Other than court appearances and funerals, a great pair of jeans can be your go-to trousers for almost any occasion, from work to a date to a night out. They can also be found at just about any price and in a mind-boggling array of styles and washes, so searching for a new pair can feel like a full-time job.
Which is why the next time you buy a pair of jeans, you should invest in something versatile, like one of the 10 options we’ve identified below. While die-hard denim-heads are embracing a fuller, workwear-influenced shape that’s a throwback to the 1950s, most guys can rely on a slimmer, more classic silhouette. They shouldn’t fit like yoga tights, but most guys will want to aim for a cut that’s just a little closer to the body, streamlined through the leg. And after sifting through an almost literal mountain of the best options on the market, we’ve identified 10 pairs of jeans (at different prices), so we could recommend a few that would work for everybody and every body. But first, here’s are the three biggest considerations to make before you buy.
Denim traditionally starts out as a deep, dark, inky-blue fabric, dyed with indigo. The magic happens once the fabric is stitched into jeans, the five-pocket style, and get washed in massive — and increasingly eco-friendly — washing machines. Sometimes stuff is tossed in to achieve sand- or stone-washed effects, all in an effort to make a pair feel softer and broken in. Other effects include using high-tech lasers to burn designs into the fabric, and jeans literally being torn and repaired to mimic the scars and blemishes of a well-lived life. But because it’s not your life, it’s hard for us to recommend them. Which leaves you with a handful of options:
Dark Wash: Though even the darkest wash jeans are still decidedly casual, these pairs have what it takes to make it in a serious setting. Pair it with a crisp white shirt, a lightweight sweater and a blazer for work.
Light Wash: Go a little lighter for date night. Keep it clean, but feel free to go for whiskering — those thin, faded lines across the front that looks like you’ve been standing and sitting in this pair forever—or some light faded effects across the seat and thighs.
Distressed: Some abrasion here and there, usually a bit paler, more faded. More emphasis on points of wear like the butt, thighs, and pockets. Great for a tailgate or other similarly casual settings.
Twill refers to the way denim is woven (this method causes those diagonal lines you can see if you look very closely), and this method is what makes denim so tough and so stiff.
In an attempt to keep up with the increasing demand for clothes that work hard and look good, most modern denim makers now sneak a little stretch fiber into their jeans for comfort and flexibility. Stretch also helps keep jeans from getting saggy, so they look great all day. Most companies limit the mix to one or two percent of overall material makeup, using fibers like lycra or elastane. Others are adding performance fibers to denim, like Coolmax®?for moisture and temperature management. While our recommendations include some of these materials, many are 100 percent cotton.
While some serious denim aficionados insist on never washing your jeans, the reality is that most guys should wash their jeans. The editors at Denimhunters, a subscription-based denim learning platform, have found that if you don’t wash raw denim, the fiber may become brittle and break prematurely. Here’s your playbook for keeping jeans fresh, but not stripping them of their color too quickly:
1. Wash denim with similarly colored clothing.
2. Turn jeans inside-out before washing to preserve color and finish.
3. Use a cold water and the gentle cycle in the washing machine.
4. Use a gentle detergent such as Woolite. Avoid bleach, spot cleaners or fabric softeners.
5. Have a top loader? Start the machine first, then when the soap and water are completely mixed, throw in jeans and run a full cycle.
6. To dry, roll in a towel to remove excess water. Lay flat or hang to finish drying.
7. Tumble drying causes shrinkage and breaks down fibers (specifically those added for stretch). If you must, use a low heat cycle and run for as little time as possible. But your best bet is line drying.
J.Crew 484 Raw Indigo Stretch Selvedge
J. Crew’s 484 is tailored, but not skinny. They’re cut from indigo-dyed Japanese selvedge denim with a little bit of stretch. The raw denim is unwashed, so exercise caution with any white or light-colored couches.
Levi’s 501® Original Fit Jeans
Arguably the single most iconic pair of jeans you can own, Levi’s 501® is a flattering fit for a wide variety of people. And at just under $70, the price is right, too. They’re 100 percent cotton, and we’d advise buying them in the darkest, stiffest wash possible, and taking your time breaking them in.
Wrangler Born Ready Larston
With a blend of 99 percent cotton and one percent Spandex, this jean has the lightest touch of stretch. That’s a good thing: the Vintage Dark wash is a great all-purpose jean, and its durability means it can keep up with you — and everything you’ll want to do in them.
Todd Snyder Japanese Stretch Selvedge Jean
Todd Snyder has been described as having a “Savile Row-meets-streetwear aesthetic,” and its relatively new Japanese stretch selvedge denim jeans certainly live up to that promise. They feature a classic cut that looks just as good with a blazer and brogues as it does with a sweatshirt and sneakers.
Cotton Citizen Denim001
Made in Los Angeles, the Cotton Citizen Denim001 is cut from 100 percent cotton with a classic fit that leans a little slim. If you only have room in your closet for one black pair of jeans, try the Faded Black colorway.
Mavi Zach Straight Leg Jean
Mavi’s Zach model works just as well for athletic builds —with more room throughout the seat—as well as for the “Dad Bod”—where the timeless straight leg won’t make you look top heavy, and is cut straight from the hip to the ankle for comfort. It features a regular rise and a contoured waistband to ensure you’re turning heads wherever you go.
Edwin Marlon Selvedge Denim Slim Jeans
Not for the trend averse, the Edwin Marlon has a 12-inch rise, and a slim-fit that suggests the mid-century modern looks of (duh) Marlon Brando. Despite their slim-fit, the overall silhouette suggests volume, begging to be cuffed and paired with a classic white T-shirt…and a motorcycle jacket.
Lucky Brand 410 Athletic Fit Jean
If you’re gonna go Athletic, go all the way: this pair complements both Jocks and Dad-bods, with an on-trend slimmer leg, and COOLMAX technology to keep you cool when things heat up and warm when they cool down. There’s a little stretch for comfort…but we’re still not recommending them for the gym. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Designed specifically for a taller guy, the Thytan properly addresses longer proportions, so guys with long legs don’t come off looking too lean. The modern waist construction is a bit higher in the back. The Dark Blue color is also perfect to pair with a crisp white T-shirt or dressed up with a button-up and a sportcoat.
Gap Athletic Fit with GapFlex
The Athletic Fit offers more room through the thigh and seat, offering a great solution for a guy who hits it hard in the gym…yet it’s also pretty awesome for somebody who may be fighting the battle of the bulge in other ways. It’s got the same slim opening at the hem as their Slim-Fit, so it’s still maintains a modern, trim silhouette. We like the Dark-Tinted Stretch for an all-day option.