Searching for the perfect pair of jeans can be frustrating, but if you get them right, they’ll end up being the best thing in your closet. We spoke with 14 stylish people who know a lot about jeans — stylists, designers, retailers, fashion writers, and denim nerds — to hear about their favorite pairs, from skinny black jeans designed not to fade, to styles for guys with big thighs, to sustainably made Swedish jeans with “vegan leather” patches.
Best straight fit jeans for men
“If we’re going to talk about jeans that every man should have in their closet, a pair of good-old Levi’s,” says Amy Leverton, author of Denim Dudes: Street Style, Vintage, Workwear, Obsession. Getting a pair of Levi’s is “almost a rite of passage,” she says, and the 501 is their all-time classic fit. Leverton notes that some prefer the more contemporary slim look of the 511, and “denim nerds” might seek out a “1947 LVC” (from Levi’s Vintage Collection), but the 501 is still the gold standard.
For an upgraded version of the 501, Leverton recommends the A.P.C. New Standard, which are made of raw Japanese selvedge denim (ask any denim expert where the best denim comes from and odds are they’ll say Japan). “Raw” denim hasn’t been chemically treated or washed, so it’s very stiff at first, but over time it breaks in, softens up, and develops fades and creases unique to the wearer, and “selvedge” refers to a way of weaving the fabric that is typically associated with high-end denim because it’s more labor intensive. Leverton describes the APC New Standard as “the go-to pared-back jean of the last ten years.” She says it strikes the right balance of everything one would want in a pair of premium jeans. “It’s clean and raw, but doesn’t shout purist. It’s classic and authentic without being heritage.”
“My friends swear by Everlane denim,” says Tim Melidio, the writer behind menswear site Stay Classic. Everlane also uses Japanese denim, but with Everlane “the price is right.” The denim is woven with two-percent elastane to add some stretch.
“If you’re a raw denim guy, it’s hard to do better than 3sixteen,” says Dan Snyder, owner and designer of New York City-based menswear company, Corridor. 3sixteen is serious about sourcing their Japanese denim, and their website notes that these are made with denim “custom woven” for them by Kuroki Mills in Japan. (It’s raw, selvedge denim, just like the APC’s). 3sixteen makes jeans in a variety of different fits, but the SL-100x is their classic, 501-inspired model.
These “Classic Fit” Agave jeans are a customer-favorite at menswear specialist Drinkwater’s in Cambridge. Owner Gary Drinkwater likes that these are made with high quality supima cotton. “When people ask me on the phone to describe the fit, the only thing I can say is that it’s very similar to a Levi’s 501. It’s a straight, trim fit. Not slim, but trim. It’s for that guy who doesn’t really want all the bells and whistles of selvedge denim, he just wants good jeans.” Drinkwater also notes that these have two-percent elastane woven into the fabric, for some stretch.
Best skinny jeans for men
Alex Simons, a brand and editorial manager at Netflix, was a self-proclaimed “fancy-jeans guy for years.” As he explains, “I wore my Marc by Marc Jacobs black jeans forever. Then, right before a business trip, they ripped so I rushed into Levi’s and found the 510s and have never looked back. They’re comfortable from the moment you put them on, have the perfect amount of pocket space, are skinny but not skin-tight, and of course, they’re a great price. Oh, and they stack perfectly on top of my high-top sneakers.”
These are stylist Brandon Garr’s personal favorite. He buys multiple pairs at a time so he can alternate and wear them a few times throughout the week. “They perfectly hug the body without being too tight, and keep their shape without getting saggy from wear.” He also loves that these keep their color a long time without fading. “I like to dress them up with a black Chelsea boot and a blazer, or rock them with a pair of converse and a vintage tee. They aren’t outrageously expensive either, which is really nice.”
Leverton thinks Swedish denim brand Nudie has “great fits,” and she also really appreciates the company’s values. “It’s a brand that put Earth first and did it in such a way as to make a sustainable business model scalable. Good quality, 100 percent organic cotton, a female founder and now a vegan-friendly back patch.” She likes the skinny Thin Finn style because it’s one of the original and most recognizable Nudie fits.
Best jeans for guys with big thighs
Philip Saul, owner of Boston’s Sault New England, told us that a lot of guys come in looking for what he calls the “Taper fit.” Basically, something with “a bit more room in the thighs and butt to move and feel comfortable” while maintaining the look of a slimmer leg. “It’s a great for guys who don’t skip leg day,” says Saul, or for anyone looking for a little more comfort without sacrificing style. His favorites in this fit are the Levi’s 502 and the Raleigh Denim Graham model, both of which have a little added stretch.
Strategist contributor Kurt Soller wrote about having trouble finding the right jeans for his legs, “which are thicker in the thighs and skinnier in the calves.” After trying on a few pairs, he says “the Acne River pair ended up being perfection — a paragon of that Zeitgeist-y tapered style that’s loose and slightly baggy above the knee, before narrowing to a not-too-tight foot opening.”
Best loose jeans for men
Drinkwater says this pair from English workwear-inspired brand Universal Works is his “go-to jean” at the moment. “I’m really loving this fuller fit in a jean,” he says. Drinkwater “got tired of tight-fitting jeans” and wanted something more comfortable. “We’re starting to see a reverse in this trend of slim to a little fuller. Pleated trousers, shirts not fitting as snug to the body. I don’t think it’s for everybody, but I like the idea of things loosening up a little bit.”
Best black jeans for men
“Every guy should have some dressy black jeans,” says stylist Dave Thomas. If you want a black jean you can “dress up,” he says it’s important to make sure the color is a solid black that isn’t faded at all. He loves the Acne Max Stay Black because the fit is “slim but not super tight,” and the fabric is designed to resist fading.” This jean came up a lot. Garr loves them too, as does Carlos Rivera-Anaya, head of marketing at Mr Porter. “I own three pairs,” he says. “On one, I cut the hem fairly high for a super slim leg that looks great with a sharp Chelsea boot and leather jacket. On a second I snipped the hem about 2 inches lower to wear with white tube socks and Vans Old Skools, and for my work-appropriate look, I left them intact, which gives me a straight and narrow leg with some length around the ankle. Total staple jeans.” If you style them the right way, Thomas says you could even wear them to a black-tie event.
Best slim fit jeans for men
The Levi’s 511 is to slim-fit jeans as the 501 is to straight-fit jeans: a standard-bearer. Melideo says Levi’s 511’s are a “staple” of his wardrobe. Garr likes the 511’s, too, but he’s partial to the heavily distressed “Finely Shred” wash and sees it as a sort of hack for getting a good price on a look that designer brands sometimes charge a fortune for. “Honestly, if I’m going to buy a pair of jeans that’s destroyed, I don’t want to pay as much for them,” says Garr. He also says that Levi’s is a go-to brand for him because “they’re affordable and hold up in the city. I also feel like I can be a little bit more daring in them because I don’t have to worry as much about the replacement cost if they get a little roughed up.”
Thomas’s ideal jean fit: “slim, tapered from the knee, but not too tight on the sides and top.” He likes the Rag and Bone Type 2 Fit; it’s right in the middle of their skinny-fit Type 3 and their straight-leg Type 1. These have a small amount of stretch which he also likes. “It’s nice to have something that moves with you.” He recommends wearing them cropped or rolled up if you’re going sockless.
One brand Drinkwater is really excited about is Raleigh Denim. “I think they’re the best of the best in this country right now in terms of denim,” he says. He highlights the feel of the denim itself, the “quality of the manufacturing,” and the attention to detail: “Every sewer of each pair of jeans signs the inside of the pair.” He plans to start carrying more styles because it’s been a big hit with customers, but right now his favorite model is the slimmish-straight, “Jones” fit.
While Leverton is a big fan of Nudie’s Thin Finn skinny fit — and also the company’s style names in general — she also likes the more “classic” Grim Tim, which is more of a traditional slim fit. It could be a good compromise for someone who that clean look of tailored black jeans without wearing anything too tight.
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