The average man 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, color, 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, however, 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.
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.
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.
“I’d go for a slimmer cut – it seems to work better even if it’s a chunky guy,” says professional stylist and founder of SartoriaLab, Sarah Gilfillan. Pick a straight-leg design to help elongate the body’s frame, thereby giving the illusion of height.
Aside from fit, invest in a simple denim colour that works across your wider wardrobe and steer clear of anything with too much detail. “Choose a wash in a uniform shade (i.e. no contrast fading) and not too low waisted,” suggests Gilfillan.
If you are determined to wear ripped jeans, Gilfillan suggests a lighter coloured denim, so there’s not too much contrast between the rips and the denim colour. “Ensure the back pockets aren’t too low either as this will make your legs look shorter.”
Solid, dark washes
Straight or slim leg
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, but there are a few styles you should steer well clear of. “Tall guys should be trying to add width, so skinny or spray-on jeans are best avoided,” explains Alexander McCalla, a stylist at men’s personal shopping site Thread. “They create a narrow silhouette, which accentuates your height.” 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 solid washes. Simple, dark jeans made from lighter weight denim are more flattering on boxier shapes. But avoid all-black outfits, or you risk looking like Slender Man.
“Dark or washed denim is probably best,” adds McCalla. “And it goes without saying that stripes are a no-no. But you weren’t going to wear pinstripe jeans anyway, right?”
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 pinrolling 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
Slightly higher break
Denim is often seen as the enemy for larger guys, especially when all the shops seem to be stocking are skinny jeans 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 essential for bigger men to try jeans on before handing over cash. If you’re ordering online, try ‘bracketing’ purchases by buying the size you think you are, as well as one up and one down.
“Stretch denim is a great material here,” says personal stylist Daniel Johnson. “A bigger gent’s body has much more movement so the stretch fabric will help to accommodate this, particularly around the thigh.”
Once waistband size is sorted, next look for a style that features a flattering colour. “The old adage of darker colours are slimming is very true here,” says Johnson. “A dark indigo wash denim will work nicely.”
In terms of fit, anything marked ‘slim’ or ‘skinny’ should be avoided like the plague – the last thing you want is to spend 15 minutes each morning wrestling with your jeans, only to end up with a muffin top. “If a man carries weight around his middle then slim-cut jeans will not be helpful,” Johnson says. “We want to balance out the middle and go slightly wider on the leg of the jean. That being said there is nothing wrong with a little tapering to follow and smooth out the lines of the body.”
As any sartorially-savvy gent will no doubt agree, style is in the details (or lack thereof). And that goes double when picking out jeans. “I’ve got clients who are on the larger side and I always try to adjust the scale of the detail to that person,” explains Johnson. “Some men may have a large upper half and slim legs, so in this case I’d use larger details such as pockets or belt loops to balance and maintain the scale of a larger torso and vice versa.”
Keeping that in mind, a recurring suggestion from stylists, when asked about tips for larger men, was to keep pockets empty. Stuffing them with everything except the kitchen sink increases how large your 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
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 jeans 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. But to build up your stature, opt 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. As a general rule, anything that looks slightly rough to the touch will give the illusion of increased mass.
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.
“For the more slender man, I would always opt for jeans with a slim fit, or straight-leg jeans with a slight taper at the ankle,” says Sabina Emrit, a stylist who has worked with everyone from Stormzy to Sir Ian McKellen.
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. “Make sure the sneakers are low-tops and if you want a little more detail, turn the jeans up,” advises Emrit. “And don’t be afraid to take your jeans to a tailor. You do it with your trousers, and you probably wear your jeans a lot more – so it makes sense and can make such a difference.”
Light coloured, heavyweight denim
Slim, straight leg
Got that upside-down triangle shape body thing going on? More power to you. You’ve obviously been putting the man hours in at the gym. Yet while being able to categorise your body type as ‘muscular’ on dating sites does come with its advantages, it can make choosing a well-fitting pair of jeans a right royal pain in the masterfully-toned glutes.
Thankfully, achieving a good fit doesn’t have to mean losing any of your painstakingly acquired muscle mass. Not if you know how to dress for your body shape. “For muscular guys I tend to stay away from both bootcut and skinny jeans,” says Joshua Meredith, fashion coordinator for Notion Magazine. “Neither [will] do you any favours.”
This issue arises because skinny jeans (and especially god-awful muscle fits) accentuate the legs too much, throwing things out of whack with the rest of the body. “On a muscular guy this tends to make them look uncomfortable due to the tightness of the jeans around the thighs,” adds Meredith. “It can make it look as though the jeans are too small.”
Bootcut jeans are at the opposite end of the spectrum. They sap all of the definition from the legs. The aim should be to complement the shape of the body, not hide it entirely. “Try going for tapered fits instead,” suggest Meredith. “This cut is flattering to all areas of the leg due to its roomy thigh and narrow calves and leg openings.”
Aside from tapered, straight-leg jeans can work nicely for stacked guys too. The looser fit will help to balance out the legs with the torso while also avoiding the fabric clinging in any problem areas.
“Always have a dark wash and light wash, as these are quick and easy to pair with anything,” says Meredith. “For alternative colours it depends on the person’s style.” But unless your fashion heroes appeared on Love Island, go easy on white and off-white.
Straight or tapered fit
Dark and light wash
Low- or mid-rise
No bootcut, skinny or muscle fit