Denim jeans have become so ubiquitous over the last century that how could you possibly go wrong when shopping for them? Well, quite far wrong as it happens because not all jeans are created equally. Small differences in the denim quality, leg width, style of cut, length of the rise and a host of other variables can make big differences to the way they look on you. Use our guide to prep up before you cough up on another pair of jeans.
There isn’t a definitive answer to this question simply because there are so many different jeans styles, from cowboy and ass-slinger to super skinny and the straight-down-the-line regular. “I’d recommend you try different fits,” says Richard Hurren, VP for Levi’s in Northern Europe. “And also try different sizes in the same style, as some jeans may suit you better if they’re worn slightly looser or tighter. Also, always try on your jeans with shoes. Make sure that the jeans you buy look good with your footwear and that they’re the right length.”
If we assume that you don’t want to expose your underwear on the one hand, nor restrict blood flow to your vitals on the other, then you’re going to be looking at a skinny to regular style. This means that the jeans should sit just below your natural waist with a comfortable rise but not so loose that the denim doesn’t follow the contours of your backside. No woman is impressed by a saggy bottom.
What about the leg?
A regular leg hints at the contours of your legs, while a slim style should slightly hug them – anything tighter starts looking pantomime. “Often a straight leg jean suits men that have hips narrower than their shoulders,” says Hurren. “A more tapered style like the 512 suits those that have larger thighs.” Leg length is somewhat subjective and largely depends on where and how you’re going to be wearing your jeans. Obviously, if you want to rock a turn-up then you need a slightly longer length but if you want a smart-casual style then go for a length that rests on the top of your shoe and breaks just above it. You’ll also want to account for at least a half inch of shrinkage after washing. Without sounding too obvious, the most important tip we can give you is to try them on. No two pairs of jeans (let alone brands) ever fit quite the same.
Which styles are the most versatile?
Over to you Sean Gormley, creative director of Wrangler in Europe: “Your choice in the fit of a jean is central to your style. Great fitting jeans will transcend occasions and you can wear that fit everywhere you go. In terms of versatility, ‘slim straight’ is a democratic and modern leg shape that looks good with boots, shoes and sneakers, whereas ‘slim tapered’ fits will give you a sharper, more fitted look around the ankle, so low sneakers and shoes will work best.”
I like the slim silhouette but hate feeling restricted – is there a compromise?
Everyone has experienced that feeling of post-wash jeans that straitjacket your lower body and make sitting down near-impossible. But there is a solution and it’s called elastane. Just 2% of this stretchy fabric added to jeans will ensure they provide plenty of give if you’re moving about a lot. “Especially for everyday jeans, you might want a bit of stretch in there for comfort,” suggests Gormley. “On slimmer legs and skinny fits you can find men’s jeans with lots of elasticity. Just ensure the fabric feels quality enough. You’re looking for a thick fabric that feels like what you expect from a jean, with a compact weave that bounces back to shape after you extend it.”
What is selvedge denim and is it worth the extra cash?
Selvedge (or selvage in the US) refers to the edge of the denim being self-finished with the woven strip that marks the end of a roll of fabric (hence the red or orange colour you see when the hem is turned up). This is typically made using old-fashioned shuttle looms, which started being scrapped in the US during the mid 1900s in favour of more modern machinery in a bid to keep up with demand. Today, it’s the Japanese who have resurrected the old shuttle looms and have become master purveyors of selvedge denim. It’s coveted by denim aficionados for a couple of reasons, the first being quality: selvedge has a tighter and denser weave compared to jeans woven on modern looms. The second is that the old shuttle looms create more imperfections in the fabric, creating a more unique product. The higher price is simply indicative of the small amount of shuttle looms that are in production. We think the extra outlay is worth it since selvedge jeans will tend to wear in much better over time.
Is there an age limit on slim-fit jeans? I’m asking for a 40-year-old friend…
In a word, no! Slim fit jeans show that your ‘friend’ still has a modicum of self-respect and is not yet prepared to inhabit the stylistic suburbs that are the relaxed fit jean. Sure, there’s a time and a place for all styles, but at 40, we think you should err on the smarter side of smart casual. A slim fit or tapered jean can be easily worn with sneakers or more formal shoes and will pair nicely with a crew neck sweater or blazer. Just be mindful that your slim fit doesn’t veer into skinny fit territory – we’ve seen families break up over lesser things.
What is raw denim and does it fit differently?
Raw denim simply refers to denim that hasn’t been washed. It’s the type that leaves blue smudges on everything it touches. The great thing about raw denim is that the more you wear it, the more it becomes personalised to you: not only will your movement patterns be visually represented by the wearing away of the dye but also the denim itself will slowly shape to your contours. The process takes time however (you don’t want to wash raw denim for at least 6 months, if at all) so if you want to leave the store with a comfortable and worn-in pair of jeans, don’t buy raw.
Should I wash my jeans?
There’s lots of confusion about this, but here is the truth of it – every time you put a pair of jeans in a heated wash, you’re compromising the properties of the cotton and uniformly extracting the dye, which leaves you with altogether faded jeans that neither feel nor fit like they did before. Serious denim heads advocate never washing your jeans. Instead, when they get a little funky, put them in the freezer for a few days to kill off any bacteria.
What current denim trends should I know about?
There are so many varieties, cuts, colours and washes of jeans that it’s difficult to say there is ever a particular trend since each tribe has their own preference. “Dark jeans with minimal detailing are important for any wardrobe right now because they are so versatile,” says Gormley. “You can dress them up or down very easily. Nevertheless, be aware of the current trend for authentic stone wash jeans from the good ol’ days.” Distressed jeans, which have been popping up this season in all sorts of variations, are always handy to have in your wardrobe for that languorous weekend in the pub. More and more brands are also toying with denim coatings such as wax and oil finishes. These can completely transform the look of the cotton while still feeling and wearing like a jean. And Topman (among others) are toying with wider legs to break the long-time dominance of the skinny fit.
Checkout our favourite picks below:
Levi’s 511 Slim Fit Wellthread Selvedge
Top class everyday jeans don’t come better than Levi’s 511 selvedge style. Cut slim through the hip and thigh, these will age beautifully over the years and are a steal compared to lesser-quality ‘fashion’ jeans. Dress up with some tan brogue boots and a tweed jacket.
£115 at Levi’s
Available in 19 different washes, Wrangler’s Greensboro jeans (named after one of the most iconic denim mills in the US) are a more casual outdoorsy option (the denim has a water-repellent finish) that will look great rolled up with some hiking boots.
From £30 at Amazon
Edwin ED-55 Relaxed Tapered
Most people don’t know that Edwin actually invented stone-washing but also continue to be renowned for denim quality. The ED-55 relaxed tapered jeans are perfect for guys who go hard on leg day since there’s more room in the seat and thighs but the tapered finish provides a flattering silhouette.
£110 at John Lewis
Jaeger Washed Selvedge Slim Leg
Jaeger’s slim, low-waisted selvedge jeans are perfect for smarter attire given the deep indigo hue. For a slick look, stick to a blue palette by adding a light blue shirt, knitted tie and navy woollen blazer. These are a steal at the price.
£85 at Jaeger
All Saints Sgurr Iggy Jeans
All Saints have gone for a black denim with a diagonal twill, adding a nice and subtle textural effect. Cut slim-to-straight, these are the perfect addition to an all-black outfit where you want textures to stand out. Just add, leather, suede and/or wool for a really interesting minimalist look.
£98 at All Saints
Reiss Fugee Slim Fit Stone
Beautifully tapered from the knee down, these stone jeans by Reiss are a classy must-have for every wardrobe. They’re incredibly versatile in smart environments since you can offset them with dark colours for a striking effect. A simple roll-neck sweater in an autumnal colour makes for a slick off-duty look and you can slip on a blazer to add formality.
£95 at Reiss
The Worker’s Club Slim Fit Raw Selvedge
Co-founder of The Worker’s Club and former head of design at Dunhill, Adam Cameron is a self-confessed denim nut so every single detail has been considered in these raw selvedge jeans crafted in the denim Mecca of Okayama, Japan. Being raw, they’ll take a while to break in but that’s part of the investment: you’ll be friends for life.
£250 at Mr Porter
Nudie Long John Grey Ocean
For hipsters wanting to tap into a punk aesthetic without actually investing in punk philosophy, Nudie’s Long John Grey Ocean jeans are the way forward. A super tight fit in organic 12.25oz cotton, the 2% elastane component ensures comfort when you’re sat down ordering artisanal coffee or whatever it is hipsters do. Add military boots and a fishtail parka for a solid winter look.
£115 at Nudie
Zara Soft Jogging Jeans
Jogging jeans: we’re not sure you’ll ever jog in them but you get where they’re coming from. What you really get is stretch denim in a track pant silhouette, perfect for lounging around in. A simple white cotton tee or polo and lo-fi sneakers finish off an easy look for the weekend.
£40 at Zara
Rag & Bone Killburn Distressed Jeans
If you want a true Americana look then go for a true American brand such as Rag & Bone. Made exclusively for Mr Porter, these ‘Killburn’ faded jeans give the impression of years in the making. Complement them with a shearling jacket, chambray shirt and boots this winter.
£175 at Mr Porter
Abercrombie & Fitch Stretch Distressed Repair Light Vintage
Getting just the right level of ‘distressed’ is difficult but Abercrombie & Fitch are on the money with these super-skinny stretch vintage jeans. With one torn knee and a patch-up job on the other, they will look awesome with some old beaten-up Jack Purcell’s on your feet and a James Dean white tee on top. Sometimes, the simplest looks are the best looks.
£78 at ASOS
Diesel Carrot Chino
If you’re looking for a quirkier style, then Diesel’s carrot shape jean with a vintage finish is a great option. This old school tapered style has been given a patchwork treatment for a heritage workwear look while the juxtaposition of the low rise and neat leg offers a unique shape.
£250 at Diesel
Belstaff’s Blackrod are at the forefront of the motorcycle jean trend and these are one of the most comfortable pairs we’ve had on, chiefly because of the stretch articulation at the knees. It means no more riding down your butt when you go to sit down. The cut is slim but not so much that you can’t rock a pair of chunky biker boots with them. The denim is raw so give them a good six months of use before you wash them for the first time.
£250 at Belstaff
Topman AAA Black Coated Denim
Look out for different denim coating treatments this season, from oily finishes to matte textures. These ones by AAA at Topman has a waxy coating and are cut skinny with unfinished hems and distressed details. Complement with contrasting textures in black or a simple white tee and sneakers for a clean and modern monochromatic look.
£60 at Topman
GAP 1969 Patched Skinny Fit Jeans
Distressed denim is by no means a new trend but it’s one that keeps swinging around with increasing regularity, meaning you should definitely keep a pair in rotation. GAP’s vintage wash skinny patchwork version refrain from being too bashed up but have a nice amount of aged detailing to fit the bill. Perfect for a casual weekend.
£33 at Gap