Let’s face it: with so many different kinds of jeans being produced today, it can prove quite the tall order to find the best pair for your needs come time to buy some for yourself. Sure, you could limit your choices to a certain cut or a particular style, but then you still have to take things into account, like wash, weight, and stretch. Add to that selvedge vs. non-selvedge and it’s enough to make even the most dedicated shopper’s head spin. The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. We trawled through the many thousands of jeans the market has to offer, doing our damnedest to curate a collection that is worthy of your consideration, each one bringing something different to the table.
The Best Denim Jeans Money Can Buy
What to Consider
Finding the Perfect Pair
Fit: Buying a pair of jeans online only to rip through the package and try them on to see how poorly they fit is the worst — but if it makes you feel any better, we’ve all been there. The best advice we can give you in this department is to try them on in-store, and in case there’s no local retailer that sells the pair you’re looking for, take a look at their measurements and compare them to another option you can feasibly test. Even that you should take with a grain of salt, though. One thing to consider in this department is that if you’re eyeing some raw denim jeans and decide to try them on in-store, but realize they feel a little tight, stick with them. These are bound to stretch after a handful of wears, let alone years.
Stretch: High-quality performance materials, such as lycra, spandex, and elastane, can help make your rather rigid jeans much more comfortable in demanding circumstances. Whether you’re tired of sitting at your desk in bizarrely tight pants or need extra flexibility on the job site, a pair of stretch jeans will do you right. This goes doubly for the warmer months, as some brands even implement technical moisture-managing materials to assist in temperature regulation on tepid spring and summer days.
What’s The Wash?
And The Occasion?
Wash: While standard denim jeans are available in virtually every color imaginable, the material starts its life cycle in a deep shade of blue. Once the jeans are actually sewn and deemed wearable, they undergo a major washing process, occasionally alongside other elements that give the bottoms a unique fade.
Dark wash: Like most types of darker clothing, be it navy or black, a stark pair of jeans typically operates better in a more formal setting. Whether that’s work or a big event, you can try and channel a more sophisticated look with darker jeans — or just throw on a white tee, step outside, and call it a day.
Light wash: Whether they’re overly distressed or fully intact, there are several ways to rock lighter-washed jeans, but they often look better in casual environments. Yeah, you can always class things up with a coat or button-up (preferably white, in this case), but it’ll probably look better in the summertime with your favorite camp collar shirt.
Clean Your Jeans
The Proper Care
When it comes to how you should wash your jeans, people have come up with just about everything: walk into the ocean, then roll around in the sand; toss them in the bathtub with nothing but cold water and Woolite; hell, never wash them at all. And these may work for tons of people, but there are more conventional ways to do laundry, namely with something like, you know, a laundry machine. With help from Levi’s Definitive Denim Care Guide, we’ve compiled a proper list of wash instructions you should keep in mind.
1. First and foremost, follow the care tag’s directions, if possible.
2. Turn your jeans inside out.
3. Only toss them in the machine with like colors, be it black, blue, or whatever you’re buying. We recommend not using harsh soaps or detergents to preserve the wash.
4. This step strictly applies to top-loading machine users: wait for the water and soap to come together before tossing the pants in. In fact, you’re likely better off doing this for all your clothes.
5. Wash them in cold water.
6. When it comes to denim, drying machines are not your friend. If you’re in a rush, then use the absolute gentlest and lowest heat cycle possible. Otherwise? Line dry, line dry, line dry.
Levi’s 501 Jeans
The Starter: If you want to buy a pair of jeans under $100, don’t even consider anything else. To this day, the Levi’s 501 is a testament to Americana; and while the heritage brand’s construction methods and quality control have surely taken a hit since their conception, these remain foolproof no matter which wash you pick up. Boasting the traditional fit that made Levi’s so iconic, to begin with, the straight leg silhouette features a traditional handful of pockets and a trusty button fly — after all, that’s the last place you need interlocking metal teeth.
Outerknown Ambassador Slim Fit Jean
The Safest Bet: As is the case with any of Outerknown’s offerings, the Ambassador Slim Fit jeans are made to be as sustainable as possible. In practice, this means that they’re not only made at the Saitex denim factory in Vietnam — one of the most environmentally responsible in the world — but also certified to Fair Trade standards. And when you consider that the Ambassadors come with a S.E.A. JEANS lifetime guarantee (meaning Outerknown will replace them if they wear out), you’d be remiss not to give them a look.
Material: Organic cotton
Rag & Bone Fit 4 Straight Leg Jeans
The Upgrade: rag & bone’s denim catalog offers a surfeit of fits, but this straight-legged iteration is about as close as you’ll find to a pair of 501s, as the clothier unapologetically takes inspiration from “the classic American jean.” But who could blame them? Offering a loose, relaxed fit through the hip and thigh, these rigid bottoms remain soft to the touch and surprisingly flexible thanks to the cotton’s natural sense of stretchiness. It’s finished with a clean hem and available in various washes, including the pictured light indigo Payne.
Acne Studios 2003 Relaxed Fit Jeans
The Premium Pair: 2003 was a game-changing year. Apple opened up the iTunes Store; Tom launched Myspace, and Jay-Z retired for about a day and a half. A fifth of a century later, Y2K-inspired looks undoubtedly dominate a sliver of the fashion world, leaving brands no option but to dig up archival designs for the sake of that singular, statement-making look. Sure, Acne Studios is one of many, but it stands at the top, offering a pair of relaxed-fit jeans crafted from nothing but rigid organic cotton that holds up masterfully. Plus, the artsy fashion house does this for more than just its 2003-era fit, but also other variants that date as far back ask 1978, boasting a catalog that serves as a time capsule as much as anything else.
Material: Organic Cotton
Levi’s Secondhand 501 Jeans
Best Vintage Jeans: New jeans are nice, but breaking a pair in can be the absolute worst, not to mention that one too many brands’ manufacturing methods of yesteryear are no longer instituted — but we don’t have to get into all that. Instead, it’s much easier to scour a pair of vintage ones that suit your palette, and, again, who better to trust in this department than Levi’s? You already know the American imprint’s original 501 is available in its current form, but its Secondhand shop offers the chance to nab a pair that have stood the test of time, whether you’re eyeing something in mint condition or well-aged.
Fit: Again, 501
Wrangler Original Cowboy Cut Jeans
Best Affordable Jeans That Aren’t Just Levi’s: Obviosuly, numerous other brands have set an example in the world of denim outside of Levi’s, and Wrangler sits at the top of that list. The brand’s unbelievably affordable Cowboy Cut has primarily remained intact since being introduced in the late ‘40s, still offering the same blend of comfort and durability as they always have. To top it off, the bootcut bottoms even serve as the ProRodeo competition’s official jean, so you know they’re truly fit for a cowboy.
UNIQLO Selvedge Stretch Slim Fit Jeans
Best Affordable Selvedge Jeans: If you’re after some solid straight-legged jeans but you can’t afford to drop hundreds of dollars on your denim, this pair from UNIQLO should do just the ticket. At only 50 bucks a pop, they’re an incredible bargain; however, these aren’t just some budget buy. Rather, with their mid-rise and vintage look, they’ll quickly become a mainstay in your rotation. And, as an added bonus, they’re crafted using a waterless wash method, making them pretty eco-friendly to boot.
Material: Cotton and spandex
a.p.c. pETIT nEW sTANDARD
Best Overall Selvedge Jeans: With the label’s French design and Japanese construction, A.P.C.’s Petit New Standard jeans give you the best of both worlds without the unwanted compromise. At 14.5oz, they’re not what you’d consider lightweight, but thanks to their straight mid-rise and tapered fit through the legs, they’re more than manageable when being worn. If you’re not sold yet, just check out the detail work. For instance, the top button comes engraved with “A.P.C. rue Madame près du Luxembourg” and the selvage stitching runs the entire length of the inner fabric.
Material: Super stiff cotton
Leg: Slim taper
lEE X bROOKLYN cIRCUS 101b cOWBOY bUCKLE jeAN
The Premium Selvedge Jeans: Lee was bound to turn up here at some point, and its collab with Brooklyn Circus garners one of the top spots. Made using a blend of standard-and-post-consumer-recycled cotton, the sturdy selvedge bottoms take inspiration from Lee’s iconic cowboy jeans from 1925, proving that the design remains wearable nearly 100 years later. The sturdy, loose-fitting jeans are rounded out with custom copper hardware to acknowledge the joint effort and ensure these last until the day you think it’s time to pass them down.
Material: Cotton and PCR cotton
tODD snYDER sLIM-fiT jAPANESE sTRETCH
Best Stretch Denim Jeans: Todd Snyder recently overhauled its entire denim collection in order to better cater its offerings to a variety of buyers. As part of the ‘Stretch’ line, this pair of medium indigo wash jeans is crafted from a lightweight 12.5oz fabric with 1.5% elastane to keep them comfortable from day one. Add to that vintage-inspired details such as some antique copper rivets and a suede-embossed rear patch, and you have a pair of jeans that are as handsome as they are hard-wearing.
Material: Cotton, polyester, and elastane
Glenn’s Denim GD111
Best Made-to-Order Jeans: At the end of the day, there’s no true one-size-fits-all approach to jeans — as they’re unique in their wear pattern so too should they be unique in their fit. Lucky for you, each pair of Glenn’s Denim jeans is made to order, meaning that although you’ll have to make do with a two-week lead time, you’ll walk out of it with some denim that’s for you and you alone. They even come unwashed so that you can fade them to your heart’s delight. Most of all, the master behind the machine is Glenn Liburd, whose extensive knowledge of American denim and affinity ‘’70s-era subcultures led to the birth of his eponymous boutique.
Material: American cotton
Leg: Straight narrow
Noah Double Pleat Denim Pants
Best Pleated Jeans: Noah’s organic cotton-crafted baggies are about as relaxed-fitting as jeans could get, but they’re not like your typical jeans. Truly, these are more on the trouser side of things, much in part to their side pockets and buttoned back pockets. Still, they’re denim, and the double-pleated makeup provides all the freedom of movement you need to take on the day. If you need assistance styling anything with pleats, check out our somewhat oversized guide; no matter what you do, the Portugal-made bottoms’ unique construction will look.
Material: Organic cotton
Fit: Extra relaxed
The Best Men’s Denim Jackets
Go for a Canadian tuxedo and pick up a timeless denim jacket wear alongside your new jeans.