5 Alternatives to Jeans
Do you wear jeans? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably “yes.”
For some people jeans are their uniform and they wear them every day no matter what the occasion. Why not? Jeans are always in fashion, they’re comfortable and (depending on the style) can be dressed up or dressed down with very little effort.
But what if you want to get away from the denim and into something else?
This article will look at 5 Alternatives to Jeans, and guide you through understanding each option and how to wear them - and what types of footwear to pair them with.
Ready to get started? Good!
The first thing you should know about chinos is that they’re not khakis. Although the two have become somewhat synonymous, and have similarities, they are different types of pants.
Khakis started life in 1848 in India when the Commandant of the Corps Sir Harry Lumsden saw a need to provide the troops with gear appropriate for the hot climate. He delegated this task to W.S.R. Hodson, the Second in Command of the Guides, who in-turn commissioned his brother back in England to fulfill the order which included helmets and enough so-called drab material to outfit 900 men.
Upon arrival, the material was dubbed “khaki,” after the Hindi word khak which translates into “soil” or “dust” as the neutral color was the perfect camouflage for the dusty environment. The material was a bit rough and durable, but flowed and was breathable - ideal for the hot climate.
Another story tells us that it was the British commander himself who, inspired by the Indian infantry, dyed his uniform with a blend of curry, coffee and mulberry to create the sandy color. In any case, the khaki uniform was adopted throughout the British armed forces and became part of standard issue military gear.
Chinos first appeared in a different theater of war some 50 years later. In 1898 American troops stationed in the then Spanish colony of the Philippines during the Spanish-American War started wearing pants made from a lightweight, cotton twill material sourced from China. The textile was quickly named “chino,” the Spanish word for “Chinese,” and it stuck.
Relegated to military use for decades, chinos entered the mainstream when GIs returning from World War II continued wearing them when they reentered civilian life.
In the 1960s the style became popular amongst the collegiate set who wore them with school sweaters, and came to be a symbol of preppiness and a certain social standing. So much so that men even began pairing them with a button-down shirt, tie and blazer for dinner at the country club.
Soon enough the chino was being worn seemingly everywhere, and in many colors. While the khaki color had long been a favorite, chinos became available in navy and royal blue, light yellow, lime green, pastel pink and a host of other colors. Men’s chinos were here to stay. Or were they?
Like most everything that enjoys popularity, chinos began to fall out of favor in the late-1980s / early 1990s given the somewhat boxy and baggy look of the day. Even though they didn’t disappear completely, chinos had a reemergence in the early 2000s. The slimmer, more tapered rendition was a return to the original version and was a hit.
Some fashion experts say that chinos are the best alternative to jeans because they are so comfortable and versatile. The lightweight, breathable fabric is particularly suitable to wear on warmer days, but it can also be worn comfortably in late spring or early autumn before the temperature starts to drop.
With a tapered cut that is wider at the thighs and hips and narrower at the ankles - and no pleats - chinos are considered to be more casual pants. This gives you a lot of freedom. Pair your chinos with a polo top, a t-shirt, a sweater or jacket. Roll the cuffs up or leave them straight.
Sneakers and loafers are the go-to footwear to wear with chinos. But, you can also throw on a pair of suede boots, pull-up leather Derbies or wingtip Oxfords.
Chinos can also be dressed up, as mentioned earlier. A crisp button down shirt (with or without a tie) topped with a blazer or sport jacket and paired with cap-toe Oxfords or dressy boots makes for a very attractive outfit.
With roots dating back over 4,000 years ago to Ancient Egypt, linen is a sustainable material made from the fibers inside the stalks of the flax plant, linum usitatissimum.
This plant thrives in cool, damp environments and doesn’t like the extreme heat. Being an annual plant, flax lives for only a single growing season, and is usually harvested at around a hundred days after seeding. It’s hardy and requires little water or looking after and has been cultivated around the world.
After a multi-step process involving harvesting, removal of the seeds and separating the plant stock from the fibers. Then the fibers are spun into yarn and woven into fabric. Linen can be up to three times stranger than cotton. It’s also anti-bacterial, porous with heat conducting and moisture-wicking capabilities, and dries quicker than cotton.
Originally worn only by the very wealthy, thanks to improved manufacturing techniques and wider cultivation, linen eventually became available to a much broader population. Nowadays you can find linen sheets, pillows, tablecloths, curtains, clothes and other products.
Even though more people can enjoy linen, it’s still considered to be a high-end item. That said, when properly cared for, linen should last for a long time and being a biodegradable material it has a very small carbon footprint - especially if it’s organic.
The natural, neutral grey color of linen allows it to be used without dying, however, it does absorb and hold pigment really well. Linen pants are typically worn in warmer weather and can be cut casually for a loungewear look, elegantly for a nice beach holiday or more formally for a linen suit.
Dress linen trousers up with a polo top, blazer and a pair of monkstraps. A button down shirt, tie, sport coat and wingtip oxfords are always a great look. Jazz your linen up with a pair of suede loafers, a t-shirt and an open, loose shirt on top. For a more relaxed look, cuff your pants up and hop into a pair of minimalist sneakers with no show socks, or go sockless.
For the finishing touches, top off your look with a nice hat and a pair of sunglasses. Don’t worry about the creasing and wrinkling, that’s a natural and attractive part of wearing linen.
For some reason seersucker always makes me think of spring. Maybe it’s because the material is a warm weather standard, or perhaps it’s because when I was younger I imagined myself wearing a crisp, blue striped seersucker suit, bordeaux brogued oxfords and a straw hat at an Easter parade. That never happened (which is probably a good thing), but I do have seersucker pants and shorts that I absolutely love.
Seersucker was created in India and was called shir o shekar, after the Persian expression meaning “milk and sugar” because of the alternately rough and smooth pinstripes of the striated material. Due to the breathability and cooling effect of the puckered fabric, seersucker became the fabric of choice across the British colonies. At the beginning of the 20th century a heavier version of the material became standard issue workwear for laborers toiling in the hot sun in the United States.
Some time in the 1920s Princeton University students started wearing the fabric, perhaps as a sign of rebellion against a starchy institution. Then, in the 1930s, a major retailer of fine men's clothes introduced seersucker suits. Long gone were the workwear roots, and seersucker became synonymous with the well-to-do or Southern politicians. After losing some popularity given the skewed associations, seersucker had a resurgence and remains a perennial favorite sported by people in pretty much all walks of life.
Traditionally woven from cotton, contemporary seersucker might be cotton blended with synthetics like nylon, spandex or polyester. For a low key look, pair your seersucker pants with a crew-neck t-shirt and low top sneakers in pebbled leather. Dress it up with a double breasted navy blazer, pink button down shirt and refined tassel loafers. Relax with a Cuban collared shirt, seersucker pants and effortless horsebit loafers.
The origins of corduroy fabric, or “cord,” can be traced back to 200 BC in Ancient Egypt and a cotton weave called “fustian,” so-called after the city of Fustat where it was created. The heavy cloth had a raised nap similar to velvet or moleskin and was popular on its home soil for centuries.
During the Middle Ages, the fabric was brought by Spanish and Italian to Western Europe where it became a favorite amongst the aristocracy. King Henry VIII of England had many garments made from this material as it provided warmth and an attractive look for his bulky frame.
It wasn’t until the late 17th or early 18th century with the invention of new weaving technology, that the fabric underwent something of a change. The cotton was now weaved with a ribbed surface raised over tightly bound weaves. This is the corduroy we know and love today.
The name itself was most likely a compound word made up of “cord,” signifying the tufted, undulating pattern known as wales, and “duroy” referring to a coarse woolen textile. The first-known uses for this reinvented textile was as workwear during the Industrial Revolution in Manchester, England. So associated is it with that place that it’s sometimes referred to as “manchester.”
The number of wales or ridges per inch indicates the grade of corduroy. The higher the number, the finer the cord. The “average” number of wales is 14.
Corduroy was used to make breeches for the Women’s Land Army during World War II and became really popular in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time it seemed absolutely everyone had at least one, if not more, items of corduroy clothes (I know I did).
College students, beatniks, musicians and professors all adapted the look to their own lifestyle. Some ten years later, it was adopted by California surfers in the 1980s and then grunge rockers in the 1990s. Throughout all that time, and to the present day, corduroy has been a lushly comfortable and durable material to be worn in the country.
A general rule of thumb is not to wear more than one piece of corduroy clothing at a time. It’s a good guideline, but feel free to break it if you would like.
Corduroy pants, shirts and jackets are a mainstay of many wardrobes. It’s no surprise considering the durability, fluidity and versatility of this fabric. The suitability depends chiefly on the number of wales, the cut and the color. Deep brown, olive green, black, burgundy and rust are some of my favorites.
Keep in mind that jumbo cords (thicker wales) are better suited for slimmer frames, whereas fine, narrow cords “lengthen” the appearance of your silhouette.
Try combining fabrics, colors and textures for an attractive ensemble. Cords always look great with casual footwear, like Chelsea boots, chukka boots, Derbies and German Army Trainers. Layer your tops with a sweater and a Harris tweed jacket for an attractive look. Dressier cords can be complemented with a pair of cap toe oxfords or sleek, side-zip boots. Add an over-the-shoulder leather briefcase for a sartorial statement.
Wool trousers offer a wonderful alternative to jeans, and to the other types of pants we’ve already talked about. Typically woven from yarn made of sheep’s hair, the wool used for pants is soft, sturdy and allows your skin to breathe.
Men’s wool trousers offer different options with a wide variety of weights, patterns, colors and cuts, ranging from a casual cut to a more formal appearance.
For example, a pair of grey flannel trousers can be combined with other elements such as a crisp button down shirt in white or blue, sport jacket and wholecut oxford shoes for a classic, formal look. Brogued boots bring the formal quotient down as do tassel loafers, while maintaining a classy aesthetic. Throw on a pair of retro-inspired sneakers and a fitted t-shirt for the ultimate in casual cool.
Switch it up with a pair of workwear inspired cap toe boots, a chunky sweater or a loose-fit, deconstructed t-shirt.
Mohair wool is made from the shaggy hair of Angora goats and is usually blended with other fibers to create a strong and resilient fabric. Given the process involved with creating mohair, it is more expensive than conventional wool and is often put on the same level as cashmere or Angora (made from the fur of Angora rabbits).
With a slight luster and solid structure, mohair trousers look great with a blazer, dress shirt and horsebit loafers. You can also pair tapered mohair pants with a tailored sport coat, Chelsea boots or Balmoral boots for a slender look. Single or double monkstraps would look particularly fetching with a pair of checked wool trousers and a pullover sweater.
Next time you’re tempted to reach for your tried-and-true jeans, consider putting something different on. This guide was all about alternatives to jeans but is in now way meant to be the final answer. There are other options like cargo pants and suit trousers you might consider. For more suggestions, check out my article A Guide to Men’s Loungewear and Athlesiure.
Whichever pants styles you enjoy, pull your look together with a fine leather belt or suede belt.
Merino wool socks are always a smart choice and pair well with all footwear and look great with all of your trousers. I encourage you to buy responsibly and research the brands you purchase from to be sure they are following ethical manufacturing processes.
Please let me know what styles of pants you’re trying out, and how you will be styling them by leaving a comment below.
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