You know the pants. You’ll be swiping through your friends’ Instagram stories when you’re suddenly watching a headless dude yank aggressively at the crotchal region of his chinos, the fabric stretching like Katherine Helmond’s face in Brazil. Three taps later, another version of that guy appears for a different chinos brand, cockily monologuing about how well his pants handle his athletic ass, right before he—surprise!—drops into a set of barbell squats while wearing the chinos. A couple more taps, and a third guy in a cubicle farm says this other brand’s chinos feel like sweats but look like khakis, though they mostly look like tights and feel like a mountain climbing jacket. He owns all seven colors!
The Chino Startup Industrial Complex says that our pants need to be as optimized as our LinkedIn bios. These companies promise that they’ve fixed everything “wrong” with chinos; they’ve made them stretchier, slimmer, sportier, tapered-er until they can’t taper any harder. They’ve taken the very concept of pants and run them through the algorithm, coming out the other side with khakis that go from rise-and-grind to tee time in zero seconds flat.
But these Target-Marketed Chinos? They’re missing something important.
Even if you don’t give a flying Bottega Veneta about the fashion world or the ways that it unabashedly exists—as runway shows and seasonal trends and [cough] stunningly-photographed, celebrity-studded fashion shoots in award-winning magazines—there’s no avoiding fashion’s overarching pendulum swings. Shifts happen slowly in menswear. But they happen nonetheless. Right now, what’s happening is a move back toward bigger pants.
At GQ we’ve been talking about bigger pants—chinos, yes, but also dress pants, and denim, and suiting—for a few years now. We’re the ones standing on the prow of the Good Ship Menswear with the binoculars, looking to see what’s over the horizon. It’s our job to be early on this stuff. For a while we’ve seen fashion’s cyclical tendencies revisiting the vibes of the ’80s and ’90s, when oversized and slouchy styles owned the racks. But listen: bigger pants aren’t coming; they’re here.
Bigger pants are already big business, which is why all the dominant mall brands are on board. Have been for a while. And these bigger chinos? They solve all the supposed problems that those “optimized”, target-marketed chinos set out to fix. The right pair will be a gateway drug for your wardrobe.
Take Gap’s Modern Khakis in Baggy Fit with GapFlex. I know, the name rolls off the tongue. That’s because it’s speaking the lingua franca of target-marketed chinos while pushing them forward. Here, “Baggy Fit” actually means they’re just not slim-fit. Bigger, but not big. (Certainly not “giant”.) They’re still trim and business-like up top. There’s no calf-clinging taper, but the legs don’t go zoot-suit wide—they’re classic-straight, like a pair of Levi’s 501s. And that last word in the name, “GapFlex”? It’s the brand’s marketing jargon for “a bit of stretch.”
Add it all up, and these Gap khakis check the right boxes. They’re made of cotton, a good and honest fabric. They’re forgiving where it matters, highlighting your squat-honed ass and letting your thighs dance with ease. They’re as comfortable as a set of broken-in sheets, and still as versatile as every other pair of chinos ever made. Go grindset mode with a sportcoat and some sneakers. Try ’em with loafers and a cardigan. Yes, of course, pair them with a flannel and boots and a local craft beer. Don’t worry if you spill—like those target-marketed chinos, Gap’s Modern Khakis are water- and pilsner-resistant.
Like the last T-rex strolling the earth, those target-marketed chinos are about to go extinct. They just don’t know it yet. These Gap khakis—and similar, slightly bigger khakis from J.Crew, Banana Republic, Abercrombie, yada yada yada—are precisely attuned to the pendulum swing of men’s style without ever making you feel like you’re wearing “fashion” with a hard F. They’ll put you at the most optimal part of the menswear bell curve: not too far ahead, not at all behind. With an ass for days.