We often preach the virtues of buying less but buying better. It makes sense for your wallet, the environment, and you’ll end up with a garment that’ll get better with time. This is no different with denim jeans.
In fact, if you’re going to spend big on a piece of clothing, there’s arguably no better investment than a pair of jeans. You can wear them with virtually anything, a well made pair will last forever, and then there’s the fade potential of raw denim, which is sole reason for many indigo enthusiasts to drop hundreds on blank denim canvasses, on which every step, bend and lean paints a new brush stroke.
Denim can be confusing though; how can you tell where to buy the best jeans for men? A quick Google reveals forums with enthusiastic tribes seemingly at war over which tiny Japanese brand makes the best jeans. The denim section on Superfuture’s forum has 200 threads alone, with each thread boasting up to 900 pages – it’s enough to make you choke on a cocktail of inseams and copper rivets.
What To Look For In A Pair Of Jeans
How They Fit
As is the case with any piece of clothing, fit is the most important aspect when it comes to parting with your hard-earned cash. If you like the way something fits, or if it complements your personal style – i.e. you might want to wear wide leg trousers if you like a mid-century aesthetic – then you can move on to other details like fabric choice, colour and so on. The point is, if it doesn’t fit, don’t buy it.
But how should a pair of jeans fit? There is no one answer and fit is more subjective today than ever. Yes, skinny jeans have been popular seemingly forever, but in the last few years brands have been slowly moving into more relaxed cuts that flatter rather than shrink-wrap the body. Nudie Jeans for example released two new relaxed styles alone in the last couple of years, to accompany its extensive line up of slim and skinny jeans – there’s more choice than ever before.
The type of denim you choose for your jeans will dictate when they’re appropriate to wear. Something lightweight (under 12oz) is ideal for summer; middleweight (between 12 – 16oz) is good for three seasons and heavyweight (16oz +) should be reserved for colder climes. It’s also worth noting that the heavier the denim the longer it’ll take to break in, and the more uncomfortable it’ll be until it softens, but you’ll also get more extreme fades so there’s a tradeoff. Heavyweight denim is typically valued by enthusiasts for this very reason. No pain, no gain.
Heavier denim doesn’t necessarily equate to better quality either, although it is a good marker because it’s more difficult to produce. Many would argue the denim needs to be raw, including Danny Hodgson, owner and founder of Rivet & Hide: “Raw denim will mould to the wearer’s body shape over time creating natural crease lines and fade patterns.
“Denim woven on vintage looms that use premium grade cotton that has been rope-dyed in indigo will be full of character that reveals itself as the denim breaks in. Jeans that have been through a rigorous and environmentally damaging washing process essentially have all the life sucked out of the cotton and never become a very personal item of clothing in the way that a pair of raw jeans will.”
So, for the best chance of quality, go raw. You’ll be helping our planet too, according to Linda Rieswick, general manager of Son of a Stag. “Buying your jeans raw is much friendlier for the environment as the washing treatments [used by high street chains to achieve manufactured fades] consume tons of water. With raw, you’ll create your own fading history.”
Pay Attention To The Details
Aside from the actual denim fabric itself, there are a number of details that can give away a top pair of jeans. An easy marker is the selvedge which is found by turning up the hem of a leg. “It’s the end of the fabric which has been finished in a way to stop it fraying – it’s the mostly white line mixed with a distinctive red, blue or green colour thread. This is a historical feature where three of the oldest companies had their individual colours at the edge of rolls of fabric so they didn’t get mixed up in the warehouse, which were often shared (Levi’s are red selvedge, Lee Jeans were blue selvedge and Wrangler used green selvedge.).”
Whilst at the hem, it’s worth checking the stitching method used for it. Cheap jeans will have a ‘lockstitched’ hem, with a single thread that does the job, but can easily be achieved on any sewing machine. Better quality jeans will have a chainstitched hem, which are “done on very old industrial hemming machines from a company called Union Special”, according to Rieswick.
“These are nowadays very rare and are gold dust in the denim world as there is actually a small (beauty) flaw with this machine – it creates a high tension on the hem which makes the jeans ‘rope’, giving them a distinctive fade over time.”
Ultimately, spend as much as you can, and you’ll be rewarded with a pair you’ll want to cherish for years. Jeans were originally designed to be worn hard, and this just isn’t possible with an inferior product.
Pardeep Sahota, store manager and buyer at American Classics in London agrees. “Mass-market high street jeans won’t last for everyday wear due to the lower grade materials used, giving them an inconsistent quality. Investing in true artisan denim brands isn’t cheap, but because they’re made in much smaller runs from higher quality cotton, buying selvedge and/or raw denim offers more than value for money.”
Denim Trends To Keep An Eye On
You may not have the time or patience to go raw, especially if you’re after a specific look with your denim. Like any piece of clothing, jeans are not immune from trends. Ripped jeans were everywhere for a while but the last couple of years have seen a rise mid-wash and acid-wash denim, in line with the 90s trend that has somehow permeated the high street. You don’t have to look too hard these days to see a pale-wash jean/chunky trainer/puffer jacket combination Instagramming his way through a flat white.
King & Tuckfield
Inspired by a more timeless decade are wide-leg jeans, a denim trend which takes its cues from the 1950s. Brands such as King & Tuckfield and E. Tautz have been championing breezy legs, often paired with other mid-century staples such as knitted polo shirt and penny loafers.
Model Richard Biedul who collaborated with the former and regularly walks many of the top men’s shows believes this is the direction men’s legs are going, “This season, the demand for wide legs has once again been echoed on the runways of London, Paris and Milan, with designers across the globe showcasing a wider, more relaxed male silhouette.”
Wide leg jeans are easier to wear than you might think, too. “When wearing them it’s important to remember to balance the silhouette you’re attempting to create. I’d therefore recommend going oversized (or relaxed) on not only your bottom half but also the top. Tucking your shirt or knitwear into your jeans will not only compliment the shape of them but also highlight the level of craftsmanship gone into them.”
The Best Jeans At Every Fit
Long a destination for quality denim at reasonable price points, Gap’s offering today includes premium, selvedge denim from esteemed mills such as Kaihara in Japan. For skinny or slim styles with minimal branding, it’s well worth a shot.
With H&M you won’t get many of the quality details you read about above, or outstanding quality raw denim. What you will get is trend-led cuts and washes that’ll tick plenty of boxes for many. And at prices that won’t make you squirm.
Stone Island is best known for its high-tech outerwear, but the firm produces a fine line in denim too. Look for interesting washes, which have been done by hand in Italy, and skinny and slim fits that work well on slender frames.
Uniqlo denim may just be the best value around. The Japanese brand’s slim fit selvedge denim comes with a slight stretch for a comfortable fit, and even features chainstitched hems, a detail usually reserved for jeans costing over twice as much.
Everyone knows Levi’s for its iconic 501 jeans, but we’d actually recommend the 511s, which feature a slimmer leg and more modern, slightly lower rise. Look out for selvedge pairs or the brand’s stretch black jeans, which are arguably the only pair you need.
APC’s denim is a particular highlight. It’s a secret recipe the brand has yet to reveal, giving each pair unique fading potential. It’s Petit Standard cut is slim with a tapered leg that finishes with a narrow opening. They start off stiff though so be prepared for a tough break in period.
Head to Albam for well-made wardrobe essentials. Think Oxford shirts, bomber jackets and hard-wearing selvedge denim all with minimal branding, allowing you to really make them your own.
The famed Japanese brand is amongst the more well known for quality denim. You can’t go to far wrong with Edwin, just be prepared to try on a few pairs to find the right cut – its product line-up is prolific.
AMI has been one of the key proponents in the rise of mid-wash jeans over the last couple of years. Look for interesting details such as slanted trousers-style pockets, cool fabrics and a range of fits including looser regular cuts.
Nudie is one of the top destinations for denim, with a wide range of fits to suit all body types. The brand recently introduced Sleepy Sixteen, its widest cut to date, showing the increased interest in relaxed silhouettes of late.
Acne is a reliable, if expensive option for what they are (non-selvedge denim), but the fits on offer are undeniably good. Its Land jeans feature ‘baggy legs’ and a ‘boxy silhouette’, two phrases we’ve heard plenty of in recent times.
Head to Eytys for a more fashion forward direction that still doesn’t skimp on quality. Raw denim is available, and in baggy cuts such as the Benz jean, which balloon out like Oxford bags.
3Sixteen, based out of LA, is one of the more innovative denim brands around, known for its signature ‘shadow selvedge’ with its electric blue fades. The CT cut is one of its more popular jean styles, with a beautifully tapered that follows the contour of the wearer’s legs.
Naked & Famous
Similarly, Naked & Famous’ Weird Guy jeans boast a subtle taper than finished with a narrow hem – perfect to show off those new trainers. Value for money is hard to beat here – one of the best-made pairs of jeans you’ll find anywhere, all under £150.
Hawksmill Denim Co
Yes, made in England isn’t everything, but it certainly stands for something in the world of garment manufacturing. Hawksmill denim is just that, combining the best of Japanese denim with top notch production, including a tasty Union Special chainstitched hem.