Did you know 450 million pairs of jeans are sold in the United States every year? Wow! Jeans might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of fashion, style and trends, but they actually play a huge role in day to day wear. Having the perfect color, fit and style of denim is essential to any wardrobe. In the past few years, the world of denim has gotten even more serious thanks to the likes of selvedge denim, japanese indigo and indestructible denim. Whether you like your jeans soft and stretchy or stiff and unbreakable, this guide will lead you to your perfect pair!
Feel free to read it in order or check out the table of contents to jump to sections.
A Couple of Pointers to Get You Started:
The easiest way to break down denim is by talking about fabric and style.
Your classic pair of jeans will be anywhere from 97% to 100% cotton, with the remaining percentage being elastane or another material for stretch. These types of jeans will stretch out as your wear them since they are mostly cotton. It's best if your cotton jeans are snug at first because they will give as you wear them.
Denim "blend" means they have some cotton, but also other materials like spandex for stretch, polyester for durability and resistance to shrinking, and rayon for softness. If you love your jeans soft and stretchy, a blend is your best friend. Blends don't stretch out as much, so make sure you like the fit when you purchase them.
Have you ever felt a REALLY stiff pair of jeans, stiff to the point where you can almost stand it on its legs? Chances are they are made of "raw denim". Raw denim refers to denim that has not been pre-washed or "untouched". Raw denim is very durable and can be heavy, raging from 10 to 25 oz.
Raw denim fans don’t like to wash their jeans, instead they put them in the freezer... what?! Yup, it’s a thing. The appeal of raw denim, besides durability, is that it’s natural unwashed fade becomes unique with wear and gets better as it ages.
Some people confuse "raw" denim for "selvedge" denim, but they are two different things. Selvedge denim refers to the stitching at the edge of the denim and the type of loom it’s made on. This specific style of stitching ensures the denim won’t unravel or tear. That being said, selvedge denim can be made out of raw or pre-washed denim.
Selvedge denim is made on a shuttle loom and that means the fabric is typically a yard wide with no breaks, making it premium quality. The most popular places for this type of fabric are the US and Japan.
The type of denim you should go for all depends on what you find comfortable. If you like to have movement, quality and some stretch in your jeans, go for a classic denim (97%+ cotton). If you like to do karate kicks and don’t want your jeans to lose their shape, go for a denim blend. If you’re sick of ripping every pair of denim you’ve loved and are okay with some stiffness, check out raw denim. If you’re serious about your denim and want to wear it for many years to come, check out selvedge in either a pre-washed fabric (softer) or raw (stiffer). You will pay a higher upfront cost with selvedge, but you won’t be replacing it often.
From a simple dark pair of jeans with no wash to ripped motorcycle jeans, now days shops carry many styles of denim. What does this all mean? Let's dive in!
Monotone jeans with no fades, rips or any other detail. Thread color can have constrast or blend in, i'll talk about thread color further below in this section.
A basic pair of jeans of with no accents or fades is a must-have in every guy’s closet. They are excellent for dressing up with a blazer or can easily be worn dressed down with a t-shirt, but still look stylish.
Jeans with a wash, typically a white wash.
Jeans often have a wash on the front thigh, which is called a fade. You can go extreme in your fade, which makes the jeans more casual, or go subtle with the fade, making them better for dressing up.
Jeans with subtle rips, holes, fraying and other details purposely showing wear.
If you want to make a statement, distressed denim can look pretty cool. The key here is to make sure the rest of your outfit goes with the distressed look. Wearing casual pieces like a bomber jacket, t-shirt, henley, boots, and leather sneakers keeps up with the look. Using the word “distressed” in your search terms will produce ripped jeans, but in this example, I wanted to show you that you can have distressed denim without having to go all out ripped jeans.
Ripped jeans are technically distressed jeans, but I like to seperate them because they have more obvious rips, cuts, and frays.
Ripped jeans can be perceived as trendy, however, if you like to look rugged, jeans with rips can help you achieve the look. You can go for subtle or extreme rips, the possibilities are endless! I personally like subtle rips. I'll' have more examples of how to wear ripped jeans throughout the guide and in the FAQ section.
"Moto" or "Motorcycle" Jeans embody a traditional motorcycle pant with ripples and accents on the leg.
If you want your inner daredevil to come out, motorcycle jeans can help you achieve the look. These jeans have extra details like pockets, knee cap design and lines around the thigh. These are a fun choice for the inner rebel.
Contrast thread is when the thread color is different from the denim color and stands out. Contrast thread is usually gold, but can be other colors. Contrast thread makes the jeans look slightly more casual.
If you don’t like contrast thread, you can go for one that is less visible, which ends up being black or blue. This is a more simple look and can easily be dressed up.
Ever see the term “5 Pocket Jeans”, but only count 4 pockets? Well, wonder no more...
What’s up with Pocket 1? It was created back in the day by Levis so Cowboys can store their watches in it. Modern day? You can use it for small items like tickets, rings or anything else you don't want to lose. Do not forget you put it there though!
Before we talk about what you can wear jeans with, let's talk about details that play a role in fit.
Some jeans come in different lengths ranging from 30 to 36. The length is usually the second number listed in the size (i.e. 32/34, waist is 32 and length is 34). Some jeans come in a standard 34 length (the length might not be listed if this is the case), which then you need to get hemmed to your correct length. This is important! I see guys walking around with jeans way too long and not only does it make them look frumpy and unkept, but all the extra fabric at the bottom makes them look shorter.
The classic way to wear men’s jeans is with a slight break.
If your jeans have more than one break or too much extra fabric at the bottom, they will start looking frumpy. This is especially true if you prefer a straight leg style. It’s important to get jeans hemmed to your correct length. Most department stores can do it in-house or you can find a tailor to do it for you.
What do I mean by especially on a straight leg?
Multiple breaks on a straight leg looks bad. Don't do this.
Multiple breaks on men’s skinny jeans works because the breaks don’t all scrunch down to the very bottom. Instead, your calf helps keep the breaks distributed evenly down to the ankle. This look works great for a guy who likes to have a bit of casual rugged look in his outfits.
If you’re a guy who likes his jeans straight, it’s important to hem them to the correct length. If you have too many breaks on a straight leg, it will weigh you down and look dated.
This is how you should not wear your straight leg jeans:
This looks much cleaner and better:
A raw hem is when the bottom of your jeans looks like it’s been cut, but not stitched back up. A raw hem is meant for cropped or ankle cut jeans. If you like to have a trendy item in your wardrobe, they make a nice casual addition if you like this style. If you have an old pair of jeans that you want to experiment with, you can easily cut the bottom on your own.
Cuffing your jeans adds a nice flair to your look. You can cuff the bottom of your pants outward just once or twice (next example). The cuff can be anywhere from 1 inch to 3 inches long. I wouldn't advise going above 3 inches.
A rolled cuff is when you roll your jeans more than once and have the hem not visible. You can make this roll anywhere from 1 inch to 2 inches.
Do not cuff relaxed fit jeans, it does not look good.
Rolling or cuffing your jeans is easy once you start practicing.
A couple of notes:
Step 1: Fold jeans at the bottom about 1 inch. If you want to keep the roll low (not show too much ankle), you can fold in the 1/2 inch where the stiching of the hem is then fold once more.
If you’re rolling your pants while wearing them, have your thumbs on the outside of the pants and fingers inside of the pants and then fold up. It’s easy if you fold at the front of the pants first, then continue the fold at the back.
Step 2: Roll once more, this time you can determine how big you want the cuff to be. Smooth out the fold. If you like this length, you can stop here.
Step 3: Repeat step two. If you feel the roll is too high, put your thumbs inside the roll and push down a bit until you get your desired length.
Voila! There you have it. Keep practicing and it will get easier and easier, I promise. For better precision, wear your shoes while rolling to get the right length.
If you prefer the messy roll, don’t smooth out the folds.
If you want to pinroll your jeans, your first step is to fold the extra fabric to the side and then start folding like in the steps above, except your thumbs will be inside the roll to keep the excess fabric in tact.
Wearing fun socks is the perfect way to stand out of the crowd. Some guys think fun socks only need to come out when they're wearing a suit or dress pants, but you can show them off with jeans too. You can choose to cuff your jeans or wear them normally when going for fun socks.
Not wearing socks is not an option! You will ruin your shoes. The beauty of no show socks is they protect your foot and shoe, but also allow you to have a stylish Spring/Summer look.
You can try the no show sock look with anything from a sneaker to a dressier shoe. Don't be a afraid to show ankle, it's a very stylish and subtle detail that shows you know what's up!
Lots of shoe styles work with jeans and can easily change the look from dressed up to dressed down. From casual to dressy, here are some stylish ways to wear shoes and jeans.
Sneakers, including slip on sneakers, will dress jeans down. However, you can opt for a sleek pair of leather sneakers to make the look stylish. Feel free to cuff or roll your jeans with sneakers.
Boat shoes are a step up from sneakers and are great for looking smart casual at the same time. From a t-shirt to a casual blazer, boat shoes work well with a number of looks. Go for a no-show sock when wearing boat shoes. Avoid boat shoes for any formal occasions.
Loafers pair well with jeans for guys who like to dress up their look a bit. From penny loafers to tassels to suede, they come in a number of styles for you to experiment with. You can show your socks with loafers or go for no-show socks.
Oxfords and Derbys look great with jeans and can easily be dressed up or down depending on what your pair the look with. Wearing suede styles can help keep the look slightly more casual, while leather can dress it up. These shoes are a great choice when wearing jeans with a blazer. Whether you like the look of Oxfords or Derbys is totally up to you, they play the same role.
Monk strap shoes pair really well with jeans. You can wear them with something as simple as a t-shirt all the way to something as formal as a blazer. I personally love monk strap shoes and think they are very stylish.
Boots and jeans is a very modern and fashion forward look and can be worn in a number of ways. It's the easiest way to make your jeans look stylish and dressed up. Keep in mind, when wearing jeans with boots, they may slightly bunch at the bottom and it’s okay.
You can cuff your jeans with boots for a little extra flair in your look. If your boots have a wide opening, you can roll your jeans to the top of your boot.
If your boots are slim at the ankle, you can wear your jeans over your boots for a clean and classic look. Make sure the jeans fit comfortably over the boots.
What to wear with your jeans can be broken down by Casual, Smart Casual, and Dressy. You can mix and match the tops, outerlayers, and shoes to make something casual look more dressy and vice versa.
A couple of notes:
There you have it, all the diverse ways you can make outfits with jeans. Keep in mind, you can easily switch out certain pieces like shoes or jackets to easily dress up or down a look. Use the examples above as a base and make edits to fit your personal style and occasion.
The bigger you are on the top half of your body, the less taper (slimness from knee to ankle) you want in your pants. The slimmer you are, the more tapered your leg can be. Just make sure you are balancing your body out. Here’s a test: If your body starts feeling like a popsicle: unproportionately big at the top and really slim at the bottom, try a looser fit (i.e. from skinny to slim). Just because something is trending, doesn’t mean it’s for you.
The best way to understand what type of leg you should go for is by working with the shape of your body. If the examples below all look the same, pay attention to the fit from the knee to ankle to understand how the pants change from fit to fit.
You will hear me say jeans will stretch out with wear, however there is a guideline for this. Jeans made with mostly cotton (i.e. 98%) and some elastane (i.e. 2%) will stretch with wear, so if they are a bit snug at first, it’s okay, they will give. There are some jeans that won’t stretch out and those usually are made of synthetic materials like rayon, polyester etc. For example, if a pant is made up of 75% of synthetic materials I mentioned, it probably won’t give and will bounce back to its shape. It’s important to look at materials when deciding if you need your jeans to give a bit, especially in the thigh. Some people love that their jeans won’t lose shape and are soft and stretchy, while others prefer cotton. This is a personal preference and comfort choice.
The best place for Trapezoids to start is “slim”. If “slim” isn’t working, then go down to skinny or up to slim-straight.
With the trapezoid body, slim pants work about 90% of the time. A slim leg is going to shape your leg much better than a straight leg, making you appear taller and more fit.
Remember, “slim” is not “skinny”, so don’t let words deter you. If you need more room in the thigh, go for an athletic fit.
If slim feels too loose, try going down to “skinny” and see how it feels. Skinny will be more slim all over, including the thigh, seat and leg opening.
I doubt Trapezoids need to ever go up to a slim straight, but If slim feels too tight, try a “slim-straight” on for size. Slim straight will loosen up at the seat and thigh, but stay slim from the knee to the ankle. Slim straight can also work for guys who need to wear jeans in a somewhat professional setting and don’t want to go too slim.
Depending on your personal preference of fit, I would recommend Rectangles to start with “skinny” then try a “slim” if skinny feels too tight.
The leg is referred to as “Skinny” because it tapers from the knee to the ankle. Since rectangles have a straight shaped upper body, a slimmer leg will balance out the body and instantly nail the modern look.
If “skinny” is making you feel like you’re wearing leggings, try a “slim” fit instead. Slim will give you a little more room throughout the leg and loosen up from knee to ankle. Each brand varies in their fit and some even make a fit between skinny and slim you can try.
Avoid a straight leg because it will make your body look bigger, but not without making your head look smaller in comparison. You don’t want to look like you’re wearing your dad’s clothes. Alternatively, you don’t want to go too skinny and define each muscle in your leg.
Depending on how big your waist and hips are, start with a slim-straight and work your way down to a slim or up to a straight if you need to.
Slim-Straight will create a smooth line from waist to ankle and won’t exaggerate the hips. This will help balance out your upper body with your lower body and not give you the popsicle effect.
If Slim-Straight feels too wide at the bottom, try a slim on for size. The key is to make sure your mid-body (hips and waist) don’t look unproportionately big compared to your shoulders and ankle.
Stay away from anything too baggy because it will only exaggerate your waist and hips. The key is to bring everything in to shape you nicely, which will compliment your shaping rather than hiding it.
Don’t wear jeans too slim for you or your upper body will huge compared to your lower. Alternatively, don’t hide in loose jeans, they will give you no shape and make you look wider and shorter. Don’t worry, the image on the left is a joke, hopefully no one actually dresses like that and if they do, they should call me ASAP.
Start with a slim-straight and work your way down to a slim or up to an athletic or straight.
Slim-straight is a great starting point. The goal is to go for a clean modern style, which helps balance out your lower body with your upper. However, don’t go too skinny because it will make your upper body look way bigger than your lower body. Also, don’t hide your legs in baggy jeans either, it will not compliment your shape. You want to work with your shape, not hide it.
If slim-straight feels too loose, try a slim with stretch on for size. Keep in mind, pants will loosen up as you wear them.
If slim-straight feels too tight in the thighs, but feels great everywhere else, try an athletic cut. Athletic cuts will give you more room in the thigh and seat, while maintaining a slim leg from knee to ankle.
If slim-straight feels tight all over, go for a straight, which will loosen up from top to bottom. If the fit feels right, but you wish it was slimmer from knee to ankle, ask a tailor to slightly taper the leg for you. I’ve had clients get their jeans tapered by a tailor and they were happy with the results.
Avoid pants that are too tight because they will make your upper body look much bigger than your lower body. The goal is balance. Alternatively, avoid pants too loose, you want some shape.
Since Inverted Triangles can range from a soccer player body to a football player body, your starting point can vary. Start at a slim with stretch and work your way up to an athletic fit if you need more room in the seat and thighs. If that is still too tight, try slim-straight and then straight or relaxed.
Your upper body will determine how loose in the legs you need to go. However, don’t be afraid to give your legs some shape. If Lebron James can pull off a slim leg, so can you. Jeans will stretch where they need to as you wear them. If the thigh feels impossible to fit into, try an athletic cut, which will give you more room in the thigh, but still keep the slim look up.
If slim and athletic cuts aren’t working for you, go to a slim-straight then eventually up to a straight. I always use The Rock as my extreme Inverted Triangle example, if he can pull off slim-straight and straight, you have no excuse.
Avoid jeans that are too baggy, it will take away from your shape which you’ve worked so hard for. I see athletic guys all the time thinking they have to wear baggy jeans, but they don’t. It doesn’t compliment their shape and makes them look shorter and pudgy. Also, avoid skinny jeans, they are not meant for you.
As much as I preach slimming up your pants, I do want to acknowledge jeans that are way too tight. It’s a topic I see in every men’s fashion forum, “Can guys wear skinny jeans?” Yes, guys can wear slim or skinny jeans, however, there is such a thing as jeans that are too tight. If you pants are looking like any of the below examples, your jeans are too tight and you should not wear them.
Jeans too tight go really narrow in the ankle and make the upper body look really big. Additionally, you don’t need that much shape in your leg.
I consider these jeans too tight because I can see every muscle in the thigh and calf.
You don’t need jeans so tight around your butt, thighs and calf. I would consider the example below borderline jegging, don’t do it!
A denim “rise” is the measurement from the bottom of the crotch seam to the waist band.
Rises typically range from 7 inches (low rise) to 12 inches (high rise). Where your pants sit on your waist determines the length of your legs, especially in comparison to your upper body, ultimately determining where your waistline is.
Low rise basically sits on your hips. I only recommend this rise if your hips sit a little higher than most peoples and your pants always look like you’re wearing them really high.
Mid rise is basically a few inches below your belly button. I recommend this fit.
High-rise sits almost at your belly button, which could be good for someone who wants their jeans to hold in their mid-section.
The key to deciding which rise is going to work for you is your height and how long your legs are compared to your waist. If you have short legs, you need a mid to high rise. If you have really long legs, low rise jeans could work. The key here is to balance the lower and upper body with the rise. Your shirt length also plays a role. For example, if t-shirts are really high on you and I can always see the top of your jeans, you can wear high rise jeans to help cover your waist and back.
Most of the time, mid-rise is the best option.
Not convinced yet? My favorite example is this photo of Michael Phelps in low-rise jeans versus mid-rise:
A tailor can make slight adjustments to your jeans to make them fit correctly.
I already went over fabrics at the beginning of the guide, however, denim weight is another detail you can consider when purchasing jeans. Jeans can come in different weights, everything from 5oz to 32 oz. The higher the weight, the stiffer the fabric. If you like your jeans soft and stretchy, you want to stay on the lower side of that spectrum. However, if you’re a raw or selvedge denim fan or need your jeans to keep you warm in harsh environments, you might opt for the higher weight.
Your average denim is 12 to 14 oz.
At the beginning of the guide I went over types of denim, which included denim blends. This means you can find materials like rayon, polyester, cotton, spandex etc. all in your denim. Although, some denim lovers frown upon denim blends, people who put comfort over everything else really enjoy blends because of their softness.
If you love stretch in your jeans, make sure it has spandex or elastane. The average is from 1% to 5%, the higher the percentage, the more stretchy.
Color is another thing to consider when choosing jeans. It's always good to have a dark pair for dressing up or wearing at night and lighter ones for casual or day wear. Now days denim comes in so many colors like burgundy and green, making it easy to step up your style game through jeans.
Below are some example outfits you can wear with different colors of jeans. Pay attention to what colors are paired together in the outfits for inspiration.
Blue jeans go with almost any color. The important thing to pay attention to is how blue jeans are worn to make them look stylish. For example, footwear and jackets play a huge role. A graphic tee, blue jeans, and running shoes is an amateur look, while a bomber jacket, solid t-shirt and a sleek pair of leather sneakers is stylish.
Light blue jeans fall on the very casual side of things, however, it doesn’t mean they are not stylish. Wear your casual blue jeans with dressy sneakers, smart casual jackets, and solid t-shirts to make them look effortlessly stylish. Your color possibilities are pretty open, however, neutrals, earthy tones, and stripes are always winners.
Medium blue jeans can go either way when it comes to dressing them up or down. If you want to dress them up, you can go for a shirt and blazer. If you want to keep it smart casual, go for a sweater or coat. If you want to keep it casual, a t-shirt and smart casual jacket (i.e. bomber or field jacket) will do. You can always mix and match any of the looks since blue jeans are easy to play up.
Dark blue jeans are the easiest to dress up. The same rules apply for dark blue jeans as light and medium ones in terms of dressy layers versus casual ones. Dark blue jeans are great for going out at night and have endless color combinations that work well.
White jeans are a style statement! They are easy to dress up and are perfect for Summer and Spring. If white seems too bright, you can go for a pair with a hint of beige or grey undertone. I think white jeans ooze style and class and you will definitely stand out.
Every guy should have a pair of dark denim in their wardrobe and black can be one of them! Black jeans easily dress up your outfit and pair really well with a blazer. If you are into wearing denim jackets, denim shirts or chambray, black jeans go well with them. Black goes with basically any color of shirt. You can break up any darkness black jeans bring to your oufit by wearing shoes that are brown, grey or white.
If all your basic denim bases are covered, throw a pair of grey into the mix. Grey jeans look great with white, navy, another shade of grey, black, burgundy, and green. You can go for black shoes, but I personally love medium brown (cognac) shoes with grey pants.
Ready to graduate from blue, black and grey? Try burgundy or green! If your jeans are colored, go for a neutral or earthy colored tops. Denim jackets also pair really well with colored jeans.
The average person has way more jeans than they actually wear. Clients show me 10+ pairs of jeans in their closet, but tell me they only wear 3 or 4 of them. As you build your denim collection, it’s very important that you focus on quality and not quantity. If you’re just getting started, having 2 or 3 pairs of REALLY good jeans is key. For example, your 3 pairs could be your go to dark blue, essential black and medium grey. When I say really good, I mean, don’t go and buy a pair of $20 jeans you need to replace often and will cost you more in the end. Instead, find the best quality and fit within your budget or even go to a discount store like Nordstrom Rack and score a premium pair for half the price and wear it for years on end. Then, you can add a pair or two every year.
Avoid: Don't wear jeans that are way too ripped, it looks like you're trying too hard.
If you want to wear denim that is close to each other in color, you need to have a break of color in your outfit. You can easily mix blue denim with black or grey for an all denim outfit as well.
Congrats, you made it to the end! You're an expert on jeans now. If you have questions or feel like I missed addressing something, feel free to tell me in the comments. The next step is to check out the other guides. Boots and Button Downs pair really well with jeans, so check those out to start creating outfits!