Spring is here and the changing season reminds us that maybe it’s time to take a look at our wardrobe and freshen it up a little as well. Admittedly, I get a little hung up on raw denim sometimes and don’t always branch out with other styles of pants. I’ve always been a fan of military inspired chinos though, so let’s rundown some of my favorites for a spring denim alternative.
First let’s look at what makes something a chino. Chino cloth is a twill fabric that’s typically made of 100% cotton and is woven with diagonal parallel ridges on the surface. Chino trousers were originally designed in the mid-19th century for British and French military uniforms. It didn’t take long for the look to take hold and stick around for over 150 years. We still like them today for the same reason they were developed in the first place; they’re durable, tough, and neutral.
There are plenty of great options if you're buying on a budget, stores like Target, Old Navy and Gap, as well as online brands like Combatant Gentleman offer modern, slim chinos at around $30-$50. If you find yourself in a position needing or wanting to invest in higher quality, consider these 9 brands that we're introducing in a new series called The Upgrade.
I’m a fan of independent well-made brands, but when it comes to mainstream retail shops you can’t beat the quality of J. Crew. The 770 Broken-In Chino comes in six neutral colors and features slim, straight, and athletic tapered fits. These have been around since 2003 and made from heavily washed cotton for a vintage look. These will fit like an old friend.
Bonobos started because they couldn’t find pants that fit correctly. Their secret is their signature curved waistband that conforms to the natural shape of your waist. The result is a trimmer more flattering cut with the perfect medium rise. What sets them apart is 45-day returns, free shipping both ways, and their “ninja” customer service. They have over 20 locations too. Just schedule a one-hour appointment at one of their guideshops and have a cold one while a guide helps you find the perfect fit. They come in 6 different fits and plenty of colors.
With a focus on superior quality and specializing in Japanese denim, Tate & Yoko is known for being one of the best denim shops in the world. These are 12 oz selvedge chino made from Japanese fabric. They have a slim fit that tapers from the knee down, with added stretch designed to keep its shape wear after wear.
stands as a testament to the brand's ethos of combining timeless style with simple functionality. Designed with a nod to traditional military officer chinos, they boast a rugged charm, featuring heavier, natural fabrics and a more structured fit than the typical synthetic, stretchy materials found in contemporary tech pants.
While priced at $128, these pants strike a balance between quality and affordability, offering a premium feel without the steep price tag of luxury brands.
My experience with Buck Mason’s officer pants has been overwhelmingly positive. Their comfortable and true-to-size fit, combined with a structured and unique texture, allows them to adapt effortlessly to different styles, be it casual or slightly more dressed up. These pants have become a go-to in my evolving wardrobe, perfectly embodying the rugged simplicity and casual sophistication .
Tellason Cramerton $198
Tellason is one of my favorite brands, based in San Francisco. The Cramerton Chino is a tapered army cloth 8.8 oz chino with a corozo button fly. Cramerton twill was originally made in South Carolina in the 1930’s for U.S. Army uniforms. The fabric is still made the same way and in the same state, but cut and sewn in San Fran. Putting these on is like wearing a piece of history.
If you’re looking for something that can be both dressy or casual there is always value in Banana Republic that won’t break the bank. The Rapid Movement Chino is a tailored slim fit that is great for everyday wear. Available in plenty of colors and perfect for relaxed weekends or social evenings. This one is mid-rise and is slim through the thigh with a slim leg opening. Sharp with a dress shoe and no socks.
These are a little edgier and have a little bit of attitude. The Rogue Territory Officer Trouser is inspired by workwear. They are handmade in downtown Los Angeles and are made from 9 oz sanforized (pre-shrunk) twill. They have bright white selvedges and are slim fitting, if not a little on the tight side. The one piece button fly and slash front pockets are offset by the cool flaps on the rear pockets that can be worn tucked in or out. Available in several colors but I love the olive.
When it comes to ruggedness and durability Freenote really makes the grade. With pants like this it’s all about the details. They have custom leather branding, custom horn buttons from Italy and they’re made from reproduction military fabric from Japan. The pocket bags are herringbone from Japan too. These are made for the long haul and will last a long time.
These have the highest price point of the lot, but for good reason: They are made to order with a lead time of about six weeks with the entire item being designed, patterned, cut, sewn, and finished in their small workshop. These work trousers are an 11 oz indigo selvedge canvas from Okayama Japan, with USA made canvas pocket bags and sewing thread. The coolest features are the reinforced knee panel that wears more like a patch and the utility pocket at the right thigh.