Style Secrets: How to Find the Perfect Jeans

men's jeans

Men’s jeans | Craig Barritt/Getty Images for NYMag

A comfortable, durable, and great-fitting pair of jeans is one of the essentials that should be in every guy’s wardrobe. A classic pair can go from a casual day at the office to the bar for beers with friends, and can look just as appropriate for weekend errands. A great pair of jeans can go further than just about any other essential, but it can be a challenge finding your perfect pair of jeans.

You’ll need to consider a wide variety of factors, and make choices about the size, cut, your preferred type of denim, and what details you want. It can be easier to find what you’re looking for online than at the local mall, but if you aren’t sure of the brand and the cut, it can be hard to figure out what to buy when you can’t try a pair on.

As if that doesn’t make it difficult enough, really good jeans that you’ll love and want to wear extensively should look like they were made for you. But, short of actually buying a pair of custom denim, what’s the best way to find your perfect pair of jeans? We’ll walk you through the process with some questions you should ask yourself as you shop for your next pair of denim.

What size?

Blue jeans, hat and shoes

Men’s jeans |

To buy your perfect pair of jeans, you need to start by knowing your measurements — particularly if you’re looking to shop or buy online. Heddels advises starting with a pair of jeans that you already own and consider to be an ideal fit. There are seven measurements that can help you find a perfect fit in a new pair of denim: the waistband, inseam, leg opening or hem, upper thigh, knee, front rise, and back rise. To buy a pair of jeans at the mall, just keep in mind your waist measurement and your inseam.

The next thing to consider once you know what size you need is the fit of your jeans — which goes hand in hand with the size and is subject to the same misconceptions. Nico Peyrache, vice president of denim design at Lucky Brand, told Men’s Fitness guys don’t need to worry about their body type when choosing a fit. Instead, think about where and why you’re going to be wearing these jeans. A more relaxed fit, for instance, is better suited to casual activities, while a trimmer fit can be dressed up a little more for some added versatility. Peyrache also recommends grabbing a pair in a size smaller than what you normally wear when you head for the fitting room, since most guys tend to wear their jeans too big. Just as you don’t want the waistband to be too tight, you also don’t want it to be too loose.

Which fit?

Man wearing blue jeans standing against wall

Men’s jeans |

Almost every brand of denim offers a wide variety of different fits, and while a lot of them have different names, there are a few basics with which you should be familiar with before you go shopping. A relaxed fit is cut generously from thigh to hem, and can be a comfortable option for guys of sturdier builds. A straight fit is cut trimmer, with a straight line from hip to hem, and can be especially flattering in a low or medium rise.

A slim fit is an even trimmer cut than the straight fit, and can be a good choice for guys with a wide range of body types, but should be your go-to if you’re on the shorter side. A slim straight falls somewhere in between, with a narrow look that’s a little more comfortable for sturdy builds. A bootcut can balance the body with a wider cut at the ankle. Also pay attention to the length of your jeans, and make sure that you’re choosing the right inseam, by considering whether you’re going to cuff your jeans.

Shopping online for denim can be difficult because it’s hard to know what fit you’ll like or even what size will look best if you aren’t familiar with the brand. When they find a brand and a cut that they like, many guys tend to stick with that brand. That’s a wise move; being confident in the style and size that you need makes it a whole lot easier to shop online and take advantage of sales that might not be available to you locally. And speaking of sales, make sure you know what you’re willing to pay for a pair of denim and try to stay in your price range when you go shopping.

What color and type of denim?

Pairs of blue jeans rolled up

Pairs of blue jeans rolled up |

At its most basic, this consideration is about what you want your jeans to look like. And when in doubt, you should go for a pair of dark denim. You have a couple of good options: a clean, dark rinse or a pair of rigid, also called raw denim. Raw denim is much more hard-wearing than a pair of rinsed or washed jeans, and the dark indigo color will wear in with “fades” that are specific to the way you wear them.

Raw denim, which goes unwashed and untreated after being dyed, is about a lot more than aesthetics. Raw denim jeans are typically, though not always, made of 100% cotton and come in a variety of weights, as measured by how much a yard of the denim weighs. Anything below 12 ounces is considered lightweight; a denim between 12 and 16 ounces is considered mid-range; and anything 16 ounces and up is considered heavyweight. Raw denim is available in the same wide range of fits as any other type of denim, though with raw denim, you need to consider whether your jeans are sanforized or unsanforized. Most raw denim is sanforized, which means that they’ve been treated with water to avoid the shrinking that would otherwise occur with the first wash. Unsanforized jeans, which are less common, aren’t treated with water and will shrink considerably when they’re first washed or soaked.

Of course, not everyone is interested in raw denim, so a dark-colored rinse or even a lighter wash is always an option. Regardless of the look you’re going for, make sure that your denim is mostly or all cotton.

What details?

Ripped blue jeans with boots

Men’s blue jeans |

The key to a classic look is timeless details. Steer clear of overly embellished back pockets, excessive fraying, and high-contrast bleaching or wash patterns. Look for classic shapes on both the front and back pockets, as well as a clean embroidery design on the back pockets, which shouldn’t be so large or long that they’re unflattering. Determine whether you want a button fly or a zip fly, and make sure you like the stitching style and color.

Also consider whether you want selvedge denim, which is woven using traditional techniques, often on narrow, old shuttle looms that were used to weave denim until the mid-to-late 1900’s. The word “selvedge” refers to the edge of the denim, which has a clean finish and won’t unravel even though it forms the outset of the jeans. Selvedge denim often has a tighter weave than non-selvedge denim, and denim mills that create selvedge denim are usually committed to honoring American denim’s long history with high yarn quality, excellent dyeing techniques, and good quality control.