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Working from home sparked several changes for most people in the past year, particularly when it comes to attire. As many ditched their “real” clothes for more comfortable sweatpants and leggings, several retailers in the denim department felt the impact: Levi’s saw revenue drop 62 percent in the quarter ending May 2020, and market research firm NPD Group reported denim sales fell by double digits in the first three months of the pandemic. But now that coronavirus restrictions have relaxed in most states, people going back to work, heading on vacation or enjoying the nightlife comeback are starting to shop for new clothes again, including denim.
SKIP AHEAD Best men’s jeans
A good, comfortable pair of jeans is a closet staple for men — they can easily be dressed up with a button-down shirt or a soft cashmere sweater, or dressed down with a casual T-shirt and sneakers. But with so many types, fits and colors to choose from, it can be hard to determine what jeans look best on your body type — if you go too baggy or overly slim, it can make the entire outfit look awkward.
“What's exciting — and daunting — about today's denim silhouettes is there's so much selection available,” said Amy Leverton, the author of “Denim Dudes” and a global denim consultant. “From skinny and slim fits up to baggy ‘90s skater looks, the spectrum has never been more fluid and the choice never wider.”
To help you sort through the endless choices and styles available online, we consulted experts on how to shop for men’s jeans and compiled some expert-recommended and highly rated options for your post-lockdown shopping spree.
Men’s jeans: A shopping guide
With social media seemingly dictating all fashion dos and don’ts, it can be hard not to fall into trends and fads, especially those that may not be suitable for diverse bodies. Experts recommend steering clear of what you think is trendy in the denim world and instead focusing on what’s right for you and your frame.
“Men's denim has gone from ultra skinny in years past to the current wide and oversized silhouettes we're seeing for the rest of 2021,” said Samantha Brown, a personal stylist based in New York City. “While it's important to look modern, I never advise my clients to follow trends that don't speak to them. Baggy, ‘90s-style jeans may be ‘in’ right now, but they're not for everyone and can look out of context depending on who's wearing them.” Brown suggested “a straight, uniform dark wash denim that fits properly” as a timeless style that has more staying power than this season's denim trend.
When shopping for a pair of jeans that fit right, Turner Allen, a New York City-based men’s personal stylist, recommended determining your general body type as the first step. “This can be as simple as ‘short and skinny’ or ‘tall and burly’ — understanding your body’s shape will enable you to manipulate your proportions to accentuate your best features,” he said.
Some men may find themselves feeling too short in straight-leg denim that “adds unnecessary bulk,” for instance, which can be solved by choosing a close-fitting style like slim-fit with a high rise to “create the illusion of long legs,” according to Allen. “It’s all about analyzing your proportions, defining your goals — looking taller, slimmer, shorter — [and] then selecting a style that achieves the desired look,” he said.
Ultimately, no one style of denim suits every body type. “If you have a muscular or bigger build, you need more of a straight leg jean,” added Vanessa Valiente, a personal stylist and fashion consultant based in San Diego. Typically, “the relaxed fit is for larger men, [and] if you're thin, skinny jeans can work for you,” she said, also noting that shoes need to be in proportion to the pant leg. “The wider the leg, the bigger your shoe needs to be,” she explained, and vice versa.
The width of the thigh can also be a deciding factor when it comes to regularly wearing your jeans. Jeans are typically sized based on waist and leg measurements, but a lot of men may struggle when the thigh is just too tight. “It can ruin the way a jean feels and sit on the body awkwardly,” said Leverton. Whenever you’re trying on jeans, pay close attention to the way the thigh feels as you sit, walk and move around.
How to decide: Fit, rise and wash
According to experts, there are five common categories of men’s jeans (although they may branch out and overlap depending on measurements, type of denim and other factors):
- Straight jeans: These jeans keep a consistent length from the top to the bottom of the pant leg without tapering (or becoming narrower) at the bottom.
- Skinny jeans: This style features a narrow opening at the bottom and has a close fit on the leg.
- Slim-fit jeans: While slim-fit jeans are similar to skinny jeans due to their fitted style, they’re typically roomier around the leg and have a tapered leg opening.
- Relaxed-fit jeans: This fit is usually more comfortable than the other options, and they’re still flattering due to a relaxed fit from top to bottom with more room around the thighs.
- Loose-fit jeans: As its name suggests, loose-fitting jeans tend to be slightly baggier than relaxed-fit ones, providing plenty of space along the thighs and down the leg.
Along with fit, there are also multiple rises in jeans that dictate where on the waist a pair will sit. Allen noted three main rises for most jeans:
- Low-Rise: This waistband hits around 4 inches below the belly button. “A slimmer body type can pull off this rise for a relaxed, casual look,” he said.
- Mid-Rise: This rise typically features a waistband that sits between the hip bone and the belly button.
- High-Rise: A high-rise style will have a waistband that sits at or just below the belly button or at your natural waist. According to Allen, “high-rise jeans elongate the legs while defining the wearer’s waist."
Leverton also mentioned that rise isn’t quite as important as fit in men’s jeans, but it can still make a difference in the look you’re trying to embrace. For example, a looser jean coupled with a regular to lower rise will immediately “sit slouchy on your hips and exude youthful skater attitude, but bring that rise higher to true waist or above and suddenly the look is way more mid-century Dad,” she said.
When it comes to different occasions and outfits, the various washes and colors of jeans can make all the difference, too. As Valiente noted, lighter wash and distressed jeans are “T-shirt jeans,” meaning they’re casual enough to wear with plain T-shirts or other casual tops. Dark wash denim, on the other hand, is great for both dressing up or down.
Darker jeans “can quickly be elevated with a tailored jacket and dress shirt or dressed down with a trucker jacket and a fun T-shirt,” said Allen, agreeing that lighter jeans are typically constrained to more casual environments and aren’t as versatile as their darker counterparts.
Best jeans for men in 2021
If you’re just getting started on your jeans collection or are looking to branch out of your everyday pair, these are some expert-recommended and highly rated jeans to shop.
Best straight-leg jeans
Leverton noted that men's denim trends are very similar to women's right now: “What I would consider a 'classic look' would be a straight-slim — much looser than a skinny jean, straight-legged and simple,” she said. For a slightly tapered, summer-friendly look, she suggested rolling up the hem.
Levi’s is a favorite brand for most of the experts we spoke to. “Levi's is one of my go-to brands as they're affordable and have excellent variety in styles,” said Sullivan. Leverton considers the Levi’s 501 jeans a “classic,” ‘90s-style pair — it was one of the original Levi’s silhouettes when the brand was first introduced in the 19th century. Made with non-stretch denim, this straight leg option is available in 10 different colors. Like the brand’s other jeans, Levi’s suggests washing them once every 10 wears at most, which can help them last longer.
Japanese denim is widely considered among the best in the world by denim enthusiasts, and it tends to be an investment. This option from A.P.C. features raw Japanese denim — it can be very stiff when you first purchase it since the fabric hasn’t been chemically treated or washed, but it does wear over time. “A.P.C. has long been a leader in that smarter, high-end denim look and [its] 'New Standard' fit is a modern day cult classic,” said Leverton. This pair has an interior of fabric trimmed with selvedge over the entire length, as well as orange topstitching.
Valiente recommended AG Jeans, noting that since “they have three fits,” it’s important to “try them all on before choosing which fit is best for you.” The Owens are the brand’s straight-leg option that provide more of a tailored look without having to compromise a relaxed feel. They’re considered athletic jeans, meaning they have more room around the seat and thigh area with a more tapered leg. The light wash jeans are made with 10-ounce Daytripper Stretch Denim, which consists of cotton, lyocell and polyurethane.
Best slim-fit jeans
Allen recommended these Todd Snyder jeans since they’re “rugged and hardwearing while remaining smooth and lightweight.” He noted they’re perfect for men who “want the raw denim look without the excess weight and annoying break-in period.” These vintage-inspired slim fit pants are made from 100 percent denim and boast multiple features, including a classic 5-pocket construction, shank button fly (in place of a zipper), chain-stitched embroidery and a selvedge locker loop inside the back waist. The brand recommends sizing up for a more comfortable fit.
Another classic Levi’s style, the 511 Slim Fit jeans are a good alternative to skinny jeans since they provide a similar look with more room around the leg and more stretch. They’re also made with Levi’s sustainable Water
When it comes to finding a trustworthy pair of jeans, “Bonobos [has] several excellent, approachable options for a vast range of sizes and fits for a lightweight stretch option,” said Allen. As its name suggests, the brand’s soft and stretchy All Season Slim Jeans are versatile and durable enough to be worn throughout the year. The fit features a moderate taper from the mid thigh down and the pants are available in five color washes, including Light Wash, Dark Rinse and Indigo.
Uniqlo’s men’s jeans are an affordable and stylish option that feature a purposely worn and vintage feel. They have a mid-rise waist for a secure fit, while the pants themselves are made with comfortable stretch denim. The brand also adjusted the angles of the back and front pockets to be positioned slightly higher in order to flatter the outline of your legs for an even slimmer and taller silhouette. According to the brand, the leg-lengthening cut goes from the knee — which is positioned high up — straight to the hem.
Best skinny jeans
If skinny jeans are more your style, these pants by PAIGE are the brand’s skinniest fit that has been stonewashed and hand-sanded to give the denim a more worn look. It features PAIGE’s signature TRANSCEND denim, which doesn’t stretch out over time and can be worn daily, according to the brand.
Available in both Dark and Light Wash, the Levi’s 510s are slim around the hips and thighs and skinny on the ankle with a 13-inch opening. The denim also has a slight stretch, allowing for greater comfort and mobility. Like the other Levi’s options on this list, the 510s are made with Water
These skinny fit jeans by Calvin Klein sit just below the waist with a skinny leg for a modern and slimming look. Made from a hybrid of cotton and elastane fabric, the hint of stretch helps with mobility and comfort for everyday wear.
Best relaxed- and loose-fit jeans
A relaxed pair of jeans is a classic for men who prioritize comfort and prefer a slightly baggy style. The Levi’s 550 jeans have a straight leg with a looser fit around the seat and thigh area. They’re made with non-stretch denim and feature a five-pocket construction with a zip fly.
These relaxed and tapered jeans from Everlane feature stretchy denim made with organically farmed cotton and elastane. As with most of Everlane’s clothing, sustainability is at the forefront: According to the brand, its LEED-certified denim factory partner recycles 98 percent of its water using reverse osmosis filtration and keeps byproducts out of the environment by mixing them with concrete to create building materials. It also uses renewable energy and air drying to reduce its CO2 emissions by 80 percent.
If you want a pair of jeans that is durable and will last through jobs, trips and hours outdoors, this bestselling pair from Dickies is worth considering. They have triple-stitched seams with rivets to keep them intact, while strong belt loops and pockets on the front, back and sides make them extra handy for storing items and accessories. The relaxed fit means there’s extra room in the seat and thigh to make movement hassle-free.
These loose-fitting jeans are great for a baggier style with a comfortable stretch. They come in multiple color washes, from Light Wash to Black Rinse, and are offered in both regular and tall options — you can choose between a 28-inch inseam length up to a 38-inch length for taller men.