The Transition To Chinos

What is happening to me!? No sooner have I turned 30 than my to-do list includes the line "Buy some chinos".

I kid ye not. I actually scribbled that down on a piece of paper. This weekend I went and did it - bought some chinos. Why? Business trips!

Consider this photo of me at LotusSphere in 2003. Compared to Yann and Steven I look like a scruff-bag. Jeans and t-shirt untucked just doesn't wash in business-land.

Now, I can do two forms of dress - very smart or very casual. What I've never been able to do is business casual or (especially) "sports casual", whatever that means. There are times when I have to go places and I know a suit is too much but jeans won't do. This is where chinos come in. I have a couple of business trips coming up and now have a suitable wardrobe. I hope.

Needless to say Karen is none too happy with the whole thing. She says she's doesn't feel ready for a boyfriend who wears chinos. She insisted she came shopping with me and we found some without turnups or too many pleats. We've agreed I never wear them in her presence.

Personally I think they look ok. All I need now is to dress the top half. How though? What's business/sports casual? Do I just need a few polo shirts? Should they be tucked in to my trousers (pants to you Americans) and should I get a belt too? This transition from boy-band member lookalike to man of semi-classy business attire is not an easy one.


  1. Jake,

    I believe sports casual comes from here:


    Definitely something to aspire to!


    p.s. polo shirt + chinos - belt is definitely required!

    • avatar
    • Jake Howlett
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 04:36 AM

    Aha. Alan Partridge. Actually, one of the trips is to Paris. Shame I'm not driving there and have no excuse to buy some "string-back gloves".

    • avatar
    • Dave W
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 04:42 AM

    That business "smart casual" is always a tricky one.

    Luckily here in Norway as consultants its perfectly normal to show up at a client meeting in jeans and t-shirt. In fact, if you showed up in a suit (or in some places even smart casual), they'd think it was to cover up your lack of knowledge.

    • avatar
    • Mike
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 05:35 AM

    Jake - grow your hair, tie-dye t-shirt (Grateful Dead or AC/DC logo?), bermuda shorts and sandals (WITH SOCKS!)

    We need to make this the corporate definition of business casual!!

    Soon, all will follow your lead!


    • avatar
    • Mer
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 05:41 AM

    They gave women intuition for a reason. Listen to her, for she knows the true path to enlightenment.

  2. Very funny. It's also true. What do you wear between a suit and too casual. It's a problem I've never solved. I say wait for some Americans to come on, they seem to be the experts at it I've found.

    Always pass it by the other half though, always worth the final quality check.

  3. Betwen suit and too casual? Definitely khakis and a collared shirt. The shirt can be either a golf shirt or , as I tend to wear, a regular starched shirt without a tie.

    Oh, and the shoes are important too. I'll wear wing-tips for formal and some Dockers brand casual shoes. In my opinion, the entire Dockers line is pretty much business casual.

    • avatar
    • Ben
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 06:35 AM

    You want the perfect shirt? Easy, Marks and Sparks Blue Harbour plain short-sleeved linen shirts.


    They're cool and casual but look very smart when you've ironed them. Far smarter then polo shirts and not as stuffy as normal work shirts (which I think never look right with Chinos). I've got around 15 of them and rarely wear anything else.

    They're also great for hols and they're nice and cool and comfy in hot weather.

  4. Bah, I say. You can always judge a true techy by his clothes.

    I live by this rule: messy wardrobe = clean code.

    • avatar
    • Jono
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 08:55 AM

    You'd never catch me in cheesy chinos either - you can find some fairly casual smart trousers around without resorting to chinos surely!

    • avatar
    • Brian Miller
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 09:14 AM

    It's pretty simple, when it comes down to it.

    Business casual, officially, consists of:

    a) A shirt with a collar, neatly pressed. The top button of which should be open. (Don't wear a tie.) (It's probably also in your best interest to wear a plain white t-shirt underneath, YMMV.) You can wear it non-tucked-in as long as it's made to support that option (i.e. The bottom is horizontal, and not over-long). Or, you can tuck it in, which probably looks better on more slender folks.

    b) Virtually any non-denim pants, also neatly pressed. Most of the time, not-pleated looks better (and less formal) than pleated. Whether you call them chinos, trousers, khakis, or whatever the marketing product name du jour is, it all boils down to a relatively wrinkle-free pair of pants that aren't blue jeans.

    That's it. It's pretty simple.

    • avatar
    • David H
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 09:18 AM

    Funny thing did happen 2 months ago. At the Advisor conference it said the attire was Resort Casual. I figured that meant business casual and packed my Dockers and polos. When I walked into the first session, half the people were in shorts or jeans and T-Shirts, the other half were dressed business casual. I wish someone would just stick to naming convention so us yahoos don't have to guess :)

    Here in the US, about 6-7 years ago, we drifted towards business casual every day at the office. Greatest thing ever because I got to throw away 30 ties I had acquired over the years.

    Now, we are starting to incorporate denim days, which I hope will lead to denim every day.

    But, there's the old school thought which thinks you have to look professional to be a professional. What the f@%& does that mean? As if all of the sudden I can't communicate or work because god forbid I am comfortable and can breath without that tie around my neck.

    If everyone died and left me in charge, you better believe it would be casual attire. Don't get me wrong, I think you have to leave some things (i.e. bathing suites, flip flops and tank tops) for the beach, but why not be comfortable?

    At my company I never ever see a client from the outside. In fact, I work in a different city from the headquarters where all the stiffs work. We are all IT people so why not look like it?

    And Jake, if you are 30 and only now buying chinos, you are a lucky man.

  5. When I was consulting, going from client to client, I dressed in "upper"-business casual I'd say - that was, a pressed colored dress shirt (ie., royal blue, slate blue, maroon red, etc. but definately long sleeves) and a pair of wrinkle-free slacks. The shoes would alternate with the color-scheme of the outfit, but were typically dressier than what I would wear to, for instance, the office environment.

    I think it really depends on who your client is. If you're meeting with geeks, then only geeks know that a true geek wears what is comfortable to them so they can concentrate on the task at hand. Business-class people still act as though they're in high-school; they tend to listen to, want to be around, and respect the kid with the sharper look.

    I remember a time when I had to have someone tag along with me to a client. Now, I dressed at the office "in what [I] wore to bed last night" according to one of the sales guys, but when I was onsite I showed up in an royal blue pressed shirt and a pair of black slacks, nice shiney dress shoes and cleanly shaven not a hair out of place. I knew I was training 50+ Sales and Marketing people, with not one geek in the room aside from the project lead. My coworker showed up in what I can only describe as a lime-green jumpsuit, glowing red lipstick, and her equally vibrant red hair "all a'flutter".

    When I would say something, people smiled, digested my comment/statement and responded. When she said anything, she was met with a "and who the hell is this?!" responce from the crowd - complete with eye-rolls, neighbor-to-neighbor chats, and uncaring interruption, typically mid-statement.

    The moral of my story: save the grab-ass clothes for your daily wear, but you are your business - people aren't going to see your wonderful code the first time they meet you - they'll see the "sandals with socks"-wearing geek who they'll ignore for their RIMs and think no matter what you say it'll be over their head and not worth their time.

    Your mileage may vary...


    • avatar
    • Axel
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 11:16 AM

    Find some people who know where and when buy quality business casual stuff cheap.

    At least in Germany: If you know the right outlets and their bonus-everything-cheaper days you save lots of money.

    • avatar
    • James
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 11:24 AM

    Shirt with chinos? Got to be John Brocklehurst....


  6. Collared shirts are a definite must. If you can find them, you'll do yourself a big favor by getting wrinkle free (usually a lower % of cotton and lighter weight fabric with rayon / polyester blend) or some times called "hassle free" or "no-care" shirts and pants(slacks/dockers/trowsers...) .

    Nothing worse than pulling out a good outfit that you discover needs ironing/pressing. I hate to do it and my wife doesn't have the time, so out of the 20 or so shirts I have, 5 wrinkle free models get the most use.

    And, by all that's holy, don't go without a belt!!

  7. Here in the U.S. the dress code is all over the place, but it really depends on the client and what stage of the project you're in. YOu can probably be more casual for follow-on visits, but initially it pays to look like you're a respectable, polished professional when you're pitching your goods or have meetings. Chinos, good shoes, a collared shirt (button down is safest, long sleeve or short) tucked in, a belt !! are good bets. Polos are good after you have the job. And a casual blazer worn over a polo or other shirt is a great way to ride the balance between stuffy and too casual.

    • avatar
    • Jake Howlett
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 01:37 PM

    Mike in Canada did some PSing and came up with this freaky photo:

    Would you give that man a job? I think he looks quite dapper.

  8. Looks honest enough to trust with the coffe making chores. ;-)

  9. Try the Marks & Sparks non-iron short-sleeve shirts - bit limited in colours, but I love them - just sling them in the dryer after washing then hang them. No ironing required - deep joy! Only problem is the collar gets a bit 'flappy' after a while.

    I wear a pair of deep-coloured casual trousers from Marks as well (I'm an M&S kind of guy!), but not chinos - I don't feel that they are neccessarily smart enough for all business-caual requirements.

    Tony (Man at M&S!)

  10. Jake. I'd hire you so long as the belt matched the shoes. Beyond that, I care little for skill, talent, or fashionability.

    • avatar
    • Carl
    • Mon 12 Sep 2005 09:21 PM

    Just be sure not to go all American and get slip on shoes with tassles!

  11. May I point out as one of nature's scruffs (and overweight as well, which is partly why I loathe smart dress, as it just makes me so uncomfortable and hot) that

    a) If a person's clothing (within reasonable limits - even I wouldn't wear a 'never mind the bollocks' t-shirt at work) is a measure of their ability or commitment, than I must have missed that meeting. I don't believe I get more done on a Friday (dress-down day), but it feels like it. I feel VERY strongly about this.

    b) How sad is it that this posting from Jake got more comments than most!!!!

    • avatar
    • Chris
    • Tue 13 Sep 2005 04:11 AM

    I suspect that using the adjective "business" is a crude ploy to obtain a tax write off.

    • avatar
    • Jason
    • Tue 13 Sep 2005 07:45 AM

    Personally, the day I wear chinos is the day you can put me in my grave.

    However, 2 variations on business casual:

    1. Casual suit with tee-shirt

    2. Denim Jeans (smart) with jacket

  12. I'm so pleased to discover I'm not the only person who is perfectly happy in pure smart or pure casual, but completely lost in the world of "sports casj".

    I've stuck with Dockers for a few years - for me the big challenge is decent shoes!!

  13. Hi,

    By the way how much do you pay for a chino?


  14. Sigh....I had a job that allowed me to wear gym shorts, flip flops and a t-shirt to work every single day. I'm pretty sure I did it in the winter. If it was too cold, I'd wear sweats. Oh, and I might put on sneakers instead of flip flops...maybe even with socks. THAT job kicked ass. (not just because of the dress code, but those folks were into results, not BS)...

    But, alas, the bubble burst and our funding ran out before we could turn a profit. They took the business up to Pittsburgh after the Vulture Capitalists left us hanging here and i think they're still at it today. Not with the same attitude though. All stuffy now.

    • avatar
    • Jim Jennett
    • Thu 15 Sep 2005 03:36 PM

    Never tuck anything into the waistband other than a smart shirt. Those dudes @ LotusSphere should be doing time for sartorial crime. One even has a *brown* belt... That is like, Death Row straight away!

    Formal: May as well go for the whole Captain of Industry, Alan Clark look.

    Casual: T, jeans and trainers/kicks/sneakers whatever your local noun. Sketey ones are better than running ones.

    Smart Casual: as above, swap the jeans for shoes and a single-breasted jacket. For extra post-grad pimp points, a tweed one. Leather elbow pads for maximum points.

    Go for it!

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