Difference Between Slacks and Dress Pants

We are pretty sure that most of us are on the same page, and for the longest time, we all thought that dress pants and slacks were pretty much the same things. At first glance, you’d probably think that slack pants are just a set of pants that fall under dress pants. There might be some truth to this, but there are quite a number of things that distinguish them from each other. 

Now the next question you must be thinking of is, “Does it really matter?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!” The devil is in the details, and if you want to elevate your outfit, it is definitely worth your time to understand the differences between the two, when you should wear it, and how you can pull off each look. But before we delve into all of that, it is always good to take a look at the past to understand why these pants were designed this certain way.

A Quick Blast from The Past

Pants, also known as trousers, have been worn by people for as long as Western civilization has been around. The main reason people started wearing pants was due to the discomfort people would experience while riding horseback in robes. They were later on adopted by multiple civilizations and were used as a garment for military use. At one point, pants were even cut shorter so that the leg openings would hug around the knees. In the 19th century, it was modernized to an ankle-length fit that was used by the working class. The form and structure of pants would change, as centuries passed to what we now know today.  Since then, we have seen how pants have evolved and come into the different categories we know today, such as khakis, chinos, jeans, sweatpants, slacks, dress pants, and many more. As with anything we do, what starts out as a necessity of practicality, is elevated in both form and function through fashion.

What Are Slacks?

The term "slacks" actually comes from the Saxon word, “slak” which describes objects that are not tight. It initially was not used for articles of clothing but actually referred to boating terms when it would come to sails or ropes. It was not until much later on until that the term slack was associated with clothing. Slacks are loose-fitting pants that earned their name due to their being worn during “slack time.” From this time on, black slacks for men would be worn by many. However, this is not the only thing that defines what slacks are today.

What Are Slacks Clothing Material Made of?

Aside from the fit, the material is what really sets slacks apart from all the other pants. It should not just fit loosely or hang freely; it should also be made from more classic materials such as different kinds of wool fabrics or a mixture of them. Another thing to take note of is that slacks should not be elastic and should just really hang loose. We know how you just want to show off your form with a pair of tight-fitting pants with some elastic material for comfort, but sometimes, you just cannot replace the classic fit that slacks give for men.

What Else Sets Slacks Apart?

pants

We know how confusing things can get between pants such as khakis, slacks, and chinos. Let’s set the record straight. If you are wondering “are khakis slacks?,” then here’s the answer. 

  • Slacks vs Khakis. The difference between the two is material. Khakis have a similar straight-leg fit, but are more casual when it comes to its cotton material. 
  • Slacks vs Chinos. Chinos, on the other hand, differ in their material and fit. Like khakis, chinos are made from cotton. Its fit is more tapered than the other two and the legs become narrower as it reaches your ankles.

When Should You Wear Slacks?

white shirt

Slacks are traditionally meant to be worn as formal wear, but now, some people can actually pull these pants off to add some class to their casual outfit. For formal wear, black slack pants can be paired with a good fitting dress shirt and an overcoat. For casual wear, you can go as simple as black or textured slacks with a tucked-in white t-shirt. Pair either outfit with leather shoes and socks that slightly contrast the color of your slacks. We’ll go into the particulars later on when we discuss when you can wear dress pants. 

What Are Dress Pants?

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Now that you know what slacks are, we can start discussing what dress pants are. Before anything else, let us address the elephant in the room. In case you are wondering if they are the same thing, then technically you are right. Slacks fall under the umbrella of dress pants. With all the new materials, cuts, and fits, formal dress pants have strayed away from the classic look that slacks offered back in the day. Slacks, by definition, are restricted to their material and fit while dress pants have broader options.

What Are Dress Pants Clothing Material Made of?

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Traditionally, it should be made of the same material slacks are made of – wool fabrics or a mixture of it. However, it is now more acceptable for dress pants to be made of more contemporary materials such as polyester or other synthetic fibers that make the material more elastic for a better and more comfortable overall fit. Some people have actually even used silk as material to give dress pants an even classier look. 

What Else Sets Dress Pants Apart?

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Again, just like slacks, the material and fit are what sets it apart from everything else. The closest you can get to dress pants are chinos and khakis. So, when it comes to chinos vs dress pants, you end up with the same answers. Cotton is simply a big no-no when it comes to formal wear. Chinos and khakis are probably at the middle ground of casual and formal pants. The cut and fit of chinos are now much more acceptable to contemporary formal wear though. We see a lot of different tapered or slim fit formal attires that are absolutely perfect for men to wear.

Another term that has been thrown around is “dress slacks.” This might just confuse you a lot more but if you have been wondering what dress slacks are, it is yet another name for slacks, which fall under the umbrella of dress pants. The term “men’s dress slacks” is just another play of words on the label of what dress pants are. 

When Should You Wear Dress Pants?

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As the name implies, dress pants should be worn to formal events. When you get a pair of dress pants, you usually get them from a tailor together with a 2 or 3-piece suit. This means that they both come hand-in-hand when you wear them. Here are the different ways you can wear your dress pants.

To a Wedding, Ball, or Other Formal Events

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For any of these events, you would most definitely be required to wear either a suit or a tuxedo. Both of these outfits require you to wear dress pants. So for these events, dress pants are an absolute must-wear.

To the Office

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If you work in an office with a strict dress code, you might already have a set of dress pants ready to wear. If you don’t then you might still want to consider getting a pair or two for those important meetings. For colder months, you might want to consider wearing your dress pants with the jacket or coat that is usually paired with it. If it is even colder out, you might even want to consider a scarf and an overcoat to keep you a lot warmer. In the summer, you might want to lose the outer layers and just stick with a dress shirt and your dress pants. You can play around with the colors but nothing beats a classic white dress shirt paired with quality dress pants. Just remember to match the color of your leather shoes and belt.

To Casual Events

black

Dress pants are a great way to elevate your casual outfit. Give it some time away from your suit and dress shirt and pair your dress pants with a t-shirt or a polo shirt. If you’re tucking your top into your pants, make sure to wear a belt. You can even consider folding up the ends of your pants and pairing it with a nice pair of sneakers or loafers.

So… Is There Really a Difference?

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Yes… And… No… As we have been discussing since the start of this article, the two are technically the same. Slacks are pants that fall under the bigger umbrella of dress pants. What sets slacks apart from all the other dress pants are the materials it is made out of and its fit. 

However, there still is a point to all of this. Although slacks would still offer that classic straight-cut look, it is still definitely worth exploring the different kinds of dress pants. And now that you know the difference in terms and how to style your dress pants, it might be a little bit easier for you to find your own perfect fit. So, if you haven’t gotten a pair for yourself yet, at least you’ll have an easier time understanding what material and fit would suit your needs better. 

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