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The military origins of some garments are obvious—here’s looking at you, bombers jackets and combat boots—but others have had their martial history obscured. High on the list is the chino pant, which is today associated with business casual blasé despite its birth on the battlefield.
As the story goes, 19th-century militaries began to outfit their soldiers in pants made from a hard-wearing cotton twill fabric that had been inexpensively milled in China. These pants, which were often dyed in a dusky earth tone called “khaki” to reflect the local environment, became standard issue during the Spanish-American War.
During the conflict, American servicemen stationed in the Philippines began referring to them as “chinos,” after the Spanish word for China. Chinos became a staple of the American fighting man’s wardrobe through both World Wars and entered civilian life when the G.I. Bill sent millions of servicemen to college campuses after WWII.
It was there that cash-strapped veterans began wearing their army-issue chinos with oxford-cloth button-downs and tweed jackets, unconsciously laying the foundation of American Ivy style. In the decades that followed chinos became mainstream to a fault, stripped of their original sturdiness and military design.
Fortunately, you needn’t enlist to find a pair of military-style chinos today, as mainstream labels and obscure Japanese makers alike are supplying them. There aren’t set rules as to what precisely makes a military-style or “Officer’s chino”, but there are benchmarks: namely heavier or coarser fabric, utilitarian pockets, a wider leg and a higher rise in keeping with mid-century tailoring.
And you can learn more about those indicators by consulting our list of the best military-style chinos below:
RRL Officer Chino Pant
It should come as little surprise that Ralph Lauren’s vintage-inspired sub-label should stock a pair of army-inspired chinos. RRL’s officer chino features flapped rear pockets and is made from a lightweight cotton twill that’s been washed for softness and a battle-tested appearance.
The Armoury by Ring Jacket Cotton Army Chino
The Armoury’s entry in the chino wars is its cotton army chino, which is made in Japan by Ring Jacket. They’re marked by backward-looking details including a one-piece integrated waistband, button fly and a high rise.
Rubato Officer’s Chino in Ivory
Indie Swedish label Rubato makes its officer’s chino from, appropriately enough, military-grade Japanese mercerized cotton. It checks all the boxes—flat-front, button fly, high waist—but comes in an ivory hue suited to the spring and summer seasons.
Todd Snyder Japanese Relaxed Fit Selvedge Chino in Khaki
Todd Snyder modeled the fit of its relaxed fit selvedge chino after a wide-legged vintage pair. They’re cut from a Japanese-milled cotton fabric whose dry hand recalls government-issued duds.
Alex Mill Straight Leg Pant in Vintage Washed Chino
Alex Mill’s vintage washed chino might be the missing link between office-ready and military reproduction. Its flat front and straight fit make it versatile, while its garment-dyed fabric and side-adjuster buttons go a long way in adding visual interest.
Bryceland’s Army Chinos Olive
Certified vintage lovers Bryceland’s unsurprisingly offer a style that takes after wartime. Its army chino copies the cut of a 1945 U.S. Army pant with a high, one-piece waistband and a slight taper.
Casatlantic Mogador White Cotton
American army-issued pairs tend to dominate the military chino conversation, but there’s no good reason why the Yanks should have all the fun. Castatlantic pushes back with its relaxed-fitting Mogador pant, which copies the cut of WWII-era British trousers with single forward-facing pleats and side adjusters.
Drake’s Khaki Cotton Flat Front Chino
Leave it to Drake’s to produce a chino in the true greenish-gray shade that defines British khaki. A full leg, high rise and side adjusters in addition to belt loops make them combat (or at least, Saturday afternoon) ready.
Jack Donnelly Twill Straight Chino M2 in Khaki
Jack Donnelly’s M2 is explicitly modeled after WWII-era U.S. army chinos with a high waist and a fuller leg. Each pair is made in the good ‘ol U.S. of A., adding to their patriotic feel.
Buy Now on Jack Donnelly: $148
Nigel Cabourn Navy Chino Pants
British designer Nigel Cabourn built his brand around vintage militaria, a fact affirmed by these Japanese-made chino pants stocked by the Merchant Fox. They are distinguished by a high rise, darted back and a durable two-ply cotton yarn inspired by the fabric once used to outfit West Point cadets.
J. Press Khaki Poplin Pant Classic Fit
Considering that campus store J. Press outfitted many returning G.I.s with their first Shetland sweater or tweed jacket, it’s only fitting that the haberdasher offer their own take on the army chino. Its simple iteration is made domestically from a cotton-blend poplin fabric well equipped to handle warmer weather.