By Justin Krajeski he is a staff reporting on everyday carry at Wirecutter. He previously wrote about tech at Wirecutter (a New York Times Company). He carries things every day. He’s very well versed in carrying.
A great pair of jeans can be the foundation of an outfit: Though the jeans themselves may not draw attention, they will elevate whatever else you wear, whether it’s a white T-shirt on the weekend or a cashmere sweater for date night. Get jeans wrong—too baggy, overly distressed—and they’re all anyone will notice (for all the wrong reasons). After conducting interviews with experts and testing with a panel of diverse bodies, we’ve narrowed our list to four terrific pairs that are both comfortable and good-looking. For those interested in raw denim (which is stiff and untreated), I also tested and found three hard-wearing and stylish pairs, one of which costs under USD 100.
To evaluate the quality, fit, and comfort of a wide variety of jeans, I researched hundreds of models online, and I tested 30 in person (I wear a size 31 waist by 30 length). I also assembled a panel of diverse and stylish men to test the jeans, including Neil Berrett, co-founder of Standard & Strange (who wears a size 34 waist by 32 length); Wirecutter privacy and security editor Thorin Klosowski (who wears jeans in a size 29 waist by 30 length, and who put your digital data concerns on the back burner to test 11 pairs of jeans); Chubstr founding editor Bruce Sturgell (who wears a size 44 waist by 30 length); and This Fits blogger Aliotsy Andrianarivo (who wears a size 33 waist by 28 length). Together we selected a well-loved and comfy pair of slim jeans with a classic American vibe, a stretchier pair of denim jeans in the widest variety of sizes, a flattering pair of straight slim jeans affordable enough to stock up on, and (my personal favorite) a heavyweight pair of jeans with a button fly. I also tested selvedge jeans and made a few personal recommendations.
We try to keep our links up to date, but retailers may experience stock issues, and jeans companies tend to cycle similar versions of the same items under different names. If your size is unavailable through one of our links, try looking for another pair in the same cut with similar materials, which should be close to what we recommend.
Best everyday jeans: Levi’s 511 Premium Slim Fit Men’s Jeans
How it feels: Well constructed and with a flattering cut, these close-fitting jeans offer the teensiest bit of stretch to make an already-comfortable pair of pants even more comfortable.
Why it’s great: Whether because of glossy magazines or billboards on the highway, for many people classic blue jeans look just like Levi’s 511 Premium Slim Fit Men’s Jeans. These dark-wash jeans sit just under the waist, with trim legs that still let your calves and ankles breathe.
The Levi’s brand—from the signature yellow threading to the arch stitching splashed across the back pockets—is instantly recognizable. But beyond the 511 jeans’ good looks, everyone who tested them noted that they were comfortable, well constructed, and slim from the thigh down. Aside from the Buck Mason jeans, which cost nearly twice as much, no pair of jeans was as well loved by our panel.
For the price, the Levi’s 511s are a terrific pair of slim straight jeans; their construction is solid, and the stitching feels sturdy. As opposed to skinny jeans (which wrap tightly around the knee, calves, and ankles), the 511s leave room for your lower legs to breathe; they’re called straight jeans because the leg opening doesn’t taper for a tighter fit. And thanks to the addition of 1% elastane, there’s some stretch for additional comfort—but not so much that this pair struggled to return to the original shape. Standard & Strange’s Neil Berrett noted that the 511s have a bit of visual texture, too, with white flecks feathered throughout the indigo fabric. The jeans felt of a higher quality than the similarly priced competition, and they barely shrank in washer and dryer tests (about 2½ inches total across all dimensions).
“The length and width of Levi’s 511 jeans is perfect on me,” said Thorin, who wears a size 29 waist by 30 length. “There’s no need for a belt or the ole pull-up motion, and I bet they’d work well with different shoes or boots, too. Honestly, they fit so well that I bet I could even do some plumbing without exposing my butt to the world.” The rest of us agreed; I found that the Levi’s 511s fit me perfectly. They’re slimming, but they molded to my body and around my curves in a flattering way.
Levi’s offers a ton of variety in its jean shapes and styles (it can get messy in there). In addition to the 511s, we tested the 512 Slim Taper Fit Jeans, which have a narrower fit through the thigh and a tapered (rather than straight) leg. Many of our testers also loved these, though we think the style isn’t as universal as that of the 511 jeans. Thorin loved the 512s (he later told us that they’re the jeans he has in his closet). Like the 511s, the 512s feel well made and durable. He said the 511s fit his body better than the 512s, but they sometimes get stuck on his calves while he’s sitting, so he has to shake them down his legs when he gets up to walk.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Our panelists had fewer critiques about the Levi’s 511s than about many of the other jeans we tested. Berrett noted that he wished they had better bar tacks (the high-density stitches protecting areas that experience great stress, like the waistband) and better-built outseams on the leg.
Beyond the different Levi’s cuts, there are also a lot of variants within a single style; this makes it hard for us to guarantee that the pair of 511s you pick up at your local outlet store will be as good as the ones we tested. Specifically, we tried the “Levi’s Premium” 511 in Chain Rinse Dark Wash, which is 99% cotton and 1% elastane. But at the time of writing, the company lists 22 variants of the 511s, many in multiple colors and materials, with prices ranging from less than USD 30 to almost USD 300. We tested the premium version because Levi’s claims they’re more durable, with more stitches per inch than the brand’s non-premium jeans.
Levi’s has also been critiqued for inconsistent sizing in its jeans. Though we didn’t find that in our testing, it’s something to keep an eye out for. If it’s possible—and safe—to go to a store and try on multiple pairs, that will always lead to a better fit.
Unlike the Uniqlo Slim-Fit Jeans and the Bonobos Stretch Denim Jeans, the Levi’s 511 jeans max out at a 42-inch waist. We hope that one day our favourite jeans retailers will sell jeans in more sizes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (PDF), approximately 25% of adult males in the USA have a waist size greater than 44 inches; that’s a lot of Americans who are not able to purchase one of the most famously “American” brands.
Waist: 26 to 42
Length: 29 to 36
Colors: frequently changing
Materials: 99% cotton, 1% elastane
Return policy: within 60 days
Stylish jeans that come in more sizes: Bonobos Premium Stretch Denim Jeans
How it feels: Soft jeans that are more forgiving than others we tested, the Bonobos have enough room for my thick butt and thighs to breathe.
Why it’s great: Bonobos, which makes our favorite white T-shirt with diverse sizing, has impressed us by making good clothes that come in more sizes than are offered by most other manufacturers. The company’s Premium Stretch Denim Jeans are available in waist sizes 28 to 54 and in lengths from 28 to 36—notably more sizes than for any other brand of jeans we found. Bonobos also gets bonus points for providing clearly explained product options. Rather than Levi’s 24 listings for one cut of jeans, Bonobos combines all cuts, sizes, and materials into one product page, so you can easily pick what you think will work best for you.
Chubstr founding editor Bruce Sturgell (who wears a size 44 waist by 30 length) especially loved the Bonobos jeans. “It seems like Bonobos put a lot of thought into the construction of their plus-size jeans,” he noted after testing. Sturgell said the jeans felt “soft, and they offered a slim fit on the legs and thighs without being too tight” (which is something that can be a problem for bigger guys with thick thighs). The lower rise of the Bonobos Stretch Denim Jeans worked well for Sturgell’s body, and the jeans stayed in place better than the other pairs he tested. They shrank about 5 inches total in our washing and drying tests: ¾ inch around the waist, ½ inch around the hip, ½ inch in the thigh, 1 inch lengthwise, ½ inch across the knee, and 1½ inches in the inseam. The jeans lost more than an inch alone in the inseam specifically, which is something to consider as you think about how they’ll fit your body.
Neil Berrett, co-founder of Standard & Strange (who wears a size 34 waist by 32 length), said the Bonobos were “a good fit for people who do a lot of squats.” He noted that the Bonobos were quite comfortable, and he said the stretch recovery (how quickly they bounced back to their original size after being worn) was swift and resilient. I had a similar experience to Sturgell and Berrett. Though I wear a size 31 waist (compared with Berrett’s size 34 and Sturgell’s size 44), I found that the Bonobos fit my body particularly well. There was a lot of roominess and stretch in the butt area that forgave my curves.
Though the other jeans we tested were made from 98% or 99% cotton, the Bonobos Premium Stretch Denim Jeans are made from 94% cotton, 5% polyester, and 1% elastane. That lower % age of cotton is why the Bonobos jeans are especially comfortable and well equipped to handle a wider range of body types; cotton has less give than both polyester and elastane.
Flaws but not dealbreakers:
Thorin and This Fits blogger Aliotsy Andrianarivo (who wears a 33 waist by 28 length) both complained about the Bonobos in the slim fit for the same reasons the rest of us enjoyed wearing them: They said the jeans were too roomy and too loose all around, especially in the waist and thighs. “The pants billow out on the sides up top, harem pants–style,” Thorin said.
Berrett noted that the internal front pocket material felt thin. And he said the jeans’ construction didn’t feel as premium as that of other pairs he tested, so he wasn’t sure about this pair’s longevity. We’re keeping our Bonobos for long-term testing, so we’ll continue to update you on how they fare over a longer period.
Waist: 28 to 54
Length: 28 to 36
Colors: rotating seasonal selection
Materials: 94% cotton, 5% polyester, and 1% elastane
Return policy: within 45 days for a refund; up to 90 days for a store credit
An affordable pair of slim jeans with lots of sizes: Uniqlo Men Slim-Fit Jeans
How it feels: These slim jeans are constructed from a thinner fabric than the other jeans we loved, with clean and consistent lines.
Why it’s great: “The Uniqlo jeans are a lot higher quality than other inexpensive jeans options I’ve seen,” Chubstr’s Bruce Sturgell said. The Uniqlo Slim-Fit Jeans were a great pair considering the USD 50 price tag. Not only are they comfortable, but they looked good on all of our testers. And they come in a wide variety of waist sizes, from a 29 to a 48.
That said, they’re still a pair of USD 50 jeans, and there are a few tradeoffs: Because the denim is so thin, they don’t have as much structure as the other jeans we liked. And though they were stretchy, we found they stretched too much and didn’t bounce back to their original shape quickly.
Our panel testers generally liked the Uniqlos, but they were split between those who thought they were acceptable and those who thought they were great. Some loved the feel of the jeans and said they offered the right amount of stretch (thanks to a composition of 98% cotton with 2% spandex), while still being snug enough to give you a modern look. In my time with the Uniqlo Slim-Fit Jeans, I found that for the price, they were well constructed and looked good. The sewing quality on the Uniqlo jeans was clean and consistent, which was a pleasant surprise considering the price. Those who didn’t love the Uniqlo jeans mentioned the thin fabric, as well as shallow front pockets and a small zipper (though these issues didn’t disqualify the jeans in the testers’ assessment). The Uniqlo jeans shrank slightly when we washed and dried them, about 2 inches all around.
If you need a wider fit, the Uniqlo Slim-Fit Jeans go up in waist size more than most of the others we tested. Sturgell, who wore the jeans in a waist size 44 for testing, told us he appreciated the thought that went into creating a fit for bigger guys. “I think big guys in slim jeans can be tricky, but these jeans got it right,” he said. “I was very pleasantly surprised by them—I could definitely see myself picking up a few pairs of them at the price point they offer.”
Although the Uniqlo Slim-Fit Jeans come in 32 to 34 lengths only, Uniqlo offers free and easy alterations directly on its website.
Flaws but not dealbreakers:
“I was surprised that the Uniqlo Slim-Fit Jeans did not include a small green compostable bag,” Neil Berrett told us with what seemed to be a virtual smirk, “because the pocket bag material is dogshit.” Berrett and Thorin both noted that the pockets were especially shallow. “One of the main advantages of wearing men’s pants are the big goddamn pockets,” Thorin fumed.
The zipper was especially small, too. We were concerned that it might break over time, and we’ll keep an eye on it as we long-term test the jeans.
Uniqlo’s product listings are confusing, with multiple entries for the same jeans in various sizes and shades; at the time of writing, there are at least three just for the basic “slim-fit” jeans. If stock seems limited, there may be more available elsewhere on the website. Don’t worry—they’re all the same jeans.
Waist: 27 to 48
Length: 32 to 34 (with alterations available directly from Uniqlo’s website)
Colors: light wash, dark wash
Materials: 98% cotton, 2% spandex
Return policy: within 30 days of purchase
A heavier, higher-quality pair of jeans: Buck Mason Ford Standard Jeans
How it feels: These jeans are durable, long-lasting, and heavy-duty—but without being rough or uncomfortable. Sure, they probably won’t last forever, but they feel like they might.
Why it’s great: Sometimes a pair of classic Levi’s isn’t enough. When you need a heavier pair of denim to keep you company, try Buck Mason’s Ford Standard Jeans. Buck Mason makes this exceptional pair of jeans with a heavyweight denim that felt durable, without being coarse or rough. The Ford jeans were the most highly praised pair we reviewed during panel testing. Everyone loved wearing them.
The Ford jeans were solidly constructed with tight and neat stitching. All of our testers agreed the jeans were extremely comfortable. And these jeans feature an easy elastic recovery that we expect will help them keep their shape and last for a long time. They shrank about 4 inches total in all dimensions after washing and drying.
The Ford jeans are made of 14-ounce denim (a measure of how much a square yard of the fabric weighs), which is the sort of thick and heavyweight fabric usually used on hard-wearing raw denim jeans. But in this case, the inclusion of a small amount of spandex makes the Buck Masons much more comfortable the first time you put them on, compared with raw denim.
There are lots of little details about the Buck Masons that make them special: They have high-quality stitching and rivets, and they have a button fly, which Neil Berrett noted is often reserved for premium denim. Also, a button fly is much less likely to break and easier to replace than a zipper. The belt loops are tucked and sewn into the waistband, something two of our testers pointed out. Buck Mason has a ton of great customer service reviews, whether from its website or Reddit. What’s most impressive is that you can return a pair of jeans to Buck Mason for up to one year—four times as long as the 90-day return window at Bonobos.
Flaws but not dealbreakers:
It’s annoying that the Buck Mason Ford Jeans have a 33-inch inseam and no way to request alterations online (you can’t mail them in for hemming, either). Instead, if you want the length of your jeans altered, you’ll have to go to one of Buck Mason’s stores or head to your favorite tailor or alterations specialist.
One of our testers didn’t like the button fly on Buck Mason’s pants. “There is a zero % chance that I would ever remember to button these up,” they admitted (I am choosing to hide their identity so as not to cause them great embarrassment). The rest of us appreciated the old-school button fly for being easier to replace and less likely to break, as well as for its glamorous, Old World flair. And we would all remember to button our fly.
Buck Mason jeans go to only size 40, so it’s the most limited sizing of any pair we recommend. It’s disheartening to see such a premium item restricted to so few sizes. We hope that one day our favourite jeans retailers will sell jeans in wider sizes.
Waist: 28 to 40
Colors: black, dark wash, medium wash
Materials: 98% cotton, 2% spandex
Return policy: within one year
What about raw and selvedge denim?
I spoke with Kiya Babzani, the co-founder of Self Edge, and Steve Cruz, the store manager at Naked & Famous Denim, to learn the differences between the denim we see in most stores versus raw selvedge denim. Here’s the lowdown, per Babzani: Selvedge denim was originally called “self edging fabric” because the process created its own finished edge that didn’t require more work to prevent fraying. Around the turn of the 15th century, workers shortened the term “self edging fabric” to “selvedge” as an abbreviation.
The terms “raw” and “selvedge” are often used interchangeably for denim, but a pair of jeans can be neither, either, or both. Selvedge refers to the finished edge of the fabric, and raw denim is the material that is unwashed and untreated, making it stiffer and more prone to bleeding indigo onto anything it touches. But it also conforms to your body over time for a unique fit and look. Uniqlo, for example, makes jeans that are selvedge stitched without being raw denim, and Levi’s 501 Shrink to Fit jeans are raw without being selvedge stitched.
Raw and selvedge denim is expensive because it’s made in a vintage fashion on vintage machines, whereas non-selvedge denim is cheaper because it’s mass-manufactured. Raw and selvedge denim takes a while to create, and it has natural imperfections—imperfections that major brands, such as the Gap, don’t want on their shelves. “If Gap orders 500 pairs of jeans, they want every jean to look identical,” Babzani told me. “Non-selvedge denim, which came into popularity over the past 50 years, is more [consistent] than selvedge denim, and it’s faster and cheaper to produce at scale.”
“Let’s say we’re both a size 32 in the waist and we start wearing the same style of selvedge jeans today. Because I’m a little bit taller than you are, the [raw] denim will hit the back of my knees and certain areas of my thighs differently than they will on you when we’re both walking around,” he said. In a year, our pairs of jeans would look drastically different from each other simply because our bodies and our lifestyles are different.
“And that’s the beauty of [raw] denim,” he said. If you buy a pre-distressed pair of jeans, by contrast, they may have lines all over them. But they probably won’t match the natural lines that are produced by your body’s movements. They also won’t be as comfortable (eventually).
Some people say you shouldn’t wash selvedge denim. Cruz thinks it’s more complicated than that. “Caring for your selvedge denim comes down to an aesthetic choice: The more you wear your jeans without washing them, the more fading and lines will become apparent.” But if you prefer jeans that are more even- and neutral-looking—and you’re concerned about freshness and filth—washing and drying your selvedge jeans is actually a good idea. In either case, a pair of selvedge denim jeans should last north of a decade—beautifully distressed, without any tears.
Our favourite pairs of raw jeans
To test raw selvedge denim, I brought in six pairs to wear over the course of two months. Because it takes a while for raw denim to form to your body, I wore them religiously—and tested them alone—swapping them on and off on a regular basis and jotting down notes about the style, feel, and look. These recommendations are my personal favourites. But all of the raw denim jeans I looked at were exciting for various reasons.
How it feels: Though notably heavy, the Unbranded Brand UB101 Skinny Fit 14.5 oz Indigo Selvedge Denim jeans felt especially comfortable and durable after I broke them in for a month. A short fly made them trickier to button and unbutton quickly.
Why it’s great: Of every pair of selvedge jeans we looked at, the Unbranded Brand UB101s were the most affordable, while still being of high quality. I appreciated their minimal, “unbranded” look: They have a blank brown tag on the back, as well as cohesively colored copper tin buttons. One of my editors, Tim Barribeau, said he got his first pair of selvedge denim jeans from the Unbranded Brand, too. These are good jeans at a reasonable price—to help you advance to the first level of raw denim.
The Unbranded Brand jeans I tested were 14½ ounces (common for midweight denim, but heavier than anything else we tested), and I found them and their rope-dried indigo exterior quite substantial and stiff at first. Breaking them in felt unnatural, like I was working against nature. Slowly but surely, though, the jeans began to give. After a few weeks, I started to look forward to putting them on.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Unbranded Brand UB101 jeans have a short fly, which can be uncomfortable when you’re slipping the pants on and off, or if you need to quickly unbutton your jeans to use the restroom. Although the front pockets were easy to access, the back pockets were slim and narrow (an issue we also ran into with the Left Field NYC jeans).
Folks have also complained that the buttons and belt loops on the Unbranded Brand jeans may pop and fray within the first couple of years. And we noticed a couple of loose stitches, but nothing worrisome.
Waist: 27 to 44
Colors: indigo, black
Materials: 100% cotton selvedge denim
Fabric weight: 14½ ounces
Return policy: up to 21 days for store credit
How it feels: The Naked & Famous Super Guy Natural Indigo Selvedge jeans are slim around the hips and thighs. The first time you try them on they’ll feel tight. But the break-in period was shorter and easier than with the Unbranded Brand jeans, so they’re quite comfy to wear for longer.
Why it’s great: If you’re comfortable skipping over our entry-level pick and investing in selvedge denim that will form to your legs a little more quickly and comfortably (and probably last longer than the Unbranded Brand jeans), I loved the Naked & Famous Super Guy jeans.
The fabric is 12½ ounces (slightly light for raw denim, but not insubstantial), in an indigo rope-dyed Japanese selvedge denim. And the Super Guy fit is slim, tapered from the knee down. These jeans are a few ounces lighter than the Unbranded Brand jeans I tested. So I found that the Naked & Famous selvedge jeans took to my legs a little faster—readily forming to my thighs and calves—and were quickly comfortable. I really enjoyed wearing them over a few weeks, and I look forward to seeing them mold to my body even more.
In my experience, the Naked & Famous customer service was especially fantastic; other people often rave about it, too. Both Naked & Famous and Tate and Yoko receive positive feedback online about their customer service. And when a customer logs a complaint—on Reddit or otherwise—an employee from one or the other hops in to handle the situation.
If the skinny Super Guy isn’t for you, Naked & Famous offers a ton of different fits (as well as dozens of fabric options): Weird Guy (standard tapered), Easy Guy (laid back), Strong Guy (high-rise relaxed), Groovy Guy (boot cut), Stacked Guy (modern skinny), and Skinny Guy (slim straight).
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The large leather tag on the back of the pants—featuring a reclining topless woman—is awful. Although the brand name is intended to rail against influencer culture, we find it tired and sexist. If you buy these jeans, we suggest using a seam ripper to take the tag right off (something Tim has done with his pairs).
Waist: 27 to 44
Colors: various colors and patterns
Materials: 100% cotton selvedge denim
Fabric weight: 12½ ounces
Return policy: up to 21 days for store credit
How it feels: If you’re slender, these slim-fitting jeans will suit you best. Their material feels great on the legs, with roomy front pockets that are easy to use.
Why it’s great: The Left Field NYC Chelsea Cone Mills 13 oz Denim Jeans were the most expensive selvedge jeans we tested, and for good reason: The stitching was near-perfect, with no loose threads or buttons, and all the hardware felt like it would last for a long time. They were light-feeling on my legs, despite their tough materials, and they’re a great, super-slim pair of jeans. Although I didn’t find the fit to be perfect for my particular body type (my thighs and butt are perhaps bigger than the ideal customer for this pair of jeans), the Chelsea Cone jeans are great for anyone who’s particularly skinny (so much so that they were almost, but not quite, skinny jeans).
These jeans also had fantastic front pockets—the best of any selvedge jeans that I tested—and they’re wide enough to stick your hand inside and easily pull your wallet out. The buttons are brass-colored, and the primary button has some green (presumably to make it look a little used, which I found to be a cool touch). The jeans also come with a cute Left Field–branded bandana, which you can rock around your neck.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Left Field NYC jeans’ back pockets were slim and long, and they sat high on the butt, making it awkward to stick your hands into them.
The Left Field jeans are significantly limited in waist size, too, going up to only a size 38; meanwhile, the Unbranded Brand jeans and the Naked & Famous jeans go up to size 44.
Waist: 29 to 38
Materials: 100% cotton selvedge denim
Fabric weight: 13 ounces
Return policy: one week
What about plus-size jeans?
What about plus-size jeans?
When it comes to finding a great pair of jeans for people who wear sizes larger than 40, there’s a dearth of options. And those that were available were often cheap. We brought in three plus-size pairs of jeans for testing with Bruce Sturgell, the founding editor of Chubstr—and we found two pairs of great jeans available in a wide variety of sizes. But it’s important to acknowledge that we found the number of decent plus-size jeans options to be overshadowed by the significant amount of smaller-waist jeans.
Availability is an issue, but fit is also more difficult when it comes to jeans. It’s not like wearing a T-shirt, Sturgell explained. “Denim […] is even more complicated.” With jeans, you not only have to consider the waist size but also how a pair fits around your thighs and calves, how much range of motion they allow, and how high the rise is (so that they sit at the right point on your body).
“The cruel reality of it is you’re not going to find a one-stop shop if you’re a bigger guy who’s interested in style,” said Sturgell, who wears a size 44 waist. “As a bigger guy, I’m short and wide. I have a pretty traditional body type as far as my shape goes.” Even with his more-traditional body type, Sturgell has to look high and low when it comes time to buy a new pair of jeans. (And some jeans, like those made from selvedge or raw denim, can be near-impossible for bigger guys to find in their size, unless they’re custom-made.)
There are some Big and Tall retailers that understand style is as important to a plus-size audience as it is to anyone else—Sturgell mentioned Fat Trunk Jeans and a UK brand called Kam Jeanswear for their extended sizes, specifically. But it can be difficult to find anything from a mainstream retailer that actually works. Outside of Uniqlo and Bonobos options, which we cover in this guide, Sturgell recommends Levi’s 541 in the athletic fit. “They’re a great fit for bigger guys who have thicker thighs,” he told me. “They have the most stretch in them of any of the jeans I’ve tested that have stretch.” And, unlike the Levi’s 511s and 512s we tested, the Levi’s 541s come in sizes all the way up to a 62 waist.
Why you should trust us
I’m a style staff writer at Wirecutter, and I compare, test, and write about everything you can carry or wear on your person, from T-shirts to jeans. In preparation for this guide, I read reviews of men’s jeans from a host of trusted sources to ascertain what makes a great pair. To learn more I also interviewed a handful of jeans experts, including Steve Cruz, store manager at New York City’s Naked & Famous Denim; Kiya Babzani, co-founder of Self Edge, who absolutely schooled me on selvedge denim; and celebrity menswear stylist Ashley Weston.
How we picked and tested
We started this guide by researching hundreds of pairs of jeans, culling the list to around 50 pairs of interest from popular retailers, other reviews, and roundups. For this piece, we focused on slim jeans marketed “for men,” though they can be worn by people of any gender. These jeans are shaped differently than jeans that are marketed as being “for women.” The jeans in this guide have straight cuts extending across the leg, a narrower waist, and a wider hip. By contrast, jeans made “for women” generally have a narrower hip and more size variety in the waist (as well as smaller pockets). We think slim jeans should fit comfortably—neither too loosely nor too tightly (compared with skinny jeans). They should fit straight through the hip, with a narrow opening around the leg. We used the following criteria to narrow down our list even further:
Construction: We spent time wearing each pair of jeans for a few weeks, as well as poking and prodding them to pinpoint issues like uneven stitching or flyaway threads.
Shrinkage: We measured the dimensions of each pair of jeans, and then we washed and dried them, noting any shrinking that occurred. None of the pairs we recommended shrank notably, but it was an issue with some that we dismissed.
Comfort: We considered how the fabric felt—whether it was coarse and rigid, or soft and smooth—and how it might feel to wear all day.
Pockets: A jean’s front pockets should be big enough that you can fit your whole hand inside, and you should be able to stick your wallet inside your back pocket. We measured watch/coin/condom pockets, too (you know, that weird little one inside the front right pocket).
Look: As Wirecutter’s style writer, I was determined to make some aesthetic decisions about each pair of jeans I tested. Was a pair of jeans awkwardly loose around the crotch? Did another pair of jeans have a retro-wavy design on its back pockets that had me spiraling about the summer of 2011?
Fabric: We noted the combination of fabric used, though most of the jeans we tested were 98% or more cotton, with the remainder being elastane.
Price: We considered jeans priced between USD 30 and USD 200. After an initial round of scanning, we found that anything more than USD 200 wasn’t of substantially higher quality or more noteworthy (apart from raw denim).
I used the above criteria to cut the list down to 30 pairs of jeans to test in person. I wore each pair of jeans in a size 31 waist by 30 length. While wearing them, I inspected their construction and comfort. Then I washed and dried each pair of jeans to see how much they shrank in the wash.
I found 11 pairs of jeans worthy of further testing, and I sent them to a panel of experts to perform a blind test. The testers included: Wirecutter editor Thorin Klosowski (who wears jeans in a size 29 waist by 30 length); Neil Berrett, co-founder of Standard & Strange (who wears a size 34 waist by 32 length); Chubstr founding editor Bruce Sturgell (who wears a size 44 waist by 30 length); and This Fits blogger Aliotsy Andrianarivo (who wears a size 33 waist by 28 length).
Thorin and I loved the J.Crew 484 Slim-Fit Jean in one-year wash denim. The J.Crew 484s were the jeans that I had the most familiarity with going into this project, and it would be impossible for me not to give them a shout-out: They’re comfortable to wear, their quality felt hefty and durable, and we think they look great. We didn’t end up recommending them because our testers pointed out some inconsistent construction, though. “Some of the J.Crew’s bar tack stitches look like they were put on Friday just before closing time,” quipped Berrett. Aliotsy Andrianarivo of This Fits and Berrett both complained that the J.Crew jeans were too slim all around, too.
Our testers all appreciated the fit and stretch of the Lucky Brand 121 Slim Straight Advanced Stretch Jean. Berrett said “there were times that I could convince myself for a brief moment that I was not wearing pants at all,” and Andrianarivo marveled that they felt like pajama pants. If that’s your vibe, then we have the comfiest pants for you. The sewing was not particularly clean on the Lucky Brand jeans, though. And Thorin and Berrett both noted the garish distressing, which makes these jeans more casual than something you’d want to wear, say, to the office.
We loved the USD 200 Hudson Blake Slim Straight Jeans in testing. But they were simply too expensive to recommend when the Buck Mason jeans, with their year-long return policy, were sitting right there. And the Hudson jeans felt overly lightweight, given their price. Berrett and Andrianarivo both noted that the sewing quality and the construction were above average, with a strong but light fabric that we think will wear gracefully over time. They come in only one length, an annoying feature when you’re paying this much.
Of the selvedge jeans I dismissed after testing, I really liked the Japan Blue J104 Circle Selvedge Skinny Jeans. They were well made and light, and were comfortable to wear for long periods. But I didn’t like their skinny ankles (which were a much tighter fit around the bottoms of my legs) or the threads popping out of the buttons.
The Buck Mason Maverick Slim Jeans were a totally fine pair of selvedge jeans: They were well constructed, pretty comfortable to wear over time, and the branding was subdued. I found the pockets were unusable in testing—too tight for me to stick my hand inside. And, all things considered, I’d recommend the similarly priced Naked & Famous Denim jeans or the Japan Blue jeans over this offering from Buck Mason.
Though I appreciated the Levi’s 501 Shrink-To-Fit jeans for their cheap price (just USD 60 at the time of writing), you can get a better introductory pair of selvedge denim jeans in the Unbranded Brand UB101 we recommend. I didn’t love the coloring of the Levi’s stitching or its buttons, nor the few loose threads I found, either.
I secretly loved the RRL Slim Narrow jeans for their label—the letters R, R, and L running into one another like a stream—and their extremely wide pockets. But they’re small for their size, and then shrank nearly 6 more inches inches in the dryer. If you’re considering the RRL Slim Narrow jeans for their textured feel, their brass-colored buttons, or good-looking label (it was a standout in testing), size up.
What to look forward to
A.P.C. has been a prominent name in raw denim since its debut in 1987. (It has even famously encouraged us to wash our A.P.C. jeans in the ocean.) All of this company’s jeans have a street price above our initial USD 200 cutoff. But in the future we’ll consider A.P.C.’s Petit Standard jeans. They are only slightly above that limit, and they are made of 14.5-ounce denim, with a straight leg, a low rise, and a button-fly zipper.
USD 20 to USD 50
We have to give Target’s Goodfellow and Co. Men’s Slim-Fit Jeans props for being available in a wide variety of sizes—up to a size 48 waist. Still, this pair didn’t impress. Everyone noted that the jeans looked cheap and the fit felt off. Neil Berrett put it best when he said that Target’s jeans “simultaneously felt too big and too small, likely due to a lack of stretch recovery.”
While testing the inexpensive Amazon Goodthreads Men’s Standard Comfort Stretch Straight Slim-Fit Jean, Thorin didn’t like the whiskers on the front of the pants. And he said the pockets on the back hung “so low I had to double-check I didn’t time travel to 1996.” Thorin and This Fits blogger Aliotsy Andrianarivo said these jeans were fairly comfortable, at least. But we recommend the Uniqlo Slim-Fit Jeans if you need a quick and affordable pair of jeans.
The H&M Slim Jeans were a tighter and less-comfortable fit than the other jeans we tested even before we washed them, especially around the crotch. Then they shrank 4 inches in our tests. H&M suggests that you hand-wash them, which seems a silly task for a pair of USD 20 jeans.
We found loose threads around the waist and ankles of the scratchy-feeling American Eagle AirFlex+ Slim Jeans. The stitching down the legs was a bright orange, too, which made these look cheaper than other jeans we tested. The American Eagle jeans also shrank a whopping 6 inches in our tests, losing more than an inch individually from the hip, length, knee, and inseam.
USD 50 to USD 100
Banana Republic’s Slim Legacy Fit Jeans struggled with a combination of issues: They were loose around the crotch, the design on the buttons was ugly, and the pockets were shorter than those of others we tested. Also, these jeans had lots of flyaway threads popping out from the pockets and around the ankles.
The Everlane Athletic Fit Jean and Slim 4-Way Stretch Organic Jean had slimmer, smaller pockets, which were less useful. We thought the design on the buttons was pretty ugly, too—and the buttons themselves were shiny and distracting. Plus, Everlane items frequently come in and out of stock.
The Gap Soft Wear Slim Jeans with GapFlex were largely fine, but we found more compelling cheap jeans that didn’t shrink as much, like those from Uniqlo. Gap’s jeans were really loose around the calves and ankles during our tests, and they shrank almost 5 inches combined across all dimensions.
USD 100 to USD 150
Though their quarter pockets were nice and deep, the DSTLD Mens Slim Jeans felt coarse to wear. And they shrank notably—around 6 inches—when we washed and dried them.
The DL1961 Nick Slim jeans were dismissed for aesthetic reasons, despite being comfortable (though they felt stiff to the touch). The jeans were slim through the leg, but they flared out toward the ankle in an unflattering way.
The Madewell Slim Authentic Flex Jeans were simply not as flattering to wear or as comfortable as the Buck Mason or J.Crew jeans we tested for around the same price. The Madewell jeans had a starchy feeling to their material that felt like cardboard after we washed them. They seemed skinny, rather than slim, too, and they didn’t complement my figure. They weren’t noticeably bad, we just weren’t floored by them (or their brassy-colored buttons).
USD 150 to 200
We tested the 7 For All Mankind Slimmy jeans with our panel. Andrianarivo loved them—they were one of his highest-rated pairs of jeans in testing because they were extremely comfortable with the best fit he tried. But Neil Berrett (and I) found the fabric’s feel to be middle-of-the-road. Berrett noted that the jeans’ legs wrapped around his thighs too tightly for his comfort, too.
The Joe’s Asher jeans we tested didn’t really fit with my idea of what we were looking for. Unlike the other 99% cotton jeans we brought in, Joe’s jeans were 93% cotton, with a larger % age of polyester fabric. They had a thin, linen-feeling to them. They were less comfortable to wear than the other jeans we tested, though they had nice, comfy front pockets.
There was an easiness to the structure of AG Jeans’s The Tellis that was surprising; in my initial testing notes, I wrote that they felt more like a pair of leggings than a pair of jeans. That’s probably because they were composed of 72 % cotton, 26 % lyocell, and 2 % polyurethane. They felt smooth and light, but altogether like a different beast than the other blue jeans we tested.
- Kiya Babzani, owner of Self Edge, phone interview, October 13, 2020
- Ashley Weston, celebrity menswear stylist, phone interview, October 13, 2020
- Steve Cruz, store manager, Naked & Famous Denim NYC, in-person interview, December 9, 2020
- Bruce Sturgell, founding editor of Chubstr.com, phone interview, March 3, 2021