Like many office workers, I began working from home after the pandemic started. And despite academic theories about “enclothed cognition” and articles about how some people were wearing business casual to “get into work mode,” I've exclusively worn sweatpants and gym shorts. The comfort factor is just too strong (especially with dogs and young kids in the house), and it’s the closest to embracing athleisure as I’ve ever dared to approach.
Once I started venturing out of the house more, regular pants felt constrictive after all this freedom. But I wasn’t ready to go full athleisure—I’m neither a retiree nor a boy band member. So I started looking for comfortable casual options and found the drawstring chino. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about those elastic-ankle “chino joggers” that were everywhere circa 2015. I’m talking about cotton pants (preferably stretch) with an elastic waist but normal hems.
This hybrid style—comfort up top, respectability below—seems perfect for these strange times. Plus I’ve always had a hard time finding pants that fit right, and I hate taking things to the tailor. Thus I’m usually left with a waistband that scrunches under my belt or legs that are a tad tight. Drawstring chinos might solve this issue and then some. They won’t fully replace jeans or more formal trousers, but they have a lot going for them. If your office, like many, is shifting even more casual than it was in 2019, you can likely wear these chinos with an untucked shirt or knitwear and no one will ever know your secret. Designers are even making versions in wool blends, which would allow you to fly under the radar even more easily. And they’re great for travel, since they’re easy to move in and you won’t need to worry about a belt.
Below are some notes on the pairs I’ve tried in person, as well as some links to pricier options. With apologies to Bono, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, so if anyone knows of other brands in similar price brackets, I’d be interested to know.
Unfortunately, Amazon seems to have discontinued the previous “washed chino” material, which I was able to get last year for around $20 (down from around $40). You can still find a few random sizes, but it’s very limited.
It’s a shame because the washed chino version was a regular stretch cotton blend without any “tech” aspects, so they looked like normal chinos. The new “modern stretch” fabric has a high nylon percentage (46%), so they have a tech feel to them without actually conveying the benefits of hiking pants. They have a bit of a sheen that I don’t love, but that has seemed to fade somewhat in the wash. I suppose the infusion of that much nylon could make them more spill-resistant, but I’m not sure. And the fabric supposedly contains 4% spandex, but these don’t feel as stretchy as the previous iteration, and certainly not as stretchy as something like Banana’s Traveler pants. I would say these are just ok and not worth full price, which seems to have just increased from $40 to $45.
The main drawback of this design is the fastening. As several Amazon customers have pointed out, the fact that the pants have a zip fly and a hook closure limits how much you can actually use the drawstring to adjust the fit. So think of them less as a pair of sweatpants with a full drawstring waistband and more like a slightly forgiving chino. Again, not worth full price but not a bad option on sale.
A note on color: The olive color I picked up is a nice muted shade with hints of brown. But the “Khaki Brown” color leans orange in person and should have been named “Thai Iced Tea.” It was especially pronounced with the weird nylon blend, so I sent that pair back immediately.
The pants come in straight, slim, skinny, and athletic fits. I have a medium athletic fit in the old version, which is an almost perfect fit. In the newer iteration I have a medium slim, and it’s definitely a true slim—about as slim as I can go. For the last two years I’ve only been doing dumbbell workouts at home, so no heavy squats here, and I still barely have enough space through the thighs. Something to be aware of. I do like that the leg opening is gently tapered at about 7.5” laid flat.
We all know by now that a Gap MSRP is bullshit. But when they run one of their constant sales on top of another sale, there’s certainly some value. They have a number of different styles of “e-waist” pants, including the pair Andrew recommended in this recent vacation-themed 1 Look, 2 Budget, and other styles in more tech fabrics.
I recently tried a pair of the “GapFlex Slim Pull-On Easy Pants with E-Waist,” and by the time I got done reading the unwieldy product name, my package had arrived. I got a medium in “soft black,” which is a very deep charcoal.
The fabric is very lightweight, which could be good for spring and summer, though these days thin fabric is usually a sign of cheap manufacturing. (Is it just me, or have most mall-tier brands undergone a sharp drop in quality over the last couple years?) Also, the “soft black” is actually a cotton ripstop, unlike the other colors, so this color is probably best kept out of the office. Very comfortable and stretchy (97% cotton, 3% spandex), and not tight at all. I would say the “slim” fit is actually looser than the Goodthreads athletic fit.
Another note is that the waistband is surprisingly well thought out. The elastic is strong, so it mostly stays up by itself, but if you want to use the drawstring, it’s located inside the waist so it stays hidden. And it even has belt loops, so if you wanted to hide the elastic with a belt, you have that option.
Like the Goodthreads pants, these are just ok. I ended up returning them because the fit didn’t work for me (the loose legs combined with the aggressive 7” hem made it seem like Hammer Time) and the quality seemed iffy even on sale.
And so my Bono search continues. Below are some pricier versions that I haven’t had a chance to try in person but may help anyone on the same hunt.
These have stretch (3%) and the full drawstring waistband, but the fit looks pretty wide. Comes in three colors and seems to have most sizes available.
Looks like these have a button closure and an external drawstring and have a zip fly. Stretch cotton blend and 14.25” leg opening, according to the site, and come in five colors. Somewhat mixed reviews online.
This one is 100% cotton and only comes in two colors: a honey brown and an off-white. No button closure, and drawstring appears to be inside the waistband. The J.Crew site describes it as more relaxed than the slim with a 15.25” leg opening.
Full-elastic waistband with no button or hook closure and external drawstring. Made from what the Todd Snyder site calls a soft “micro-cord” and described as “slim fit” that is nonetheless “cut roomier than our tailored trousers.”
Todd Snyder is one of our 32 favorite men’s clothing brands
100% linen suit pant designed to be worn with or without the matching jacket. It also has belt loops to hide the drawstring if needed, but unlike the Gap pants, the drawstring is on the outside, so a bit harder to conceal even with a belt.
There is also an olive houndstooth color in 100% wool.
This is the chino version of the green corduroy pants Andrew featured in winter. If you’re a guy with a shorten inseam and/or prefers pants with no break, these are a great option to avoid tailoring. Andrew is a ~29.5” inseam and these fall right at the of his shoes. The stretch waistband is covered with fabric, so doesn’t appear elastic, with the drawstring on the inside.
→ Read more from Christopher: In Person: Amazon Essentials Shawl Collar Cardigan Review + How Does It Stack Up Against a $150 Banana Republic Option?