Whether you shop online or in a store, understanding different pant styles can get confusing. You may find yourself wondering if chinos look dressy enough for business casual or if khakis will hold up for a long hike. On top of that, when you consider chinos vs khakis, what is the difference between these two kinds of pants?
The main difference between chinos and khakis is that chinos have a more dressy style than khakis. Chinos have a tapered leg and contain lightweight cotton twill. Khakis typically feature exterior stitching and a sturdy, straight leg that makes them suitable for rougher wear.
In this article, you will learn the key differences between chinos and khakis. You will also find helpful information about trousers vs slacks and pants. Finally, you will discover tips for how to wear each kind of pants!
Chinos Vs Khakis: Key Points
Chinos and khakis may sometimes look similar, but they have several key differences, including their traditional cut and style. Take a look at this chart to get a quick overview of the most distinctive features of each type of pants!
What Are Chino Pants?Chinos typically feature a fitted, slightly tapered cut, a lightweight cotton twill fabric, and a variety of different colors to suit any occasion. These pants have a dressier appearance due to their sleek cut, making them perfect for business casual attire or even formal occasions when paired with the right shoes and shirts.
Cotton twill has a breathable, comfortable feel. You will recognize the diagonal lines of thread in a twill weave because you see it in many kinds of popular pants! Today, some companies use synthetic fabric such as polyester or spandex in the twill weave instead of just cotton because cotton costs a lot more.
Chinos emerged in the fashion world following the Spanish-American war. It’s really interesting how many fashion and fabric innovations arise during wartimes, despite the overall tragedy of the situation! For those of you less familiar with this war, it took place in the late 1800s when America and Spain fought for control of South Pacific territories.
American soldiers stationed in the hot island nations of the South Pacific quickly adapted to a uniform style made from light cotton twill. This kept them cool and mobile.
The name has a bit of a questionable past: American soldiers referred to the pants as “chinos” because the cotton twill fabric came from Chinese manufacturers.
Soldiers returning from war brought this slim, lightweight trouser style back to the US, which remains popular today!
Interestingly, chinos also remain a popular pants style for many school and military uniforms. You will also find them as a staple of the business-casual look or as the perfect pairing for a nice t-shirt for a smart-casual look.
You can wear chinos to formal occasions as well, depending on the shirt, blazer, and shoes you pair with these popular pants.
If you’re looking to buy chinos, brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, and Lands End all sell trendy lines of this kind of pants. Honestly, you would be hard-pressed to find a menswear brand that does not sell chinos!
Though they emerged as a military uniform and then a staple of men’s fashion, you can find many popular brands selling chinos styled for women, as well!
What Are Khakis Pants?Khakis always come in a dusty light-brown color and often feature a sturdy, heavyweight type of cotton twill. They typically have a looser or pleated cut and may feature pockets and trouser cuffs as well. Though you can certainly find khakis in a more modern cut, these pants traditionally have a workman’s heavy-duty appearance.
The term “khaki” simply means the color of the pants. If you want to get down into the weeds, a khaki color is a light brown with a tiny bit of a yellow tinge, a slightly different shade from the plain light-brown of tan or the pale, creamy brown of beige.
This can get confusing fast, though, because many brands and manufacturers also use “khaki” as a name for a kind of more rugged-looking chinos! Technically, khaki pants are dust-colored chinos. For all practical purposes, though, khakis have become their own unique style of pants today.
So, where did this kind of pants come from? Like chinos, khaki pants became popular in the Western world because of another war, this one fought by the British army in what is now Pakistan.
In the mid-1800s, a few innovative British officers realized that it was silly to dress their soldiers in the traditional, swelteringly hot wool of the British army uniform, which also had to ship from England to India!
They replaced the heavy wool pants with sturdy cotton twill and dyed this fabric locally with coffee, curry, and tobacco juice. This created a uniform that blended into the colors of the landscape, providing better camouflage.
The word “khaki” actually comes from the Urdu language. It means dust-colored or dirt-colored.
By 1900, the cotton twill khaki-colored uniform pants became an official part of the British army uniform. Like chinos, this kind of pants quickly moved into the realm of popular fashion when returning soldiers came home wearing these comfortable, sturdy pants!
Khakis often have a more rugged appearance than chinos in the fashion world today. They usually contain heavier cotton twill and may have a pleated front, pockets, and a looser leg than classic chinos.
For this reason, khakis do not always look great for business casual or formal wear. Instead, think of them like jeans–you can wear them paired with a nice shirt or sweater around town or out on a hike, but probably not to the office. (The exception to this is something called “khaki chinos,” as you will find out later on in this article!)
You can buy khaki pants for men and women literally everywhere, from Target to Kohls to Banana Republic and the Gap.
What is the Difference Between Chinos and Khakis?
The main difference between chinos and khakis is that chinos tend to use lighter-weight fabric and have a more tapered design, while khakis use heavier cotton twill and have a more bulky cut.
You may find variations in this general trend depending on the brand or manufacturing of an individual pair of chinos or khakis, of course, but this comparison will give you a good idea of the typical differences between the two kinds of pants.
Design / Cut
Chinos typically have a tapered cut, meaning that the pant leg narrows toward the ankle. Khakis often have a looser, straight leg that does not narrow toward the ankle. Some khakis may also have bulky pockets or a cuff at the bottom of the trouser leg.
Styles change over time, but in today’s fashion, the tapered cut tends to look sleeker and more fashionable. This makes chinos look more dressy and trendy, while the bulkier khakis often get relegated to tasks involving rougher work, like hiking or doing yard work. For example, Carhartt sells a line of durable, tough khaki workwear.
MaterialBoth chinos and khakis traditionally use a material called cotton twill, though chinos typically contain lightweight, super-breathable twill and khakis feature a heavier weight fabric.
These days, you will more likely find both types of pants using a blended fabric that contains at least some percentage of synthetic fabric. The synthetic materials lack the nice stretch and breathability of cotton, but they cost a lot less to produce. If you want real cotton twill in your pants, make sure you read the product description before purchasing!
Cotton twill is simply cotton fabric made using a twill weave pattern. This kind of weave uses an offset thread structure to create repeating diagonal ribs in the thread pattern. Materials like gabardine and denim also commonly use a twill weave.
Khaki pants often use a more heavyweight, durable cotton twill, while chinos use a lighter-weight version. This characteristic can vary greatly depending on the brand and manufacturer, though, so you may want to rub a bit of the fabric between your fingers to test its thickness and durability for yourself.
Generally speaking, manufacturers use thicker, heavier fibers to make a more heavyweight version of the material. This kind of cloth still has the characteristic diagonal threads of a twill weave, but it has a greater thickness and weighs more than the more summery, lightweight type of cotton twill.
StitchingKhakis often feature exterior stitching just like jeans, while chinos almost never have exterior stitching.
The topstitching on khakis gives them nice sturdy seams and helps the thicker fabric lay flat where it needs to.
Many jeans use topstitching for the same reasons, as well as for decorative purposes.
Chinos, on the other hand, typically maintain their sleek line by only having interior stitching. The lighter fabric doesn’t need any help to hang correctly, so topstitching generally isn’t necessary.
Khakis are always khaki-colored and chinos may come in a variety of colors. Of course, you can find khaki-colored chinos, which is where a lot of the confusion comes from when comparing these two pant styles!
That said, you often find navy blue, grey, or brown chinos besides the popular dusty khaki shade.
In general, chinos offer a comfortable, stylish alternative to classic dress pants. They work well in a business setting and can even serve as formal wear in some circumstances.
Khakis usually go well in any situation where you would feel comfortable wearing jeans. If you can wear jeans to work, you may get away with pairing a nice sweater and khakis in the office! Most of the time, though, khakis do better in more rugged environments, while chinos look best in business casual or formal environments.
Chinos and khakis have widely varying pricing depending on the brand. That said, lots of high-end brands sell chinos, meaning that these types usually cost a lot more than the Walmart or Target brand of khakis. For this reason, you could probably generalize that chinos cost more than khakis.
On the other hand, really good rugged-wear khakis can also cost more than a generic pair of dress pant chinos, so this is not a hard-and-fast rule!
Are Khakis and Chinos the Same?
As you know by now, khakis and chinos typically have different styles. Chinos often have a dressier, more fashionably tapered style, while khakis have more rugged fabric and a straight-legged cut.
Despite this general difference, some manufacturers do use the terms “khakis” and “chinos” interchangeably, so it’s always a good idea to read the product description carefully to make sure you get the type of pants you want!
Remember that you can look for a lighter fabric and no exterior stitching to help you find a pair of chinos. To spot a pair of khakis, look for a wider leg and exterior stitching.
Are Khakis or Chinos More Formal?
As a general rule of thumb, chinos look dressier and more formal than khakis. The tapered cut of most chinos makes this kind of pants look more stylish, and the lightweight fabric typically used also gives these pants a sleeker, more dressy look.
Khakis often have a tough fabric and exterior stitching that make them look more rugged than formal. For this reason, you can wear chinos to more upscale events, while khakis might not meet the dress code for a business-casual office.
That said, the formality of your outfit also depends a lot on what you pair with your pants. You could wear a nice sweater with khakis and look fairly professional, or wear a t-shirt with chinos and look quite casual. Shoes also make a big difference–if you wear heeled sandals or loafers with khakis, you will dress them up a lot!
While khakis and chinos usually refer to two different styles of pants today, “khaki” can also mean a particular shade of brown. In this case, you can find “khaki chinos” or chinos in a khaki color.
Khaki-colored chinos remain one of the most popular styles. The light, slightly yellow tan pairs well with many dark-colored blazers, making it a popular choice for business wear. But most of the time you will still see these pants just called “chinos.”
Khaki pants, on the other hand, will always be khaki-colored.
Chinos vs Jeans
Chinos and jeans are popular types of pants for men and women, but the similarity ends there. Jeans are made out of denim, a type of cotton that weaves blue threads over white threads, while chinos use lightweight cotton twill. Plus, jeans typically look informal, while chinos have more of a dress-pants appearance.
In America, jeans claim the honor of the most popular kind of pants for all ages and sexes. Chinos hang in a lot of closets, but almost everyone owns multiple pairs of jeans!
On the other hand, even stretch jeans tend to have a thicker fabric that can feel too heavy in hot weather. Chinos use a lightweight cotton twill that remains cool and breathable even in the summer.
Chinos vs Dress Pants vs Trousers vs Slacks
Technically, chinos are a kind of dress pants or trousers, but not slacks. Now, all of this gets into parsing the general use of fashion terms, and some brands may use the terms differently from others. That said, lots of companies market chinos as dress pants.
Trousers usually refer to formal dress pants with a tailored appearance, belt loops, and a button fly. This term would apply to both men’s and women’s wear. Chinos could technically fall into this category, though only trousers made of cotton twill could get classified as chinos.
Slacks, in contrast, usually mean a looser style of dress pants. For this reason, you wouldn’t necessarily classify chinos as a kind of slacks, though you can find khaki-colored slacks.
How Do You Wear Chinos?
Both men and women can look quite stylish in a nice pair of chinos, especially if you follow a few fashion tips to make sure you wear these pants in the right way!
- Chinos should fit comfortably mid-rise without any bunching around the hips.
- In the winter, you can pair chinos with boots or dress shoes and leave them uncuffed. The hem should touch the top of your shoes.
- In the summer, you can cuff the hem for a stylish look. Try low sneakers or loafers with this cuffed look!
- Most chinos have a tapered leg and a fairly snug fit. That said, you can find brands that sell an athletic build cut that offers more room in the thighs and other areas to better suit your body type.
- For a casual look, wear a nice t-shirt with your chinos. For a more formal look, you can’t go wrong with a button-down! For the office or a formal occasion, you can tuck in your button-down and pair it with a dark-colored blazer.
- Your chinos should fit snugly but not so tightly that they wrinkle up around your hips.
- You can create many different elegant business casual or semi-formal outfits with a pair of chinos! Try pairing a turtleneck and heels with your favorite chinos. You can also create a nice outfit by adding a blazer, stylish coat, or silk blouse.
- For a more casual look, try pairing a silky t-shirt or a plaid flannel shirt with your chinos.
- Keep in mind that the kind of shoes you want to wear will determine how long or short you want your pant leg to fall. The tapered leg of chinos looks great with heels!
How Do You Wear Khakis?
Khakis give men and women a comfortable, durable alternative to wearing jeans for all kinds of activities. Check out these fashion tips for khakis!
- Khakis often have a looser fit that allows for a more comfortable range of movement. This makes them comfy but much less formal. Make sure you don’t get a pair that looks too baggy, though, or you may find yourself looking frumpy instead of casual!
- Khakis pair well with striped t-shirts, casual sweaters, polos, or even sweatshirts. Plus, you can wear a denim button-down with khakis, which you couldn’t do with jeans!
- These more rugged pants work great for action-based activities like camping, hiking, or doing yard work! The tougher twill fabric won’t rip or tear easily as you’re out and about.
- A nice leather belt often goes well with any outfit you put together with a pair of khaki pants.
- Khaki pants offer a looser, slightly more urban look than chinos. You can easily create a street-style look by pairing heeled boots and a leather jacket with your khaki pants.
- You can create a looser, more casual look by wearing pastel-colored t-shirts with these pants.
- Of course, you can also go super casual with a sweatshirt and sneakers!
- If you’re out and about, consider pairing a brightly colored top to offset the neutral brown of your khakis.
Popular Models of Khakis and Chinos
You can find both chinos and khakis for sale in most clothing stores, with both casual and high-end brands offering a variety of pricing options. Check out these products to get an idea of the broad range of pants options available for men and women!
Slim-fit Wrinkle-Resistant Flat-Front Chino PantThese casual, slim-fit chino pants for men come in 13 different colors, ranging from the standard khaki tan to a darker brown, navy, and black.
The pants feature a button fly and side pockets. The blend of 60% cotton and 40$ polyester makes these pants both breathable and wrinkle-resistant.
You could comfortably wear these trousers to the office or a backyard BBQ! The casual, tapered legs look stylish without feeling constricting.
Women’s Cropped Girlfriend ChinoThese mid-rise chinos for women have a button closure and comfortable fit around the hips. You can pair these pants with sneakers for a casual look or with flats to dress them up! T
hese cropped pants contain 97% cotton and 3% spandex to make a stretchy, comfortable cotton twill style.
You can select from four basic shades. These neutral colors will pair well with a pastel top or even a brightly colored blouse for the office!
Carhartt Women’s Slim Fit Crawford Double Front PantLooking for a rugged, sturdy pair of khakis that still looks stylish? Check out this pair of women’s khakis from Carhatt! These pants have decorative exterior stitching, pockets, and button closure.
As with most women’s pants, the cotton twill also contains a small percentage of spandex for a more comfortable fit.
The mid-rise waist and straight-cut legs give you a good range of movement as well.
Carhartt Men’s Rugged Flex Rigby Dungaree PantIf you’re looking for tough, long-lasting khakis, you can’t go wrong with Carhartt!
These sturdy men’s pants have a straight cut, solid seams complete with exterior stitching, and reinforced pockets for the busy workday.
These pants sit comfortably at the waist, and the loose, straight legs should break at the top of your shoes or boots.
Both khakis and chinos are comfortable, popular kinds of pants for men and women. The biggest difference between the two styles of pants is that chinos typically have a slimmer fit and look more formal, while khakis can have a wider leg, a looser fit, and a more casual appearance. Both types of pants traditionally contain cotton twill fabric.
Both chinos and khakis originated as part of a military uniform that became mainstream by the early 20th century. Today, chinos often serve as business-casual office wear, and khakis offer a rugged alternative to jeans.
What do you like to wear with your chinos? What about with your khakis? Leave a comment below to let us know!