Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Perplexed by Pants

I'm reading a great little book right now called How To Be A Budget Fashionista by Kathryn Finney and in the "basic wardrobe staples" list she mentions (as well as other things) that you should have a pair of khaki or a pair of chino pants. I've been looking around--and I can't figure out the difference. Heck, I'm not even sure what these are!

Doing a bit of research, I came across this from Wise Geek.


Chinos as military uniform were simple slacks with straight waists, no pleats, and a tapered leg. The fabric was durable, yet light, and suitable for wear in warm conditions, while providing adequate coverage. The khaki color became popular in the UK in the mid 19th century, particularly for blending into the landscape of India during the British occupation. In the late 19th century, American soldiers started wearing khakis as part of standard military wear.

The term khakis came first, and is a Hindu name for the word dust. Chinos came later after the Spanish American War, where US occupation of the Philippines resulted in a high number of Spanish terms entering the English language, since so many residents of the Philippines spoke Spanish. Again, the American style of military chino was much like the British, a very simple pant with no pleats, a zip and button front, and straight legs.

So, according to Wise Geek, the essential difference is the chinos have tapered legs and the khakis a straight leg.

Here's a couple of images from Ralph Lauren that exemplify the above points:



So, as far as I understand it, this pair of pants from LL Bean could either be called Chinos or Khakis--are the legs straight or tapered? I don't know. If I had to guess, I'd say straight:



So, the Budget Fashionista is essentially advising us to have another pair of classic casual pants in our closets (in addition to jeans).

But I don't get it.
If you can
--change the height of the waistband, from "low low rise" to "high rise"
--change front detail from no pleats to plenty.
--put in pockets or omit them as you please
--change the fabric from cotton to whatever
--change the colour
--and change the leg cut from tapered, to straight, to wide, to flared (but perhaps you can't? Maybe that's the definitive detail? Straight or tapered legs only?)

what does it mean to call them "chinos" or "khakis" or anything at all?

7 comments :

curing what ails me said...

I believe that "chino" refers to the weave of the cloth and "khaki" refers to the color...so in my book, they are synonymous. I think the author is referring more to the neutral color and casual style that would be versatile....but you'll never find a pair of khakis in my closet, no matter how many people tell me they are "essential" (they just don't look good on me.) I also don't own any jeans, though I am considering zooza's idea of having a pair custom made.

Mella DP said...

Similar to CWAM, I think of "chino" as "pants made of twill that aren't jeans," whereas khaki is an oddish shade of beige, or pants in that color. Khaki being the default but not only color of chinos.

Now, both of these are things that decidedly don't suit everyone, but I think you nailed it - casual + neutral will serve most people pretty well.

As for custom construction - Target used to offer semi-custom jeans and chinos (and I think men's dress shirts...) on their website. I say semi-custom because obviously there's not a tailor there taking all your measurements, but they used a pretty extensive questionnaire that asked for measurements and lots of other info about your body shape and type and your preferred fit. Never used it so can't vouch for it personally, but it seemed to have promise. I recall prices being in the under $40 range.

I can't find the service on their website right now, but googling for it I did find some news items that suggested they'd be restarting it in 2008. Something to look for, perhaps.

smallcitybeth said...

@Mella -- however (and I may be wrong), I don't think Target ships to Canada... I just checked, and they don't ship internationally. Oh well...

@Alana -- I can't imagine either of those chinos or khakis or whatever you want to call them -- the two pics you posted -- suiting me. And I'd feel weird wearing something that light colored in winter. I think casual + neutral in whatever style and fabric suits you is the way to go. No "fashionista" book, no matter how good, can know and respond to your particular situation, climate, budget and bodyshape, the way you yourself can. Trust your judgement and your instincts. (and buy something warm first of all... it's cold out there!!)

drwende said...

My belief was always along the lines of CWAM's and Mella's.

Beware of "must own" lists, as they're written by people living some other life.

Neutral pants are probably useful to most people (how many women over 30 want vibrant color on our behinds?), but khaki has the disadvantage of being light, which means that unless it's worn with an even lighter top, it makes ye olde hips look even larger.

I own one pair of beige wool slacks, bought solely because I was planning for the MBA program and knew project teams always get the bright idea of doing presentations in chinos and white shirts, and they're my least favorite pair of pants because they make my lower half look big in a way that the otherwise-identical black and navy pants don't.

Khakis actually are a true basic in my world, so I haven't dumped them... but if you don't positively need khaki/beige pants, don't invite this problem into your life just because some stranger in a book tells you to.

Alana in Canada said...

Oh. OK. I was just wondering what the heck they were.
"Casual pants" I understand--and probably want more of. Thanks everyone!

Kathryn said...

Actually drwende-

I'm the person who wrote the book and I'm definitely living a fairly "normal" life. Obviously when writing a book you try to reach as many people as possible- but you can't reach everyone.

The chino/Khaki debate has been going on for some time and there are several different types (low vs. high, wide leg vs. tapered) (and colors ranging from the light, light beige to dark army green) of both types of pants.

The key is to find the style that works right for you. Personally I drift towards darker, army green , wide legged chinos.

Since this colors are considered "neutrals", chino/khakis are great additions to your wardrobe and a good alternative to wearing jeans.

Thanks Alana for reading and reviewing the book.

Alana in Canada said...

You are welcome, Kathryn. I enjoyed it. I have come to the conclusion I am not a fashionista.

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