The average man in Britain is five-foot-nine and wears a size medium or large. If this sounds like you, then congratulations – you’ve hit the jackpot in denim shopping, and all jeans are essentially made for you.
Brands and designers base their sizing on a man of average dimensions, then scale up or down. Of course, for those that don’t fit these exact specifications, shopping for jeans can be just as tricky as buying tailoring.
Fortunately, there is a checklist for different shapes that, if followed, means you can update your denim rotation with ease and tailor your purchase to your body. This is the FashionBeans guide to buying jeans that suit, whatever your size.
For all body types, the four corners of nailing denim purchases are: rise, colour, shape and break.
Before even stepping foot into a shop, it’s important to do some homework. Getting the right inseam measurement forms the basis for all jean choices thereon.
Unless you’re a yoga master, it’s a difficult measurement to take yourself. For around £10, dry cleaners or high-street tailors should be able to help, allowing you to tackle the rails knowing you’re not going to end up with flipper feet or pedal pushers.
While shopping, pay attention to the rise (the distance from the crotch seam to the top of the waistband) as much as the length. Both are equally important in getting denim that fits well, but length can be altered easily – the rise cannot.
If the length needs fixing, don’t try this at home. Head to a local dry cleaner or tailor to get them hemmed. As a general rule on how to ask for them to be pinned, Peter Manning, a New York-based denim expert who specialises in clothes for shorter men says: “Jeans should break just over the shoe, and should never, ever touch the ground.”
Ensure that the original hem is kept; otherwise, it will look as though the jeans have just ended abruptly. Not doing so can also change the overall fit. Shortening denim results in a wider leg opening, so learn the terminology and request an original hem rather than a tucked hem.
If you’re below average height, the perfect pair of jeans will make your frame appear taller than it is. However, thanks to brands’ generic one-shape-fits-all attitude, a shortening effect can just as easily occur.
Luckily for your wallet, you needn’t go down the bespoke route to secure a decent fit. There are a few things that you can do as a vertically challenged man to get more height on the high street.
If short legs are the issue, avoid low-rise denim at all costs. Stick to mid-rise styles, as these add balance to the top and bottom half of the body. Barron Cuadro, men’s style expert and founder of the website EffortlessGent, suggests buying jeans purely on the fit of the rise: “If they feel good in the seat and thigh but are a couple of inches too long – buy them anyway and take them to a tailor.”
It seems like common sense that relaxed- or loose-fit jeans would make you look bigger, but in reality, they do the opposite – drowning yourself in fabric is a sure-fire way to look like you’ve borrowed them from someone else’s wardrobe.
That said, don’t revert to spray-on styles at the other end of the spectrum either. “The skinny jean may have been the go-to style for the past decade but when looking for a flattering fit, move to a more forgiving shape,” says Topman’s design director Gordon Richardson.
A straight-leg design can help elongate the body’s frame, thereby giving the illusion of height. “The proper width of the thigh, calf and leg opening on straight denim can make legs look longer and leaner,” explains Manning. Shorter men should have little to no break, which adds valuable optical inches to leg length.
Aside from fit, it makes sense to invest in a colour that works across your wider wardrobe. As a general rule, shorter men looking to add height should stick to dark washes with little to no distressing.
Tom Courcey, editor-in-chief at menswear etailer The Idle Man, suggests opting for raw denim: “These will carry a wearer through season after season, and give a more classic feel. Ideally, invest in a high-end pair that will last years.”
- Dark coloured, raw denim
- Straight leg
- Classic break
The definition of ‘tall’ varies from country to country, but typically, anyone over six-foot is thought to fall into this category. That also means it covers a wide range of sizes – everyone from male supermodels to NBA and rugby players will need tall denim, giving retailers a lot of scope to get it wrong.
For taller guys, the high street’s current lean towards high-waisted jeans can be a minefield. A high rise will elongate the length of your legs and make you look out of proportion, so stick to mid- or low-rise denim. Bear in mind that even if the rise is right, tall men need to pay specific attention to the drop (the distance between the waist and the crotch). There should be enough room in the crotch to keep the jeans from pinching, or there could be some seriously unwanted chafing going on.
Despite the industry practice of scaling, there are no set sizing guidelines that all brands adhere to when it comes to denim. Some labels adjust their leg measurement depending on waist size (i.e. the higher the waist size, the longer the inseam), while others offer Long and Regular sizing that is inconsistent. It pays to try before you buy.
The ideal cut for this body is a straight or slim leg. “You want enough room for your legs not to look restricted,” explains Anika Islam, chief executive at denim brand Wåven.
Avoid skinny jeans, which will only draw attention to leg length and can make them appear even longer. Similarly, tapered fits will create an imbalance in the upper body and give the illusion you’re going to topple over.
As for the style of jeans, taller men should go easy on textures and patterns, and instead stick to a classic selvedge wash. Wearing simple, dark colours made from lighter weight denim means they’ll be more flattering on boxier shapes. But avoid all-black outfits, or you might risk looking like Slender Man.
Rachel Johnson, a stylist behind some of the NBA’s best-dressed ballers, including LeBron James, knows a thing or two about dressing taller men. Johnson recommends going for a cleaner look: “I’m big on jeans with ‘self-stitching,’ where the thread matches the colour of the denim. They shouldn’t have many details on them, either.”
As with suit trousers, nailing the break on jeans when tall is imperative. An ever-so-slightly higher break works best, especially for guys who want to introduce a statement sock (or go sockless). Excess material puddling over your sneakers is not only a style faux pas, but will draw the eye down, emphasising your height further. Cuffing or pin-rolling your jeans is another styling trick to consider, which helps break up your vertical line and add some bulk to your legs – two things that will make your body appear in proportion.
- Mid- or Low-Rise
- Dark coloured, lightweight denim (with a belt)
- Straight or slim leg
- Higher break
Denim is often seen as the enemy for larger guys, especially when all the shops seem to be stocking are skinny cuts best suited to members of One Direction. However, jeans can, in fact, be a secret weapon in this body type’s arsenal; smoothing any problem areas and adding length, providing they fit properly.
As this suggests, the first thing to do is make sure the jeans are not too tight. Discrepancies in size from store to store, even in inch-by-inch measurements, mean it’s almost essential for bigger men to try jeans on before handing over cash. If ordering online, try ‘bracketing’ purchases by buying the size you think you are, as well as one up and one down.
It might seem like the best solution is to buy the smallest pair of jeans you can fit into, but the ‘muffin top’ effect created by wearing jeans too tight will make you look larger than you are. Stylist and bespoke tailor Antonio Centeno agrees: “It’s just going to make your outline look sloppy. On a large man, the effects are amplified.”
Once waistband size is sorted, next look for a style that features a low-rise. It sounds counterintuitive to ditch the waist-cinching properties of high-rise jeans, but a low-rise gives more room and leaves space to avoid dreaded belly bulge. “You should be looking for a low-rise that sits comfortably under the belly, but with a relaxed fit in the thigh and hip,” says Scott Morrison, founder of premium custom denim brand 3×1.
Another weight to be considered when shopping is that of the jeans. The benefits of lighter denim (under 12oz) over heavier options don’t just end with their less insulating properties, says Centeno: “A smooth, light fabric that drapes in clean lines will sit better than something [thick and] boxy.”
The trick is picking a thinner denim that doesn’t look cheap. Focus on darker washes, which is an easy way to slim down and will automatically look more expensive than lighter or stonewash counterparts.
As for the leg, aim for something that skims the body. “Stick to casual straight-leg jeans; rolled up or in a classic fit,” says denim expert Islam. Luckily, after a few years in the menswear wilderness, classic straight cuts are back on trend this year. So, drop the second skin and go for a more flattering look.
A reoccurring suggestion from stylists, when asked about tips for larger men, was to keep pockets clear. Stuffing them with everything except the kitchen sink increases how large the waist appears by making them out of shape and saggy. Clean lines and a neat fit are the keys to looking good here.
- Dark coloured, lightweight denim
- Straight leg
- Lower break
While you might not necessarily hit the magic five-foot-nine, medium/large formula, a thinner frame does give room to play with contemporary styles; especially ones that add visual bulk such as patchwork, embroidery or bleaching.
When looking for the most flattering rise, you can get away with whatever style you like. However, to build up your stature, we recommend opting for a lower rise. The cut is roomy without drawing attention to undefined or smaller legs.
Choosing the right fabric is an easy way to give the illusion of a more solid structure without resorting to baggy denim. Centeno suggests following the same advice given to thinner men when shopping for suits by favouring texture: “Anything that looks rougher to the touch will suggest you have more mass than you do.”
The thickness of selvedge denim is great for skinny legs, particularly in a lighter shade, which swerves the slimming effect caused by dark colours.
As for the shape, avoid buying extremes. Super-slim cuts will only highlight a lack of bulk, so stay away from any styles labelled ‘stretch’, ‘spray’ or contain high amounts of elastane. Similarly, an oversized or relaxed fit creates a messy silhouette and will leave you looking like you raided your big brother’s wardrobe.
Matt Glazebrook, editor of the Menswear Style Feed at ASOS, suggests hitting the middle ground with a slim leg: “Trying to disguise your inherent slightness might seem appealing, but it will usually leave your gear looking shapeless and sack-like. A much better bet is to embrace your shape and make the most of your lines and sharp angles.”
Thin men share the same goal as men of all other body types, and that is to balance proportions. To do this with the leg length, aim for a small, neat break, says Jaeger’s head of menswear James Jee: “Keep the inside leg at a length that just rests on the shoe, giving a sharp and clean look.”
- Light coloured, heavyweight denim
- Slim, straight leg
- Classic break