At this point, we probably don’t have to sell you on the humble blue jean’s outfit-making prowess. But the best men’s jeans brands offer more than a copy-and-paste take on the five pocket dungaree. Whether it’s the infallible combo of a plain white T-shirt and blue jeans, a daring double denim situation, or, well, literally anything else, it’s hard to brick an outfit if you’ve got a well-fitting pair of jeans in your rotation. So even if you land on a mediocre version, your chances of sartorial failure are pretty low.
That said, why would you settle? Finding the best men’s jeans brands, we’re sorry to say, isn’t such a straightforward journey. The answer depends on a gang of factors like silhouette, budget, body type, wash, and so much more. The short answer is that it’s a journey that, ultimately, you have to go through yourself. (We know: it’s tough advice to hear.) But at least we can guide you down an indigo-stained path toward denim enlightenment so you can make the savviest decision for yourself. The sagest advice we can impart if you absolutely have no idea where to begin? Start with the denim brands that have specialize in, well, denim—like any of the names below.
The Best Jeans Brands by Category
- The Big Three: Levi’s, Lee, Wrangler
- The Mall Brand Mainstays: Gap, J.Crew, Uniqlo, Madewell
- The Reliable Upgrades: RRL, Todd Snyder, Levi’s Vintage Clothing, Supreme
- The New-School Enthusiasts: A.P.C., Acne Studios, 3sixteen, John Elliott
- The Freaky-Deaky Envelope-Pushers: Kapital, FDMTL, Tender
- The Artisanal Stalwarts: Orslow, Studio D’artisan, Samurai, The Real McCoy’s
- The Small-Batch Master Craftsmen: Glenn’s Denim, Paul Kruize, Keruk
- The Designer Labels With Legit Denim Chops: Diesel, Rick Owens, Our Legacy
How to Buy a Quality Pair of Jeans
For the folks who just want the upshot without getting into the weeds, you can bet on brands that specialize in jeans. Think the most popular jeans brands like Levi’s and Lee or indie denim labels like 3sixteen and Tellason. Andrew Chen, owner and founder of New York-based 3sixteen, says to rely on denim-focused brands because they simply have more experience. For these brands, he says, denim isn’t just an afterthought. “Companies that make the same jeans year in and year out are always making tweaks—sometimes imperceptible—to improve the product.”
The quality of a pair of jeans mostly comes down to the fabric and the stitching. The kind of jeans you’ll find at most big-box stores are a mid-weight denim (for the menswear nerds who really want to know, that’s around 12 oz. per yard). Speciality denim retailers often carry artisanal selvedge from Japan that can get much heavier so it’ll last longer (or so the theory goes), but sacrifices comfort in the process. But, despite what some hardcore denimheads might say, super heavy Japanese denim isn’t always the best choice. Lighter denim is more appropriate for summer, but is also more delicate. Jeans that are made using 100% cotton tend to stretch out with wear and shrink with washing and drying. Stretch denim jeans that use some form of elastane do provide more comfort and stretch, but poor-quality elastane can wear out faster over time.
If you’re looking for a comfortable and stretchy pair of jeans, Jill Guenza, Global VP of Women’s Design at Levi Strauss & Co., suggests walking around in the jeans for several minutes as well as sitting and standing to test the stretch’s recovery. “A pair of jeans with a well-engineered fit and high-quality stretch,” she says, “won’t require a lot of adjustment after a few minutes of movement.”
The Big Three
Not including Levi’s in this list would be like omitting Michael Jordan from the Hall of Fame—Levi’s isn’t just the most well-known jeans brand on the planet, it’s the one that literally invented the damn things. Levi’s has been making jeans since 1873, and know denim better than any other. And after all these years, they’re still the yard stick by which all other jeans brands are measured.
Lee was one of the early denim pioneers, and the first to use zippers in its styles. (Oh, and it invented overalls, too). Today, the brand is more likely to be worn by scratch-saving dads, but its denim continues to deliver on the brand’s legacy of hard-wearing, great value jeans.
As the name suggests, Wrangler is geared toward cowboys—and that’s not just some himbo fashion branding. Wrangler’s long been the official jean of professional rodeo hunks, and at one point even claimed to make the heaviest denim in the world (14 oz., if you’re wondering). The brand still lists the denim weights on its website and have since expanded into even hardier cuts. Though most of its jeans come with washes and distressing, Wrangler is one of the few brands that still offers true-blue raw denim at such a low price.
The Mall Brand Mainstays
Gap’s iconic khakis commercials from the late ’90s made the mall brand a mecca for dusty tan chinos, but the brand originally got its footing in the market with denim. It continues to produce solid jeans at reasonable prices while offering a smattering of more bougie selvedge options, too.
J.Crew’s jeans selection is reliably solid; its bread and butter 484 slim-straight fit is a particular standout. But look to J.Crew’s workwear-inspired Wallace & Barnes sub-label and you’ll find some genuinely great jeans with vintage details that would raise the brow of any denim connoisseur.
Uniqlo’s mastered the affordability-to-style matrix better than any other brand in its category, and it excels at knitwear, outerwear, button-ups—and, of course, denim. The mega-retailer is a consistent go-to for anyone looking to cop their first pair of raw jeans. Just $50 for Japanese-milled selvedge? Still can’t beat it.
Though Madewell’s mall brand status doesn’t quite live up to its workwear-y moniker, the company still makes decent jeans for anyone looking for well-fitting silhouettes and denim with a smidge of stretch.
The Reliable Upgrades
Ralph Lauren’s heritage Americana sub-label RRL is well-known for its cowboy-flavored design aesthetic. But where some brands pull inspiration, RRL truly dives deep into obscure references pulled from the company’s impossibly deep vintage library. Most of the jeans are made in the US using Japanese selvedge denim and include tiny little details that hardcore denim enthusiasts will appreciate (i.e. filled belt loops, hidden rivets, vintage-style waistband, etc.).
Is it at all surprising that Todd Snyder also makes great denim? After all, the guy’s CV includes stints at Ralph Lauren and J.Crew, and he’s got a knack for high-quality fabrics and expert tailoring, not to mention an unimpeachable pedigree in Americana.
Levi’s Vintage Clothing
Levi’s Vintage Clothing is the reproduction arm of Levi’s, and pumps out strict, stitch-for-stitch recreations of styles from the brand’s vault. Of course, that includes hyper-accurate raw denim 501s from, say, 1944, but it also includes facsimiles of thrashed and shredded jeans picked up at high-profile auctions—real-deal holes and patches reproduced from an actual pair of very rare vintage jeans.
We know what you’re thinking: “No.” To which we say: “Yes.” Hype aside, Supreme’s tight range of jeans are very solidly made for the price. Sure, you’ll get the requisite wild-style options with insane graphics splashed all over, but the brand’s standard straight-ahead jeans use some very good, mid-weight selvedge denim that’s built to take more than a few nasty spills on a skateboard.
The New-School Enthusiasts
For many menswear fans, A.P.C. was a gateway not only into raw denim but into menswear as a whole. A.P.C.’s minimalist aesthetic coupled with high-quality fabrics made their logo-less jeans a hit in the late 2000s when fashion was beginning to sober up from logomania. To this day, the Paris-based label continues to produce streamlined jeans and denim products better than most.
Acne Studios is better known these days for envelope-pushing fashion, but the Stockholm-based brand opened its doors as a film studio back in the ’90s. It was only until they started making a limited run of jeans exclusively for friends and family that they found their bag. Acne’s got their hyper-sensitive finger on the pulse, which keeps their jeans firmly in the zeitgeist with beautiful washes, full cuts, and surprising details like attachable denim belts.
3sixteen’s entire MO revolves around denim, and they expend a ridiculous amount of energy guaranteeing their wares trounce the competition. Their specialty jeans are crafted using custom fabrics from the legendary Kuroki Mills in Okayama, Japan, and they remain one of the first names to know when you’re ready to level-up your collection, whether you’re on your sixth pair of jeans or your sixtieth.
John Elliott made it in Los Angeles streetwear thanks to his focus on elevating the humble sweatpant, spurring on luxury athleisure’s near decade-long dominance. But aside from hefty hoodies and tailored sweats, Elliott’s jeans offer some of the most energetic distressing around and have been spotted on countless elite-level fashion plates.
The Freaky-Deaky Envelope-Pushers
Kapital is undoubtedly one of the kookiest brands on the planet, and certainly one of the most fun. Amidst its offering of bonkers knitwear and gloriously confusing jackets, Kapital’s denim range stands out for the insane level of detail and handwork that can go into a single pair. From intricate chainstitch embroidery, hand-pressed studwork, painstaking patchwork, it’s easy to see why so many rockstars and NBA athletes flock to the brand.
Since the mid-2000s, Gaku Tsuyoshi and his team of wily denim experts have dedicated themselves to crafting classically cut jeans with exuberant patchwork detailing, often inspired by traditional Japanese boro techniques. Today, FDTML is a perennial favorite for its unique remixes of rough-and-tumble workwear, but its true area of expertise remains the hardy blue dungarees nearly synonymous with American style.
Tender’s approach to denim does not look like most other jeans you’ve ever seen. The UK-based brand focuses on clothes inspired by turn-of-the-century locomotive designs, often employing natural dyes, indigo-alternatives, and unique pattern cutting to produce some of the most delightfully off-beat (and often heaviest) jeans you’re likely to see.
The Artisanal Stalwarts
Out of the Japanese repro brands slinging period-correct work jackets and 1950s-era dungarees, Orslow is one of the most straight-forward and accessible. The brand doesn’t really revive the uber obscure references that only hardcore vintage nerds would understand. Instead, you can expect jeans ripped straight from movie scenes that made many a menswear inspo board, from mid-century Ivy league-approved slim-straight jeans to classic 501-esque straight-leg five pockets with the classic redline selvedge detail.
If you’re up on your denim history, you probably already know that Studio D’Artisan is one of the famed Osaka 5, the group of five Japanese denim brands that got their start in the early ’90s by reproducing vintage Levi’s with painstaking accuracy. (If you’re wondering, the other members are Evisu, Denime, Warehouse, and Full Count). Though each one of the Osaka 5 deserves your attention, Studio D’artisan is arguably the most revered. While other members have veered from their original focus, some haven’t wavered, producing the same stuff season after season. Studio D’artisan sits somewhere in-between, pushing the limits of denim production by focusing on high-end cotton like that from Sally Fox or the super rare Suvin gold cotton.
Samurai’s aesthetic is that of a Japanese biker blasting American rock ‘n’ roll. They’ve become known for churning out some of the heaviest jeans around with some jeans tipping the scales at 21 oz. (that’s nearly twice as heavy as your average pair of Levi’s).
The Real McCoy’s
The Real McCoy’s aims to produce some of the most accurate vintage reproductions around, and most enthusiasts will say it succeeds phenomenally. The brand’s known for taking reproductions to obsessive levels including building its denim from scratch on specific vintage looms to get the right tension and texture to make them nearly indistinguishable from true vintage jeans.
The Small-Batch Master Craftsmen
Glenn Liburd is a real-life denim legend, having worked decades in the denim industry with The Big Three, not to mention a stint at Savile Row. His encyclopedic jeans knowledge have coalesced into a brand that is truly the cream of the crop. Custom, American-made selvedge denim, masterful construction, and a surprisingly accessible price point? Yes, yes, and yes.
Paul Kruize approaches his jeans like a bespoke tailor, completely custom to your measurements. While most other brands use a range of machines to make a single pair of five-pocket blue jeans, Kruize operates a single machine to produce his product. Additionally, he stitches the buttonholes by hand and makes sure that every seam is felled and covered. The result? Jeans that are as beautiful on the outside as they are on the inside.
No machines, just two pairs of hands, some needles, and thread—that’s all that Keruk needs to make a pair of jeans. It’s extremely rare for anyone to make a garment without a sewing machine, which makes these the ultimate grail for any denim enthusiast.
The Designer Labels With Legit Denim Chops
If you’re looking for raw, untouched denim, Diesel is not for you. But if you’re looking for some of high-quality denim jeans designed with true out-of-the-box thinking, Diesel is definitely up your alley. Under the creative direction of Glenn Martens, Diesel’s denim innovations have put the once-flailing brand back on the map, regularly selling out of its pricey jeans.
Rick Owens’ dark, brooding designs are instantly recognizable, but his wild takes on jeans still manage to steal the show. To be clear, they are very, very expensive. But out of the countless designer brands taking their slice of the blue jeans pie, Owens is one of the few that actually delivers on quality by using serious, heavy-duty Japanese denim to make his mind-bending creations.
Our Legacy’s eye-catching designs—the dialed-in Swedes cultivate a vibe that’s somewhere between punk and sleazy—has earned it legions of devoted followers. The brand’s Camion boots are a big hit with fashion fiends like Devin Booker, but the real innovation happens in the jeans department: think tromp l’oeil denim prints, slashed panels, and reflective trims.