Denim jeans have become so ubiquitous over the last century that how could you possibly go wrong when shopping for them? Well, quite far wrong as it happens because not all jeans are created equally. Small differences in the denim quality, leg width, style of cut, length of the rise and a host of other variables can make big differences to the way they look on you. Use our guide to prep up before you cough up on another pair of jeans.
How should jeans fit?
There isn’t a definitive answer to this question simply because there are so many different jeans styles, from cowboy and ass-slinger to super skinny and the straight-down-the-line regular. “I’d recommend you try different fits,” says Richard Hurren, VP for Levi’s in Northern Europe. “And also try different sizes in the same style, as some jeans may suit you better if they’re worn slightly looser or tighter. Also, always try on your jeans with shoes. Make sure that the jeans you buy look good with your footwear and that they’re the right length.”
If we assume that you don’t want to expose your underwear on the one hand, nor restrict blood flow to your vitals on the other, then you’re going to be looking at a skinny to regular style. This means that the jeans should sit just below your natural waist with a comfortable rise but not so loose that the denim doesn’t follow the contours of your backside. No woman is impressed by a saggy bottom.
What about the leg?
A regular leg hints at the contours of your legs, while a slim style should slightly hug them – anything tighter starts looking pantomime. “Often a straight leg jean suits men that have hips narrower than their shoulders,” says Hurren. “A more tapered style like the 512 suits those that have larger thighs.” Leg length is somewhat subjective and largely depends on where and how you’re going to be wearing your jeans. Obviously, if you want to rock a turn-up then you need a slightly longer length but if you want a smart-casual style then go for a length that rests on the top of your shoe and breaks just above it. You’ll also want to account for at least a half inch of shrinkage after washing. Without sounding too obvious, the most important tip we can give you is to try them on. No two pairs of jeans (let alone brands) ever fit quite the same.
Which styles are the most versatile?
Over to you Sean Gormley, creative director of Wrangler in Europe: “Your choice in the fit of a jean is central to your style. Great fitting jeans will transcend occasions and you can wear that fit everywhere you go. In terms of versatility, ‘slim straight’ is a democratic and modern leg shape that looks good with boots, shoes and sneakers, whereas ‘slim tapered’ fits will give you a sharper, more fitted look around the ankle, so low sneakers and shoes will work best.”
I like the slim silhouette but hate feeling restricted – is there a compromise?
Everyone has experienced that feeling of post-wash jeans that straitjacket your lower body and make sitting down near-impossible. But there is a solution and it’s called elastane. Just 2% of this stretchy fabric added to jeans will ensure they provide plenty of give if you’re moving about a lot. “Especially for everyday jeans, you might want a bit of stretch in there for comfort,” suggests Gormley. “On slimmer legs and skinny fits you can find men’s jeans with lots of elasticity. Just ensure the fabric feels quality enough. You’re looking for a thick fabric that feels like what you expect from a jean, with a compact weave that bounces back to shape after you extend it.”
What is selvedge denim and is it worth the extra cash?
Selvedge (or selvage in the US) refers to the edge of the denim being self-finished with the woven strip that marks the end of a roll of fabric (hence the red or orange colour you see when the hem is turned up). This is typically made using old-fashioned shuttle looms, which started being scrapped in the US during the mid 1900s in favour of more modern machinery in a bid to keep up with demand. Today, it’s the Japanese who have resurrected the old shuttle looms and have become master purveyors of selvedge denim. It’s coveted by denim aficionados for a couple of reasons, the first being quality: selvedge has a tighter and denser weave compared to jeans woven on modern looms. The second is that the old shuttle looms create more imperfections in the fabric, creating a more unique product. The higher price is simply indicative of the small amount of shuttle looms that are in production. We think the extra outlay is worth it since selvedge jeans will tend to wear in much better over time.
Is there an age limit on slim-fit jeans? I’m asking for a 40-year-old friend…
In a word, no! Slim fit jeans show that your ‘friend’ still has a modicum of self-respect and is not yet prepared to inhabit the stylistic suburbs that are the relaxed fit jean. Sure, there’s a time and a place for all styles, but at 40, we think you should err on the smarter side of smart casual. A slim fit or tapered jean can be easily worn with sneakers or more formal shoes and will pair nicely with a crew neck sweater or blazer. Just be mindful that your slim fit doesn’t veer into skinny fit territory – we’ve seen families break up over lesser things.
What is raw denim and does it fit differently?
Raw denim simply refers to denim that hasn’t been washed. It’s the type that leaves blue smudges on everything it touches. The great thing about raw denim is that the more you wear it, the more it becomes personalised to you: not only will your movement patterns be visually represented by the wearing away of the dye but also the denim itself will slowly shape to your contours. The process takes time however (you don’t want to wash raw denim for at least 6 months, if at all) so if you want to leave the store with a comfortable and worn-in pair of jeans, don’t buy raw.
Should I wash my jeans?
There’s lots of confusion about this, but here is the truth of it – every time you put a pair of jeans in a heated wash, you’re compromising the properties of the cotton and uniformly extracting the dye, which leaves you with altogether faded jeans that neither feel nor fit like they did before. Serious denim heads advocate never washing your jeans. Instead, when they get a little funky, put them in the freezer for a few days to kill off any bacteria.
What current denim trends should I know about?
There are so many varieties, cuts, colours and washes of jeans that it’s difficult to say there is ever a particular trend since each tribe has their own preference. “Dark jeans with minimal detailing are important for any wardrobe right now because they are so versatile,” says Gormley. “You can dress them up or down very easily. Nevertheless, be aware of the current trend for authentic stone wash jeans from the good ol’ days.” Distressed jeans, which have been popping up this season in all sorts of variations, are always handy to have in your wardrobe for that languorous weekend in the pub. More and more brands are also toying with denim coatings such as wax and oil finishes. These can completely transform the look of the cotton while still feeling and wearing like a jean. And Topman (among others) are toying with wider legs to break the long-time dominance of the skinny fit.