Remember the character on Seinfeld whose job was thinking up fancy words for clothing to put in the Land's End catalog?
That's a real job, and it's a real hassle for most shoppers, especially online where everything is guided by search engines.
Simple terms like “shirt” and “pants” are too general for most internet sites to narrow down.
It takes specific terms to limit the results to the items you're actually looking for, and most men don't know those terms by heart.
We thought we'd help. This is the first of a couple Real Men Real Style posts that break down broad categories into the specific terms as they're being used today.
Use them in conjuction with descriptive words to narrow your searches down: “gray wool slacks” will return a much narrower set of choices than “men's dress pants,” and so on.
- Trousers is the most common word for a tailored pair of pants, and generally denotes a formal garment with a waistband, belt loops, and fly front. In the UK the term is used more generally and refers to pants of any kind, while pants is used to refer to undergarments.
- Slacks originally denoted less formal, untailored men's trousers, and still usually refers to off-the-rack dress pants, especially those made of smooth wool knits (which hang loose and smooth, hence “slack”). Something specifically described as a pair of “slacks” in this day and age will likely be loosely fitted compared to most dress trousers.
- Khakis was first used to refer to uniform pants worn by various British forces, but now has become another mostly-generic word for dress-casual trousers, particularly in light cotton weaves. Some manufacturers will only use the word to refer to pants in the light tan color of the same name, while others will sell “khakis” in a variety of colors. The term does denote a certain casualness, and will not be used to describe dress trousers that might be worn with a suit.
- Chinos is another word that originally described a style of military uniform trousers. While khakis can be quite informal and varied in style, “chinos” still usually refers to plain-fronted (unpleated) dress trousers similar to those worn as part of a suit. They can come in any color, but are most traditionally a light beige.
Chino is also a specific cotton weave with a soft and lightweight texture, but it is now possible to buy trousers listed as “chinos” that use a different weave. This is inaccurate usage, and may be a sign that the manufacturer is not particularly skilled.
- Corduroys refer to trousers made out of the specific corduroy fabric, which has a distinctive ridged pattern. Corduroys can come in any color and a wide variety of styles, and are generally considered to be on the informal side of things, serving as dress-casual or casual wear regardless of their color or cut.
- Jeans are informal, denim trousers in any color. They are traditionally not considered appropriate outside of casual settings, but are beginning to appear in modern fashion as an accompaniment to sport coats.