By Andy Gilchrist

Let’s look at the origins of trousers, and then we’ll have a better understanding when we discuss the specifics of Chinos and Khakis.


Trousers are an outer garment for covering the body from the waist to the ankles, and are divided into sections to fit each leg separately. That’s why we refer to the garment in the plural.

The ancient Persians, Chinese, and Mongol hordes wore the pants in the world. They were calf-length trousers, perfect for waging war from atop a horse. Perhaps from their experience fighting the Persians, the Greeks considered any form of legged garment as barbaric. The tribes of northern Europe introduced pants to the Romans who adopted them for cold-weather wear for the Legions, but not acceptable when in Rome.

Charlemagne (Charles the Great, 742 – 814), the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, wore a form of trouser cross-gartered to the knees. Crusaders brought back the idea and translated it into tight hose of silk and velvet.

In about 1760, most men begin wearing breeches, a tight garment worn from the waist to the knee with stockings covering the rest of the leg. The word is from Middle English brech, from Old English brēc, plural of brōc, meaning leg covering; akin to Gaulish brāca, meaning hose, or trousers.

“Britches” was an informal word for breeches. Prior to this men were wearing various form of skirts and dresses (but that’s another story).

“What a revoltin’ development this is.” The French revolution of 1789 was also a revolt against breeches as being too upper class. The country peasant trouser look was in. The revolutionaries were known as “sans-culottes” (loosely translated: breechless bums). The French revolution brought the idea of a classless way of dressing, which included pantaloons and then followed by the first narrow trousers inspired by a looser garment worn by sailors.

Pantaloons (where we get the word pants) first appeared as an English word in the 1600s and came from the Italian comedy character Pantaleone who wore the first loose “clown pants”. Eventually the character’s name came to mean the pants he wore. In England, pants still refer only to underwear.

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Pantaloons were made popular in 1812 by George Bryan “Beau” Brummell. He wore his with a foot strap (like modern ski pants) to keep the pants tight and avoid creases. Popular in the 1820s to mid-century, the loops called stirrup straps or Gaiter bottom trousers at the bottom of the trousers went under the shoes to hold the pants down. The earlier versions went under the stocking rather than the shoe.

A "stirrup" is a footrest attached to a saddle. The loops called "Stirrup straps" were a common part of cavalry uniforms. They were intended to prevent the pants from hiking up the leg while riding. Cavalry units were considered the elite troops of their time. Dress uniforms for officer ranks often included elements borrowed from those typical of cavalry units.

Also known as gaiter bottoms, the finest were cut as one piece along with the rest of the trousers. Some were sewn on after the trousers had been made. The fashion lived on as military uniform for a little longer than the 1870s until it was adopted by ski bunnies in the 1960s.

Brummell, buddy to the future King George IV, developed a dress code that anyone, not just royalty, could follow. He dispensed fashion tips and stressed quality and cleanliness (both novel ideas for the time). Brummell met the future King George IV in 1795 and charmed his way into his life. This gave him enormous exposure to proliferate his sense of style on the public. His friendship was also his ruin when he fell out of favor with the King.

Sailors had been wearing the looser fit work trousers since the 1580s since they allowed them to roll up the legs for wading ashore or climbing rigging.

The word “Trousers” was derived from the words “trouses” denoting “drawers”, “trousses” for trunk hose, “trousse” meaning “to cover, or “truss” (bundle) and/or from Scottish and Irish Gaelic “triubhas”.

They were looser than the tight pantaloons that were favored for daytime wear while pantaloons were more appropriate for evening attire. Trousers were worn over breeches when horseback riding to keep the more formal clothes clean.

Creases down the center of trousers didn’t gain popularity with the average guy until after the mid 1930s.

The unsubstantiated story (but fun) is that the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII (1901-1910), fell off his horse during a country ride in the mid-1880s. He was carried into a nearby cottage to rest while his clothes were cleaned and dried. In an understandable nervous state, the lady of the country cottage ironed the trousers with a sharp crease down the front. The King was pleased, and Royalty once again takes credit for a fashion fundamental.

Whether that story is true or not, it has been historically noted that the Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) appeared at the 1886 Derby wearing a pair of gray trousers with sharply-ironed front creases.

English King George V (1910-1936) insisted in having his trousers creased on the side seams, like jeans today. This was a Royal Navy tradition. The younger Royals and commoners begin favoring the front creases, maybe as a youthful rebellion against the old style side creases.

Pleats are folds on each side of the fly and are actually practical, they automatically widen at the hips when you sit giving you more room when you need it. Pleats also let you put more stuff in your front pockets including your hands without disturbing the drape. If you’re wearing the right size pants, pleats are actually slimming.

The word “pleat” is from the Old French word "pleit", which came from the Latin word "plicare" both meaning “to fold”.

There are two basic styles of pleats:

Forward or regular with the folds facing the fly.

Reverse with the folds facing the pockets. Reverse pleats seem to be the most slimming of the two styles.

When you try on pants make certain that the pleats lie flat, if they are pulling open, try the next larger size. One or two pleats on each side of the fly are plenty. Multiple pleats are a fashion excessive.

Pleats have been with us since 1825. They are traditional for business or social-dressy occasions. Plain front pants were in vogue during WWII when the government was trying to conserve material on military uniforms. The “no pleats” look returned as fashion in the ‘70s.

Cuffs or “turn-ups” date to the 1860s when members of the Windsor cricket club began rolling up their trousers to protect them from mud and water. Consequently, tennis players copied the look by rolling up their flannel trousers before hitting the courts.

English Royalty was seen in town wearing turn-ups and even to the Ascot races. British gentlemen began imitating the style, but the initial response was not positive.

There was pandemonium in the House of Parliament in 1893 when Viscount Lewisham appeared wearing cuffs on his trousers. Society disapproved of turn-ups, claiming that they collected dirt that would be brought indoors and that men had to take care to turn them down before entering a respectable indoor location.

The advantage of knee breeches worn in the 18th Century was that the hem was high enough off the ground that they were not likely to be soiled, and the stockings worn with knee breeches were much easier to launder.

But by 1880 tailors were putting cuffs onto trousers, and by the early 20th Century, cuffs had become an accepted variation on trouser bottoms.

Fashion Fundamental: Formal dress trousers are never cuffed because there could not possibly be any chance of mud at a formal occasion!

In the 1860s, knee pants were popular for sports such as hunting and golf. They took the form of loose breeches such as “plus fours” which came four inches below the knee. We still see this style on the golf course.

They continued popularity through the 1920s and ‘30s when they became known as Knickerbockers after a common last name of the New York Dutch who wore traditional knee pants.

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tried to reintroduce breeches in 1890, but the gentlemen of the day were rational in their rejection.

The state of mind held steady until 1925 when a hot summer was the excuse for Oxford Bags. The measurement of these loose pants at the leg bottom reached 40 inches. Invented and embraced by English Oxford University students, Bags were inspired by the loose trousers that oarsmen slipped on over their shorts. The extreme fashion didn’t last long, but reappeared as the pants to wear with the Zoot Suit in 1938.

Although not as extreme, another attempt at wide bottoms came when Pierre Cardin popularized bell-bottoms in the 1960s as a reaction to the new narrow shoulder suits. Jeans were also affected and affected during that time.

Another word, which is interchangeable with pants and trousers, is slacks, which was coined by the Haggar Corporation in the 1940s as a promotion for their casual pants, to be worn during your “slack” time between work and sports. Ed Haggar and Morris Hite are credited with coming up with the word.

And now, here at last is what you’ve all been waiting for:

Khaki (Chino) History:

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In 1846 Sir Harry Lumsden commanding an English troop in Punjab, India traded in his bright white Khakis for pajama bottoms to find relief from the heat. To disguise them he colored them to blend with the local terrain using mazari, a native plant. Thus, the birth of Khaki, the Hindu (Urdu) word for “dust”.

As a by-product, Lumsden discovered that the new Khaki pants were more suitable in battle than the white pants, and red tunic. Blending in was good. Khaki is a color, but is now synonymous with a military twill pant.

Khaki went from India to the ****** War in South Africa in 1851, and then after the Sudan Wars and Afghan Campaign of 1878 it was adopted in 1884 as the official uniform. The same year Khaki-color dye was patented, and was adopted by other armies, including America for the Spanish- American War in 1898.

Although not all armies were as willing to give up their brightly colored uniforms:
“Les pantaloons rouge, ils sont la France!”
-- Members of the French Army
Khaki color is a light tan, dark khaki or olive drab is a green or olive shade.

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were military issue pants, which were made in China. The British Khakis found their way into China where they were duplicated and sold to American soldiers in the Philippines for uniforms during World War I. Chinos don’t have to be twill but are often a firm weave of cotton. Chinos can be Khaki color. The military style had no pleats and was tapered at the leg bottom to conserve fabric. This pants style remained popular for the military through the Second World War. When soldiers returned to civilian life they continued to wear their military chinos especially to college.

Brooks’ Bros. started carrying chinos in 1942.

Currently they are interchangeable in meaning.

Photo credit: buritora/Shutterstock; Lisa F. Young/Shutterstock; Apollofoto/Shutterstock;; Everett Collection/Shutterstock; mariarita brunazzi/Shutterstock; Mark LaMoyne/Shutterstock; Ysbrand Cosijn/Shutterstock