Chinos from tailors never feel like chinos. Why is this?
I used to think I knew the answer: the fabrics they used were too fine – dress cottons, made with fine fibres, finished for a sleek look and good drape.
Chinos, even luxury ones, are usually made from tougher fabrics. They’re coarser, denser, and more casual as a result.
Of course, often chinos are garment washed too, making them feel softer and look worn in.
But that wasn’t the central issue, because a lot of top-end chinos, often from Japanese makers, are not garment washed. They start raw, just like jeans, and the customer does the work through wash and wear.
I’ve since learned that it’s a bit more complicated than just materials.
And the result of getting to the bottom of it is an end product: real bespoke chinos, made by Whitcomb & Shaftesbury, shown above.
I know most people will be happy with ready-made chinos. For others, having them made by a bespoke tailor will seem ridiculously extravagant. The chinos will also, like most bespoke, be too expensive for the vast majority. These ones cost £528 (inc. VAT).
But I also know there are men that have trousers made bespoke already, and get frustrated at trying to find chinos. They may also only want one or two pairs ever, because it’s not what they normally wear.
For those guys, this could be a good option.
So, the first issue with bespoke chinos is that you can’t wash them.
With the high-end Japanese chinos mentioned above, it’s always assumed that a lot of their character will come with washing and wearing over time. It’s certainly what has happened with my favourites, such as these Armoury ones.
But bespoke clothes are not made to be washed in a washing machine. It’s normally an issue with inner materials rather than outer ones: canvas becomes distorted or bent out of place, and linings on the inside of the jacket or waistband don’t cope well either.
These bespoke chinos had to be washable, therefore. Whitcomb had done this occasionally in the past, so it wasn’t that difficult.
They removed the canvas from the structure of the waistband, used a simple cotton one on the inside of it, and reduced the amount of handwork (so these would be less likely to come undone in a machine).
The second point was less obvious, but more important: cut the chinos like jeans, not trousers.
Jeans and chinos have a very particular cut. Basically, the outside seam of the trouser is a straight line, and only the inside seam is shaped to the style and the wearer.
This is why jeans can show selvedge down the outside: it’s a straight line, not a curve.
The pattern for tailored trousers works from the middle of the trousers rather that the outer edge (the line of the crease). This is kept straight, with both the inside and the outside seams being shaped to the wearer.
Another way to think about it is that jeans are cut as if the wearer is riding a horse, with their legs unnaturally far part. Trousers are cut as if the wearer is standing naturally, with feet closer to shoulder width.
Tailors generally dislike the way jeans are cut because it creates a lot of fullness around the inside of the leg and the crotch. This can look baggy (although on a coarse material like denim you don’t really notice).
There is one advantage to this cut, though, which is that the material sits flush on the outside of the hips. If you put on a pair of jeans and a pair of tailored trousers and look in the mirror, it’s here that you’ll probably notice the difference.
With Whitcomb, we actually used some scrap material to make up trousers in both cuts – one tailored, one jeans/chinos – and I saw the difference immediately. The ones cut like chinos immediately felt like chinos.
(It’s annoyingly hard to get across in photos, unfortunately – we did try.)
So chinos cut like chinos, in a washable make so they would age/fade.
Next was sourcing some actual chino material – rather than what the normal mills offer, which is that fine/tailored/sleek/drape look.
The material you can see here is cotton canvas from Mikutex in Japan, the same one used by Blackhorse Lane for their chinos. (Annoyingly, Mikutex have since discontinued this particular line, but Whitcomb are in the process of testing the replacement.)
The final element was design. I brought in a range of chinos to Whitcomb, including new and vintage ones, so we could decide on which elements to choose. Like the cut, these make a huge difference.
The most important element was the double-stitched seams, which usually run down the inside or outside of the leg, or through the seat, on chinos. We went for the most common option, which was double stitching on the inside leg and seat.
Next was the lack of waistband. Most original chinos don’t have one, with the material running straight from the legs to the top, and only being visually separated by a seam (see above).
There’s also more visible stitching elsewhere, such as that attaching the turn-up inside, and on the outside of the pockets. Of course, these all become particularly prominent over time, as the chinos are washed and these points fade first (see below – these have had one wash).
The only design element we missed, in retrospect, was the height of the hip pockets. For some reason on chinos these are about an inch higher than on tailored trousers. Perhaps because they used to all be high waisted. When Whitcomb makes these for customers in the future, those pockets will be higher too.
The result is the best fitting and best made pair of chinos I have.
I don’t care so much about the finer making points, like the fact the buttonholes on the waistband and fly are sewn by hand.
More important is the fact the fit is as good as my bespoke trousers (the Blackhorse Lane MTM was great too, but it’s MTM rather than bespoke, and best thought of that way) and that I can now make chinos in any shape and design I want.
The only issues with getting all chinos made bespoke in the future will be cost (it is a lot for casual trousers, there’s no escaping that) and the available materials.
It will be good to see the new Mikutex cottons made up before I use them. And even then, this material isn’t my absolute favourite among chinos – I marginally prefer the right-hand twill of my Armoury ones or Real McCoys ones, but I don’t have a source for that yet.
Still, all of these materials are a world away from the cottons normally used by tailors. This is the only pair of trousers I’ve seen that deserves to be called bespoke chinos.
Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt