elegance.
Better still, if your dress pants are part of a suit, make sure you wear the jacket. For three-piece suits, you should always wear the waistcoat or vest that came with it. Your jacket can be open or buttoned depending on the formality of the occasion, but your vest should always be fastened.
One last tip for wearing dress pants. If they have belt loops at the waistband and you are not wearing a jacket, make sure to wear them with a leather belt. This simple accessory will enhance your outfit and make you look complete.
When it comes to uses, dress pants and chinos are very different. Although you can wear your chinos to the office, they don’t look right at more formal events.
Traditionally, acceptable attire for men working in an office would have been a suit. This would have been either a two or three-piece, depending on the strictness of the dress code. These days, with the introduction of less stringent dress requirements, chinos are becoming more popular for office wear.
This is great news for men’s fashion. Chinos are more adaptable than dress pants and can be styled in many different ways. Your chinos can take you from office to party in the blink of an eye. Simply untuck your shirt for a laid-back look.
That’s the attraction of chinos. You can wear them as jeans or dress pants for any casual or semi-formal occasion and you’ll look the part.
Your dress pants will only look good worn as dress pants. You can’t dress them down with flip-flops because they won’t look right. Dress pants win when it comes to professional business events or weddings. They are the epitome of style and should be worn whenever you need to up your game and look refined, composed, and above all, a gentleman.
Can I Wear a Suit Jacket With Chinos?
While you can’t wear a suit jacket with chinos, you can wear a standalone jacket, otherwise known as a blazer. The key difference between the two is that a suit jacket is designed to be worn with matching pants.
There will be some elements within the suit jacket that are mirrored in the pants. Whether it’s the pattern on the fabric, the style of the buttons, or even the cut of the cloth. Something about a suit jacket will scream, “I’m part of a suit”.
The problem with wearing a suit jacket with chinos is that it will make your chinos stick out like a sore thumb. Not only will they be a different fabric and weight, but they could also be a different color or shade to the jacket. This will not look good.
Blazers, on the other hand, fit well with chinos. These are jackets you buy on their own and they can be paired with anything, even dark jeans. Although they look like suit jackets, they aren’t as formal in their design. Their colors can vary from dark and solid to striped and ablaze with color. That’s how the jackets got their name, blazers.
Another type of suit-style jacket you can wear with chinos is the sports jacket. This style tends to be made from more textured fabric. Tweed would be a good example of sports jacket material.
Are Chinos Business Casual?
Yes, chinos are considered to be business casual. This means they can be worn to the office and some business meetings. As long as the dress code for the specific business allows it. You may find that board-level business meetings require a stricter dress code.
One of the things to keep in mind is the color of your chinos. While light pastels and vibrant orange may look great at the park, they don’t suit the business image. To be business casual rather than casual, your chinos should be a darker shade.
Business wear is traditionally navy blue, black, or brown. So to fit the brief and stay on the right side of your boss, you should ensure your chinos are from one of those color families.
Smart casual is the next step down. If your work dress code is smart casual, then you are in a more relaxed business environment. Now you can wear dark greens, maybe royal blue, and a slightly lighter brown. The key is still somber shades, but there is a little more flexibility.
Chinos vs Trousers
When you think of trousers, it’s easy to think of formal dress pants or suits. This is because the term “trousers” is another name for pants. As we discussed in an earlier section of this article, pants usually refer to as dress pants because chinos, jeans, and khakis have other names they can use.
To find out why there are two terms for an article of menswear, we need to delve into the history of fashion. The term “pants”, stems from the word pantaloon, which was a style of trousers popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Pantaloon is derived from a comedic character who wore pants and was called Pantalone.
Pantaloon was shortened to pants by Americans in the 19th century and has since become the go-to term for trousers in the United States.
In the UK, pants refer to your underwear. Because of this, “pants” is seen to be a word invoking some amusement. The British tend to use the term to mean something ridiculous or stupid. Or just plain pants.
So, because of this, the UK’s go-to term for apparel worn to cover your legs is trousers. These can be long trousers reaching your ankle or short trousers that hit above your knee. The short version of trousers is more commonly known as shorts.
All this means is that there is no difference between pants and trousers. Nor is there any difference between trousers and chinos. In essence, chinos are trousers depending on what side of the Atlantic you are on.
The main difference between chinos and dress pants is how you wear them. Chinos are perfect for casual situations and a relaxed business environment.
Dress pants are more formal and ideal for weddings and board meetings. These are the pants to wear when you need to look confident and in control.