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What’s the difference between khakis and chinos?

The question

What's the difference between khakis and chinos?

The answer

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Khaki is a colour; chino is a fabric (a sturdy cotton). So chinos may be of any colour, including khaki.

Indeed, I like to say that they should be of any colour but khaki, just because I find khaki a little dull. Since its first use in clothing, khaki (from Urdu and Hindustani meaning "dust-coloured") has served as military wear. Its main purpose is camouflage in dusty countries. It was for decades referred to in armies as drab – drab as a noun not as an adjective, but let's face it, it's drab. Do you want to be camouflaged?

Now, what is chino? You identify cotton chino by its weave: This kind of weave is called a twill; it has a pattern of diagonal parallel ribs. Denim is also a twill weave.

Don't be afraid of brightly coloured chinos in summer – red and blue are particularly trendy these days. But yellow chinos with a navy blazer (and leather shoes and no socks) would be fantastic and show that you were in the Advanced Class.

One word of warning about pastel colours though: Wear only one pastel item at a time. Combine pastels with dark colours and with white. Yellow pants and a pink shirt will make you look like an ice cream cone.

Novelist Russell Smith's memoir, Blindsided, is available as a Kobo e-book. Have a style question? E-mail style@globeandmail.com.

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