Chino is a Spanish word translating as "China" or "Chinese." The term, which is synonymous with "khakis" when used to describe pants, migrated to the English language, when pants made of strong cotton fabric were used as part of military uniforms in both the UK and the US. In its simplest definition, they are merely pants for men made of cotton fabric imported from China. They also picked up the name "khakis" because the military standard in the UK was to dye these pants to a tan khaki color. The modern chino may be dyed any color, though tan, black, blue, and olive drab are the usual choices.
Chinos as military uniform were simple slacks with straight waists, no pleats, and a tapered leg. The fabric was durable, yet light, and suitable for wear in warm conditions, while providing adequate coverage. The khaki color became popular in the UK in the mid 19th century, particularly for blending into the landscape of India during the British occupation. In the late 19th century, American soldiers started wearing khakis as part of standard military wear.
The term "khakis" came first, and is a Hindi name for the word dust. "Chinos" came later after the Spanish American War, where US occupation of the Philippines resulted in a high number of Spanish terms entering the English language, since so many residents of the Philippines spoke Spanish. The American style of military pant was much like the British, a very simple design with no pleats, a zip and button front, and straight legs.
By the early 20th century, the American public began to wear chinos, especially to semi-informal gatherings. Young men might wear them to school or college. They quickly became associated by the 1940s with the preppy look, and the young men wearing them after World War II only reinforced this. The 1950s perhaps can be viewed as the highpoint for chino popularity. Most schoolboys and college men wore these pants, as it was not always acceptable to wear jeans, especially to school.
Popularity of khakis as everyday pants declined with growing trends toward wearing more casual clothing. Jeans have been, since the mid 1960s, the standard wear for attending school, although people will still see chinos worn for informal events, and most boys in private schools wear them. Design styles have changed too, and both men and women may wear today’s varieties.
People are likely to see dressier styles of these pants with pleated fronts, larger pockets, cuffs, and a variety of other small details. Styles for women can be full length or come in pedal pusher or low waist styles. Further, khakis aren’t necessarily always made of 100% cotton twill, and the fabric does not always come from China, as it used to for military issue uniforms. They may have some polyester or other stain resistant fabric blended with cotton. Instead of referring to the fabric, the name more often now refers to a style imitative of military issued pants.