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.
This 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 denimheads 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 everybody. Below, a look at the pairs we recommend and catch what we think are the three biggest considerations to make before you buy at the bottom of the post.
Recommended picks by Gerald Ortiz.
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Levi’s 501 Shrink-to-Fit
Just Get This
No other garment has aged nearly as well as the historic Levi’s 501. The quintessential blue jean comes in all manner of shades, washes and distressing, but you could do no wrong going the old-school way with the straight-up rigid shrink-to-fit version. The denim is a rich dark midnight blue and is stiff as a board to start. That might put people off, but it’s the way jeans were made since jean immemorial. And it gets better with every wear and every wash, which is really what a blue jean is all about. $60 for the classic of classics is a deal in itself, but keep your cool for even a little bit and you can find on sale no problem.
Uniqlo Stretch Selvedge Jeans
It's hard to get better basics than Uniqlo. The Japanese mega brand's the go-to for clothes that spin all three plates of style, price and quality. Its Stretch Selvedge Jeans are the cheapest selvedge denim jeans you can get and they've also got a smidge of stretch for comfort straight off the shelve. They come in a variety of colorways, too, so you're not just limited to the standard blue jean.
orSlow 105 Jeans
While A.P.C. makes what is perhaps the quintessential minimalist jean, Japanese repro brand orSlow’s jeans might best be described as plain. And that’s no knock. There’s no overt branding, it’s based on classic jeans from the mid-1900s and is cut with custom-milled denim that would have anyone fooled into thinking you scored a pair of near-deadstock jeans that were hidden away in your grandparents’ attic.
Dickies 5-Pocket Jeans
Dickies is a workwear brand in the truest sense, made to endure the rigors of hard labor. Their jeans come with a bit of heft at 14-ounce all-cotton denim and no frills. If you’re looking for something cheaper than the tried-and-true Levi’s 501, you couldn’t do much better than these.
Everlane’s jeans come from a highly-respected Japanese denim mill but at a price point of less than half of what you’d typically expect. Weighing a middle-of-the-road 11 ounces, the denim is made with a touch of two-way stretch, just enough for comfort and not so much to qualify as yoga pants. They come in a range of washes to satisfy a wide range of blue jean lovers. And at just $68, you could get into a few different washes.
Unbranded UB301 Jeans
Unbranded maintains a quiet persona while offering a handful of rare details for a solid price. The UB301 is its version of a straight fit and fit like a classic pair of blue jeans, only with a little more going on. Heavy Japanese selvedge denim with hidden rivets and thick vegetable-tanned leather are prime ingredients for reverse sticker shock.
A.P.C. New Standard Jeans
Often the gateway for those getting into raw denim, A.P.C. is known for its purely minimal aesthetic and its jeans are noted for birthing a new generation of denimheads. The New Standard makes a bold claim and though it hasn’t come close to surpassing the 501, its stripped-down details gives way for Japanese raw selvedge denim to take the spotlight and make it a go-to. The denim’s smooth hand and fast-fading capabilities make it easy to see why everyone from your local fashion enthusiast to celebs wearing them.
Naked & Famous Weird Guy Slim Fit Jeans
At a notch (or two) above its less-expensive brother brand, Unbranded, Naked & Famous brings more to the table and does so with more pizzaz. The brand offers a wide range of zany fabrics from glow-in-the-dark denim, rainbow denim and even scratch-and-sniff denim. But its bread and butter has to be the run-of-the-mill selvedge denim cut into the brand’s most popular fit, the Weird Guy. $135 still gets you all the trimming like a veg-tanned leather patch, Japanese selvedge denim and Canadian craftsmanship and if you don’t mind a seductive cartoon lady telling people what jeans you’re wearing, these offer a lot for the price.
Noriko Machida’s highly-sought brand Chimala has garnered devoted fans since its founding in 2005. The brand is known for its midcentury workwear and militaria-inspired garments produced with lofty levels of quality and unparalleled distressing, not to mention incredible fits. Machida’s distressed jeans might put off the denim purists, but they’re no question some of the most meticulously and tastefully distressed jeans that could turn even the most diehard denim lover.
The Real McCoy’s Lot 001XX Jeans
For the most accurate of reproductions, it’s hard to beat The Real McCoy’s. The Japanese brand’s incessant pursuit of perfect reproductions wins legions of vintage fans who flock to the brand for period-correct details in every garment from rare military-issued submariner coats to loopwheeled sweatshirts. The Real McCoy’s lives up to its name with every piece it produces and that goes for its jeans, too. This pair, the Lot 001XX is based off the Levi’s 501 of the 1950s with a fuller leg and a higher rise. While other Japanese brands focus on getting unique textures and never-before-seen fading characteristics out of small artisanal denim mills, TRM’s version focuses on getting the denim to look exactly like it did decades ago. To some it’s a plain Jane jean, to others, it’s the closest thing to the real deal you’ll ever get.
Kapital Century Denim Jeans
Japanese brand Kapital is known for a lot of things. The brand’s unique mish-mash of western details through the Japanese lens produces some of the most eye-catching garments on the market, much of which includes its denim. It’s certainly not for everyone, and the brand does produce a few straightforward, plain pieces, that’s not why fans are attracted. It’s weird and not for everyone. While there’s no shortage of jeans with straps and misshapen pockets in odd places, what perhaps gets the most attention is its Century Denim. The thick yarns peppered throughout mimic sashiko stitching, but somehow Kapital’s version is woven on the same loom together with the denim. This one takes the legendary denim even further by dyeing it with fermented persimmons.
Glenn's Denim Custom Jeans
Made entirely in New York by one craftsman, Glenn's Denim is something truly special. The artisan behind the sewing machine (the Glenn) has been in the business of making jeans for decades and his custom jeans are an amalgamation of all the legacy denim brands he's worked for in the past. The one-on-one fitting process is a well-executed experience akin to getting a bespoke suit. All the fabrics are custom-woven in America specifically for Glenn's Denim, with next-level denimhead details throughout and the fit is uniquely yours.
3 Considerations Before Buying
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.