While they are a basic staple of a man’s wardrobe, there are still only a few key types of traditional men’s pants. It should also be clarified that “pants” in this context is the American meaning, what would be referred to as trousers in the UK. We aren’t discussing various styles of underwear!
The modern men’s trouser can generally be divided up into dress pants, Chinos/ khakis, athletic/ leisure, and jeans. In order to look your best every day, it is helpful to know the difference between them, and the appropriate time and place for each.
Leisure Wear is for Leisure (but not exclusively).
Leisure wear includes everything from drawstring casual pants, to athletic wear, to even some types of pajama bottom. Leisure wear is intended for those times when you are most concerned with comfort, and less concerned with style. This does not mean that leisure wear can’t be fashionable!
In addition to the consistent popularity of athletic brands in non athletic settings, there are now options for sweats and drawstring pants that resemble traditional chinos, as long as your shirt isn’t tucked in. Pairing these with a structured shirt that is designed to be untucked allows you the freedom of looking fairly put together, while feeling very comfortable- Perfect for holiday get-togethers where you want the ability to adjust your belt after dinner!
Chinos are Casual, but Flexible.
While many people refer to the entire family of chinos style pants as khakis, khaki is a specific color family, not really a style. Chinos are the style family that is typically represented by flat fronted, non-cuffed pants. They are less dressy than a flat fronted dress pant, and can come in a huge array of colors. If you look at a pair of pants and think “I could see wearing those on a yacht with a polo shirt and some docksider style shoes, they are probably chinos.
Some people consider chinos appropriate for a business casual environment. Since every business casual office is different, this may or may not be the case. If you choose to wear chinos for a business casual wardrobe, definitely pair them with a dressier shirt to make clear the distinction between “business casual” and just “casual”.
Denim is More Versatile Than it Used to Be.
Traditionally, jeans were relegated to weekend wear for most men. In the modern closet, this doesn’t mean that denim has to stay exclusively in your casual wardrobe. If you choose to wear jeans in a business casual setting, it is definitely a good idea to stick with dark, non distressed denim.
You should also incorporate dressier elements, like a blazer, or even a brightly colored tie, to make it clear this isn’t just a casual look. In addition to color, fit can determine the dressiness of a pair of jeans. Very relaxed fits and excess pockets make jeans more obviously casual. A more fitted or straight lined jean looks more professional. Also, consider adding a cuff to a fitted jean to give a more put together look.
Picking the Right Dress Pants is Important.
In dress slacks, there are really only two main distinctions: pleated or flat, and hemmed or cuffed. The choice of pleated or flat depends on several factors, but mostly which one fits you best.
For most men’s body types, flat front pants will look best, providing clean lines. For tall, lanky men, or men who have disproportionately lean lower halves, pleats may make your lines seem more balanced. It is traditional for a pair of flat front pants to have a hemmed bottom. A cuffed leg looks “off” on a flat front trouser, but many older style rules are evolving.
Traditionally, a pleated front is expected on cuffed pants. This has to do with the stylistic origin of those elements. Pleated and cuffed pants are going to look more formal, so they can dress up a slightly more casual shirt. This gives a little more versatility to your wardrobe when incorporating different elements.
A Balanced Wardrobe Has All of These Types of Pants.
A complete wardrobe will have a mix of all of these types of pants. Mixing different types of shirt with different styles of pants will allow you huge flexibility with the number of looks you can create, and help your wardrobe to always feel fresh.
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