The word came to my attention as the result of a list in the Telegraph newspaper of Twenty Five Items Of Clothing Every Man Needs In His Life (yes, I'll read anything).
One item read as follows:
When jeans won't cut it and a suit just feels a little too much, a good pair of chinos still covers you in that middle ground, as it has for decades.
photo by Kuha455405
It's always been my opinion that the chief function of jeans, suits and chinos is to cover you in that middle ground.
But anyway, that word chinos...
My nearest dictionary says origin obscure, but Google (Google itself) is confident that the word comes from the South American Spanish word for toasted, because of the colour of the cloth.
Does anyone out there own a pair of chinos the colour of toast?
Wikipedia, on the other hand, speaks of a cotton twill chino cloth developed in the mid 1800s for British military uniforms. The Americans military started wearing trousers made of the stuff when they were in the Philippines during the Spanish-American war, and because this cloth was made in China the garments were called pantalones chinos (Chinese trousers) or chinos for short (or, indeed, shorts).
So who is right?
Well, the obvious problem with the toasted theory is that chinos were first made in the colour called khaki, and that nothing you toast goes khaki (khaki comes from the Urdu khāk, which means dust).
Further research has come up with a young British soldier called Harry Lumsden:
He was soldier in India and in 1848, with his subaltern, William Hodson, he came up with the idea of making uniforms khaki-coloured (khaki because dust was involved in the manufacture of the dye) because the traditional white military trousers were both impractical and dangerously visible. So the cloth was made in India to start with, and the trousers were called khakis.
Chinos made in every colour, now, so they really did need a new name. And chinos meaning made in China makes sense to me.