There are two essential casual pants: blue jeans and chinos.
For every other situation that doesn’t call for a suit, there is only one: gray wool.
Even more than the blue blazer, the gray pant is a staple of the well-dressed man. Virtually every sportcoat will look well paired with gray pants. In fact, some suggest that if a sportcoat doesn’t pair with gray pants, you shouldn’t bother buying it. Gray pants are a foundation: they are the first pants you should buy, and probably the second and third, as well.
Truth be told, you will likely need more than one pair of gray pants. Flannel is the best fabric for winter. It’s warmer, and it has been a favorite for decades because it wears and drapes so well. In the summer months, you’ll need something lighter in weight – probably a worsted. If you live somewhere genuinely hot, you should consider a pair in a very light weight wool designed for hot weather, like a fresco.
The matter of styling is up to you. The current style tends toward a slim, flat-front pant. I have a pair of Brunello Cucinelli flannels in this style, and they’re wonderful with a trim coat. I also have a pair of Polo flannels that are notably wider in the leg, with double reverse pleats, for when I’m feeling a little more classic. My worsteds are by Incotex, with some a little wider than the others.
A mid-gray will be most versatile. Darker grays are a little more sober, but a little tougher to pair. Lighter grays are in style at the moment, and can look quite elegant, but are a little less serious-looking. Serious-looking, of course, is a good quality if you’re buying just one pair.
Gray pants are the garment that you’ll go to again and again. It is the rare outfit that features a jacket, but not a suit that wouldn’t look great with a pair of mid-gray pants. Other colors – like khaki or navy blue – should get in line well behind gray. Seriously: at least two, maybe three or four pairs of gray pants before you buy any other color.
(Above pants, in charcoal gray, by Howard Yount)