Taking a quick look around the few crowded spaces we do visit these days, it looks like the super-stretch skinny jean is out, replaced by the 1980s-inspired Dad jean, with its wider legs, higher inseam, and geek-cred. As we head back out into the world for work, celebrations, and even the most mundane of tasks, it’s a perfect time to head to an actual store to try on a few new pairs of the best jeans to see what works for you, and freshen up your denim wardrobe. You may want to try those Dad jeans out for yourself, or you might be thinking about grabbing a pair of rugged, blue collar-inspired jeans that look more like they’re made for the corral (and not the Golden one). Or you might be searching for something that replaces your sweats, offering literal and metaphorical flexibility.
Before you head out to the store (and especially if you’re going to try to do this from your phone or laptop), there are a few terms you should understand about how jeans are sized. Most good denim companies these days will offer details about a particular style’s fit so that you can make an informed decision.
The rise measures the area of the jean from the crotch all the way up past the zipper to the waistband. What makes those dad jeans so special is their higher rise, often coming up as high as the belly button. We suggest a rise of about 10 or 11 inches for most guys.
Even though the waist is normally the first measurement we worry about, we list it after the rise. Why? Because depending on the style of the jean — and the way you’re built — the waist can land anywhere from right across the pelvis all the way up to that belly button. In classic tailoring, the waist is measured around the body, just above the hip bones, but below the navel. Many denim brands also “tilt” the measurement forward, bringing the back of the jean up for a little more coverage of the butt, but down in the front to either show off the abs, while others use the same trick to allow for a little more — ahem — belly.
The inseam is sort of the opposite of the rise, measuring from the crotch down the inside of your leg to the bottom hem. The longer your legs, the longer your inseam.
The very bottom of the leg of a pair of jeans. One key indicator that somebody does good denim alterations is a tailor who will reattach the bottom hem to maintain an authentic look (as opposed to just turning it under and stitching it like a pair of dress pants). This is particularly important if you’ve gone to the expense of buying selvedge denim.
Basically it boils down to knowing your body. Never miss a leg day? Look for jeans that offer a little more room through the butt and thigh for a comfortable and complementary fit. Never miss a meal? A pair with that tilted rise will look more flattering than wearing a pair that traverse the whole stomach. Right in the middle?
If your denim wardrobe means only owning one or two pair that get a lot of mileage, we like a classic cut in a dark stretch denim that will look as great with a sport coat and dress shirt as it does with a t-shirt and leather jacket. A simple 5-pocket straight leg with a medium rise complements most bodies, and works for most occasions. The good news is that if you’re tall, short, big, or athletic, more and more denim companies are creating sizes just for you.
If you’re hard to fit, you could drop coin on a pair of custom fitted men’s jeans, but where’s the cachet in that? Our suggestion is to get out there and kiss a lot of frogs. Get to the closest store with a denim specialty and try a bunch on. See what brand fits your body best. Take a friend who understands fit and style. As mentioned, find a store (or tailor) that knows how to handle denim alterations. Once you’ve found your forever jeans, you’ll have an idea of what measurements work best for you, so you can then shop similar styles from other brands.
Die-hard denim aficionados may think that stretch is anathema to authenticity in denim. We say, let them walk a mile in our favorite pair of stretch jeans and they’ll change their minds. We’re not talking about jeans with enough stretch so you can wear them for a workout (although those styles do exist), just enough so that they don’t chafe or rub, and to give you a little freedom of movement as you’re bending down to get something out of the bottom drawer or chasing one of the kids around the yard.
The trend right now is toward light wash jeans, pale blue indigo that looks like you’ve had it forever with a bit of repair and ready-made wear. We like that for weekends, working from home, or nights out, but not so much for the office.
Best for Most Men: Rag & Bone Fit 2 Denim in Bayview
We like this Rag & Bones’ “Fit2” silhouette, offering a 10.75 inch rise, with a 12.5 inch leg opening. This dark wash works for most occasions, too, as does the barely noticeable two-percent stretch.
Best for Guys on a Budget: Mavi Jake Slim Leg Jeans
At just under a hundred bucks, this pair offers a great fit (10.5-inch rise, but 15 in the back, with a slightly skinnier 14-inch leg opening) with a soft, brushed, touchable wash, while maintaining the super dark indigo wash we want for formality.
Best for Guys Packing a Little Extra: 34 Heritage Courage Straight Leg Jeans in Mid Vintage
34 Heritage is definitely focusing on the luxury customer, designed to pair with a Brunello Cucinelli blazer and a pair of Tod’s, but the fit and fabric selections are incomparable.
Best for Athletic Men: Duer Men’s Relaxed Fit Stretch Jeans
Designed for guys who work out by guys who work out, but styled for men who don’t spend all their time in the gym. This pair also features stretch and Coolmax and a silver-ion treatment to minimize odors. Our favorite part? The hidden gusset built into the crotch for even more ease of movement.
Best Classic Fit: Levi’s Original Fit Men’s Jeans
Levi’s 501s are, perhaps, the most classic pair of jeans, and one of our favorite fits on just about every body. They also look good with just about everything. We’re also all about the button-fly. (To be honest, they are not our favorite silhouette to pair with a blazer: Try a chore coat or over-shirt for a workwear-inspired look.) They are a “regular” fit that sits on your natural waistline, with rise that’s just over 12 inches: not quite Dad, but getting there.
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