“…Iridescent socks with the same color shirt
And a tight pair of chinos,
Oh, I put on my shark skin jacket,
You know the kind with the velvet collar
And ditty-bop shades…”
Billy Joel's ode to the good old days of teenage fashion and frolics, “Keeping the Faith,” praised the only pant that could transform good boys to bad: chinos. Chinos moved from workman’s closet to rebel ready-to-wear when the beats paired the gabardine pants with berets and shades to hang out in smoky jazz clubs. Slick and stylish teens then adopted chinos for their rock and roll rendition of 50’s fashion, do-wopping the days into nights. Chinos were officially the anytime, anywhere wear for adolescents.
Sometimes misunderstandings give us something great, and such is the case with the wardrobe staple we call chinos. Chino fabric has been produced since the late 1700’s, but the pants didn’t get dubbed ‘chinos’ until early this century. The United States Army utilized the beige cotton twill material for its uniforms, which were made in China. The shipping boxes were stamped with ‘China,’ but were misread as ‘Chino,’ which was interpreted as the name of the super-soft cloth. The name stuck, and American boys from that day on began zipping up their chinos. When the war ended, civilians were rationed relaxation with the khaki colored pants, and the previously stiff attire eased into true leisure wear.
Chinos were first casually worn by men who preferred a change from the ubiquitous denim jean, but they remained a ‘for work only’ garment until the 40’s. Chinos were popularized by the counter-culture beats, the first styletribe to adopt the workman’s wardrobe for everyday wear. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg wore the chinos as the working men of the world, and beatniks followed suit.
Chinos were later adopted by rebellious, style-conscious youths of the late 50's. Some eccentric women might have worn chinos during this time, but it took a couple of decades before women were firmly entrenched in the ultimate dress up/dress down duds.
The name ‘chinos,’ although a registered trademark for a specified type of material, has become interchangeable with the word ‘khakis’. During the prepster-consumed 80’s, double-pleat chinos were worn by everyone, and the cotton pant became firmly entrenched in everyman’s closet.
Whether slim fit, double-pleated, flat-front or cuffed hem, chinos run a close second to jeans as the universal unisex fashion. J.Crew, Banana Republic, Land’s End, J. Peterman and other retailers in the comfort trade continue to guarantee soft cotton chinos a place of favor for years to come.
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