The history of the Chino: From a confusing name to a classic

SANVT Journal

Where do you imagine yourself when you think of the Perfect Chino?

Here’s an idea: You are sitting in an Italian café, in a place only you and the locals know. Your linen shirt lets your skin breathe in the shade, it smells like coffee and pastries. You know how you got here but what about your clothes? What is a former military trouser doing in this idyllic setting?

Why are Chinos called “Chinos”?

First the simplest kind of definition – appearance. The classic Chino is a simple men’s trouser made from “Twill”, a classic cotton fabric that you can also find in jeans and denim fabrics. But twill is naturally rather light and therefore perfect for warmer temperatures. Explaining the history of the Chino can be more difficult though, as there are two distinct theories about the origins of this trouser. Here are both theories at a glance:

  1. The ‘Chino’ got its name in the Philippines – during Spanish colonial rule in the 19th century. In the Philippines, members of the army liked to wear trousers made from twill. Twill has its roots in China and at that time was almost exclusively imported from there. Spanish was the official language of the country at that time and the word “Chino” is the Spanish word for “Chinese”. Because of the Twill fabric’s origin ‘Chino’ became a nickname for the trousers, and this name quickly grew from a nickname to the common name.
  2. The name comes from the (South American) Spanish word for “roasted”, which in turn comes from Persian and alludes to the typical “khaki” color.

As we’ve just mentioned, Chinos were first used as military trousers from the middle of the 19th century onwards. After the return of American soldiers from the Spanish-American war in 1898, these trousers were also introduced to everyday civilian wear.

In order to save fabric, Chinos were tapered and traditionally did not have pleats (back then, the background was to make the most of limited resources and pleats would have meant a senseless waste of materials). These characteristics have survived in classic models and you can still see if a Chino is the “real” thing, as is shouldn’t have pleats.

The characteristics of the classic Chino pants at a glance:

Fabric: Due to the light fabric, Chinos are particularly suitable for warm days, as they are breathable and have a pleasant cooling effect.

Cut: The Chino cut is rather casual. They are designed in a tapered cut (wider at the thighs and hips and narrower at the ankles). For tips on how the Perfect Chino should fit, click here.

Details: A characteristic feature of the Chino (a relic from its time of origin) is the fact that it does not have a pleat. Since this feature has been retained until today, it is easy to roll up a classic Chino.

All-year-round: In addition to pure cotton / twill fabrics, many other fabrics are now used for Chinos, so that they can no longer be worn only in summer but can also be a stylish alternative to jeans during colder days.

Colors: Chinos are just the right mix of elegance and casual style. Mostly, Chino trousers are found in light shades like beige, camel or nude but now there are also plenty of alternatives, like navy, olive green and taupe. In striking rosé and berry shades, chinos can also be ideal companions for summer evenings.

Versatility: Another special feature of Chinos is that they can be worn on almost all occasions. Whether in the office or during leisure time – the Chino is always suitable. Of course, you should make sure to combine the trousers according to the occasion (see picture above: the Chino in combination with a T-shirt).

Comfort: Chinos are popular because of their comfort. The material is usually light and airy, yet incredibly durable. In the context of the urban commuter, the Chino is ideal to wear in the morning to the office (on bike or train) and then onto after-work drinks with friends.

SANVT has reinvented the classic Chino. Thanks to an innovative fabric and smart design features, the Perfect Chino from SANVT combines the comfort of sportswear with the elegance of classic men’s fashion. More about the Perfect Chino can be found here.