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How to dress: the trousers formerly known as chinos

28 April 2012

In the ongoing fallout from the global banking crisis, the fate of one hapless victim is sometimes forgotten. Let us take a moment to consider the chino, an item of smart casual wear whose name has been dragged through the mud by association. The chino has long been linked with the weekend wardrobes of Goldman Sachs employees. Extraordinary as it now seems, this was once a neutral or even aspirational endorsement. It meant, simply, that they were trousers you might wear to a restaurant when eating with friends. Back in 2007, in a game of word association, if you had said "chino", I'd have said "brunch". But these days, if you say "chino", I think "bonus". Ouch.

Top-level talks around strategies to detoxify the chino brand are no doubt taking place as I write. In the meantime, we are left with the issue of what to wear when the day calls for a pair of trousers that are neither jeans nor what American Vogue calls "tailored pants" (that would be "work trousers" to you and me).

The requirements are as follows. The trousers can be wide-leg, skinny or (the easiest on most shapes) somewhere in between. The exact pocket set-up can vary (five-pocket jean style, or one tab pocket on the back, or slit pockets at the hip), but there must be a pocket somewhere, because trousers without pockets look too formal for our purposes. A hip-level pocket adds slouch factor without you even using it. The fabric should be more lightweight than classic denim, but heavier than silk. They should be hemmed or rolled to ankle length, so you can wear flats with them, rather than being of the leg-flattering longer length that demands you keep your heels on all day.

Neutrals – and in this I include chino-beige, khaki and denim blue, as well as black and white – might seem the path of least resistance, but they require you to liven them up, while a bright trouser can be worn with a grey marl T-shirt or black vest, keeping the tricky-on-the-complexion shade away from the face, where it can do no harm. Any colour – so long as it's a colour. And any name you like, so long as it's not chino.

• Jess wears trousers £45, by Banana Republic. Top, from a selection, by Raoul, from Fenwick. Shoes £68, by Office.

Photograph: David Newby for the Guardian. Hair and make-up: Celia Burton at Mandy Coakley.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012

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