Jeans and chinos play a large role in my everyday wardrobe. So much so that I’m finding it hard to choose between the two. I’ve been invited to a barbecue and it’ll be 100 degrees in the shade. Should I wear my jeans or my chinos? What’s the difference?
Jeans and chinos are two different styles of pants. Jeans are a heavy twill making them durable working pants. Available in many styles, including boot-cut and skinny, they are perfect for a casual look. Chinos are a much lighter twill weave, and their tailored look and tapered leg make chinos ideal for office wear and formal events.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at jeans and chinos. Read on to find out which style of pants is best for you and your lifestyle.
What Are Jeans?
Jeans are such an integral part of modern-day clothing they don’t need a lengthy description. Most of us have at least one pair of jeans in our closets. The great thing about jeans is they are gender neutral and fully inclusive. It doesn’t matter what age you are or what body shape you have. There is a style, shape, and color of jeans to suit everybody.
Simply mention the name jeans and you conjure images of dress-down days full of relaxation. A stroll through a park, a trip to a baseball game, or even chilling out in front of the TV. Your denim jeans are the epitome of casual style.
They haven’t always been an icon of fashion, though. Originally they were designed with miners in mind. The gold miners of the Californian gold rush, to be precise. In the late 1800s, miners needed durable work pants that could withstand harsh working conditions and the rigors of life in the wild west.
A partnership between Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis led to the introduction of waist overalls in a rugged denim twill. Made from 100% cotton and dyed an indigo blue, these heavyweight pants became the staple workwear item for hard manual labor. Not just for miners but also cowboys, ranch hands, and farmers.
Fast forward to the 1950s and jeans were immortalized in the film “Rebel Without a Cause” starring James Dean. His portrayal gave blue jeans a new lease of life. Rather than being work pants, they were now a symbol of youthful individuality and rebellion.
The humble denim blue jeans have come a long way since those early mining days. Today’s jeans have a slightly lighter denim twill weave. This is partly due to the addition of synthetic fibers to give extra flexibility to what is essentially a rigid fabric. It’s also due to customer preference.
Lighter-weight jeans are more popular. Moving around in heavy-weight denim like old miners could be cumbersome and uncomfortable. These days, the denim in jeans tends to be around 10-12 ounces in weight.
Jeans are available in a whole host of styles and finishes. There are skinny, boot-cut, regular, or straight leg options. They can be sandblasted, stonewashed, or even ripped. You can get them in white, black, green, or even red, as well as umpteen different shades of blue.
What Are Chinos?
Chinos are lightweight pants made from a cotton twill fabric. They have a formal semi-fitted style that hugs the body at the hips and thighs. The pants then taper inwards down the leg towards an ankle-hugging hem.
Lighter and more stylish than jeans, chinos can be worn to the office, a business meeting, or even a more formal gathering like a wedding. These have a look and feel of suit pants.
Just like jeans, the history of chinos can be traced back to the late 1800s. Only, rather than manual labor, they have a slightly more violent past. They were originally introduced as part of a military uniform.
In 1898 the US Government declared war on Spain. The conflict, known as the Spanish-American war, was fought in the tropical conditions of the South Pacific. A region is known for its hot and sticky climate. American soldiers needed military clothing that was both durable and long-lasting yet cool enough to wear in hot conditions.
A lightweight 100% cotton twill fabric was imported from China and transformed into smart pants. These pants were both durable and breathable, allowing soldiers to look smart yet keep cool at the same time.
Once the war was over, men wearing the chinos returned to civilian life, taking the stylish, lightweight pants with them. It wasn’t long before chinos became a large part of men’s fashion.
These days, chinos bridge the gap between smart and casual. Choose a dark color like navy blue or black, and you have the style and sophistication of a suit. Go for a pastel color and you can ooze confidence while sipping cocktails at your local wine bar.
That’s the thing with chinos. Although they only come in one style, the color you choose and the accessories you wear can make all the difference to your overall image.
Jeans vs Chinos: Key Points
Although jeans and chinos are made from a twill weave, they are two very different styles of pants. The first is better suited to casual wear, while the other is equally at home in formal and relaxed environments.
Chinos and jeans can be worn in similar situations and are even interchangeable. Up to a point. I’ve put together a table to compare their different characteristics. Using this information, you should see at a glance what events or occasions suit each style of pants best.
|Fabric||Traditionally 100% cotton |
Modern jeans are more likely to be a cotton synthetic blend
|Traditionally 100% cotton
although cotton blends are also available
|Fabric Weave||Heavy twill weave||Light twill weave|
|Fabric Weight||Mid to heavyweight||Lightweight|
|Durability||Very durable||Less durable than jeans|
|Climate||Suitable for cooler climates||Suitable for warmer climates|
|Color Options||Traditionally blue |
Can be any color black, blue and white are most popular
|Traditionally khaki or brown
can be any color
Pastel shades are most popular
|Original Intent||Hard wearing work pants for miners||Military uniform for warm climates|
|Style||Available in a range of styles from regular, straight leg, stretch, skinny, cropped, and boot-cut||More of a formal pants style
Wider at the hips and tapering down to a close-fitting ankle
|Care||Only wash when they look dirty|
No need to iron
|Need regular washing and ironing|
|When to Wear||Casual wear or rough work wear||Smart office wear, formal wear|
|Price||Varies depending on style, weight, and fiber content|
Averages around $50-$200 depending on quality and brand
|Averages around $20-$100 depending on quality and brand|
What’s the Difference Between Jeans and Chinos?
The main difference between jeans and chinos is their appearance. Jeans are heavier than chinos and were originally designed for rough work. Because of that, they are rugged and durable. Chinos were introduced as uniform pants and have a softer, smarter finish.
There are other differences between chinos and jeans. But there are also some similarities. Let’s take a look at some of the properties in detail.
Traditionally, the fabric used for jeans and chinos would have been 100% cotton twill. Both pants originated in the late 19th century and cotton would have been the strongest, most durable fiber available at that time. A twill weave would have been chosen as it’s one of the strongest weaves there is.
Even today, jeans and chinos are still made using a twill weave, albeit in different weights. Chinos are made using a lightweight twill weave, while jeans are made from the heavier denim twill.
However, the fiber content used in the twill weave has changed, particularly for jeans. Denim is notorious for being rough, scratchy, and difficult to move in, especially if the denim is a heavyweight fabric. Because of this, modern denim tends to be a mix of cotton and synthetic fibers.
The addition of things like polyester gives the textile more flexibility. They also remove a lot of the weight. Although it is possible to get 100% cotton denim, you’re more likely to find your jeans are a blend.
Chinos, on the other hand, are still made with 100% cotton. Although you can get chinos in a cotton blend or even a spandex mix, it’s less common. Synthetics just can’t match the cooling comfort of pure cotton pants.
It’s hard to beat jeans for durability. Denim is one of the most durable fabrics available. Even in the 1800s, the material was known for its rigid sturdiness.
The cotton fabric in jeans was a heavyweight material. Combined with a densely woven twill weave, the resulting material was exceptionally resilient against wear and tear. Making it able to withstand the tough working conditions found in 19th-century mines.
It wasn’t long before workers in other trades began to see the benefits of denim. Things like farm laborers and ranch hands followed the miners’ lead. Making denim the fabric of choice for manual work wear.
Although chinos have the same twill weave as jeans, they aren’t made from denim. Nor are they made from a heavyweight material. Chinos are made using lightweight cotton fibers. Consequently, the twill fabric used in chinos is much lighter than denim.
There’s a good reason for that. Chinos weren’t designed to be work pants. They were designed to be worn in hot weather conditions. Although their twill weave gives them an element of durability, it’s nowhere near as good as denim pants.
What they lose in resilience, they gain in comfort. So it’s not all bad news. Chinos are softer, lighter, and more flexible than jeans, making them a pleasure to wear in warmer climates.
Chinos and jeans have come a long way since they were originally introduced in the 19th century. Back then, chinos were khaki and jeans were their famous indigo blue.
These days, both jeans and chinos can be found in a wide range of colors. Chinos have a slight edge, though. They may have started as a khaki brown, but any color goes when it comes to modern chinos. Not only are they available in dark colors and pastel shades, but you are more likely to see people wearing them in softer hues.
You can get jeans in any color from black, white, yellow, red, green, and every color in between. But you’re more likely to see people wearing blue jeans. Blue and jeans go together like the sun and the color yellow. It may be more than a century since they were first worn by gold miners, but blue is still the preferred shade.
One area where jeans and chinos differ a lot is style. To be classed as chinos, the pants have to match the classic chino silhouette. Flat fronted, figure-hugging through the hips and thighs and tapering down the leg to a narrow ankle.
Although you can wear them with the ankle hem turned up or down to vary the look, the actual style of the pants cannot change. If it did, they wouldn’t be chinos.
Adding a straighter leg and a pleated front would make them Khakis, and any large pockets on the legs would make their cargo pants.
Jeans, on the other hand, are not so limited. You can get regular, straight leg, hipster, skinny, stretch, boot-cut, and cropped. They come with turn-ups and without. There is a style of jeans to match your mood, your personality, and to hide those body areas you’d rather not see.
The only thing that stays constant with jeans is the number of riveted pockets. To be classed as true jeans, they must have the classic 5-pocket look. This is made up of 3 pockets at the front and 2 at the back.
The price you pay for jeans or chinos can vary a lot. Most of the time, it’s due to the brand and outlet you purchase them from. It’s also determined by the material that goes into the pants. Regardless of whether they are jeans or chinos, 100% cotton pants will set you back more than a cotton blend.
There is a difference in the price of style too. Chinos may be gaining in popularity, but it is still more fashionable to be seen in a pair of jeans. This gives your favorite denim pants an edge. As well as a slightly higher price tag than chinos.
One thing that gets overlooked when considering the price of clothing is the weight of the fabric. The denser the weave, the more fiber content it will have. Not only will the material weigh heavier, but it will also have a higher price. Chinos are made from a lighter cotton twill fabric, so they can cost less than jeans.
Overall, the price of either style of pants is down to their quality, your location, and where you get them from. A good quality pair of jeans and chinos from a designer outlet will be more expensive than a pair from your local big box store.
Are Jeans the Same as Khakis?
No, not really. Jeans are not the same as khakis. For one thing, jeans are made from denim, while khakis are made from a lighter fabric. There are other differences too.
Khaki pants have a more classic pants silhouette and elegant style. In some ways, they have more in common with chinos. However, although you can wear them to the office, some dress codes may prevent you from wearing them to a business meeting. That’s a key difference. Although they are smarter than jeans, they have a more casual look than chinos.
A pair of khaki pants will have a pleated front and straight-cut legs with a slighter wider ankle than your chinos. They have visible stitching like your jeans. This feature prevents them from being as classy as suit pants.
Although they are lightweight like chinos, their style and construction make them much more durable and robust. Your khakis can be a light and refreshing alternative to jeans as work pants. Able to withstand the rigors of a rough working environment, khakis can be worn for the same situations as your jeans.
When to Wear Chinos vs Jeans
Jeans and chinos both embrace a casual style. Either one can be dressed up or down depending on the event or situation. However, jeans are synonymous with relaxed rebellion, so there are some instances where they would be inappropriate. Particularly if they are distressed or torn.
The same can be said for chinos too. Although their overall appearance can carry you from a business meeting to a night on the town, some shades are considered to be less formal than others. Pastel shades, for instance, are more fun-loving than more somber hues.
As a rule of thumb, jeans are better suited to less formal events. Things like a beach barbecue or a night out at a rock concert. You wouldn’t want to wear jeans to a job interview. You won’t be taken seriously as jeans don’t give off the right vibe.
Chinos can be worn for any occasion you would wear suit pants. They have a formal appearance and look the part. You do have to pay attention to the color of your chinos.
A vibrant shade of red isn’t going to make the right impression at your job interview either. You want to go for a darker shade of blue, brown, or black to hit the right note of professionalism.
To be honest, though, where and when you wear your jeans or chinos is up to you. It’s your own personal choice. The image you are trying to portray will help you decide which one is better for that situation.
While jeans are the epitome of relaxed style, chinos are smart and ooze confidence. The first is durable enough for you to work in, while the second will keep you cool in the summer heat. Their differences make them both essential parts of your everyday wardrobe.
Let me know in the comments if you liked the article. Do you own jeans or chinos? Which do you prefer?