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- There are numerous denim brands, and trying to find your perfect pair of jeans isn’t always easy.
- From looser fits to stretchy jeans to summer whites, we’ve found the best jeans to buy right now.
- Besides the various cuts, fades, and distressing, there are other considerations. We lay them out below.
Jeans have been functional workwear, rebellious youth garb, a symbol of American culture, and today remain the most popular style of pants across the globe. While denim has become ubiquitous, jeans still allow wearers to display their individual styles, especially now. There’s a seemingly limitless amount of cuts and colors, material blends, fades, and distressing for whatever your style or even your mood. Beyond mere looks, we’ve included environmentally friendly jeans, denim made in North America, and some budget-friendly choices as well.
Here’s a quick rundown on some denim terms it’s helpful to know.
- Raw denim: Denim that hasn’t been washed or distressed.
- Sanforized: A process whereby the denim is preshrunk to prevent further shrinkage when you wash your jeans.
- Selvedge: High-quality denim that’s woven on smaller shuttle looms that produce tightly woven ends on the fabric (“self edges”), keeping it from fraying. These “self-edges” are used in constructing the jeans’ finished seams.
- Stacking: The way excess denim stacks on top of itself at the ankle.
The best way to care for your jeans so they’ll last as long as possible is easy. Wash them in cold water inside out and hang them to dry. That’s it!
A Note On Fit
The brands in this guide are geared towards men’s sizing but can be worn by any gender identity. For smaller sizes, please refer to our guide focused on traditional women’s sizing.
Levi’s, the originator, continues to stay relevant with its looser fit 501 ’93 Straight made with organic cotton.
Nearly 150 years after launching the world’s first pair of jeans, Levi’s continues to stay relevant. The trend in men’s pants of late has been towards looser fits, inspired by 1990s silhouettes, and Levi’s has gone back into its archives for both its 501 ’93 Straight Jeans and the 551 Z Authentic Straight Jeans.
The button-fly 501 ’93 Straight is a recreation of Levi’s 501 Originals from the 1990s. The jeans sit on the waist, as opposed to the hips, and are roomy at the seat and thigh. They’re not tapered, but are cut straight through from hip to hem, as the name implies, and stack slightly at the hem. The jeans come in eight different washes, including Marshmallow, a bright white perfect for summer. Pair them with a warm pastel-colored T-shirt and your favorite white sneakers. They’re made in Egypt from organic cotton. They have 1% elastane for a touch of added stretch, but are not stretchy jeans.
For an even looser fit, the 551 Z is the way to go. Based on Levi’s first preshrunk jeans from 1961, they’ve been reimagined with a 1990s sensibility. These zip-fly jeans feature a loose fit through the seat, hip, and thigh and stack at the hem. The jeans feel soft and broken-in from the get go. There’s subtle distressing at the pockets on the Hula Hopper wash. For a more distressed look, get the 551 Zs in Phantom. The jeans are made in Cambodia from a sustainable cotton-hemp blend. They do not have any stretchy material added, but are roomy enough not to need it. Levi’s makes both styles using Water<Less water saving techniques. The initiative, which began in 2011, has saved more than 3.5 billion liters of water from the finishing process compared to conventional methods, according to the company.
COS Recycled Cotton Tapered Jeans
The COS Tapered Jeans are a classic with the bonus of being sustainably made.
COS, which is owned by fast-fashion giant H&M, is a London-based Scandinavian brand focused on sustainability through the materials used in its clothing, their durability, and their timeless design—an important component to keeping clothing out of landfills. The brand first launched in the U.K. in 2007 and has been flourishing in the last few years. The company sourced more than 75% of its clothing sustainably in 2020 using materials like organic cotton and recycled wool, cotton, and polyester. COS has pledged to use 100% repurposed, recycled, or sustainably sourced materials by 2030.
The COS Tapered Jeans represent the company’s aesthetic and ethos well. These jeans are made from cotton reused from its supply chain—scraps of fabric leftover from cutting patterns—that’s rewoven into new fabric. The classic look of the button-fly tapered jeans means they won’t be going out of style anytime soon. They have a soft handfeel and a regular fit that tapers from knee to hem. The Tapered Jeans look good on most body types. They are 100% cotton, so they aren’t stretchy, and are rivet-free. The company says this is to make the jeans easier to recycle. They come in blue or dark grey. The belt loops are on the narrow side and will fit a thin leather belt but not a wider style
For those who prefer a slimmer cut, COS offers Slim-Leg Jeans in four washes made from organic cotton.
Naked & Famous Denim Left-Hand Selvedge Jeans
The Naked & Famous Left-Hand Selvedge Jeans are made in Canada from raw Japanese selvedge denim and are priced below other comparable luxury brands.
Raw denim isn’t for everyone. The cost can seem as stiff as the jeans when you first put them on. Naked & Famous Denim, a Canadian brand launched by Brandon Svarc in 2008, may convert you. They only use top-quality Japanese denim and sew their jeans in Canada. While most luxury denim brands charge $200 and up for jeans, you can get a pair of Naked and Famous for about $150. Svarc, in an email, said the company can produce luxury jeans at this price because they don’t do washes or distressing and don’t advertise or have paid celebrity endorsements. N&F are also sustainably made. Since the denim is raw, there aren’t any of the environmental issues associated with the finishing process. Additionally, both Japan and Canada have high environmental and labor standards.
While known for its wild creations, like glow-in-the-dark denim and raspberry scratch-n-sniff jeans, the brand’s core essentials, like the Left-Hand Twill Selvedge, are what keeps its customers coming back. It’s made from Japanese left-hand twill denim, which is softer (once it’s worn in) than the industry standard. The jeans are dark blue with contrasting gold stitching. They’re button-fly and made from a midweight 13.75-ounce denim, which is comfortable for all year-round wear depending on the climate. I got the Weird Guy fit (regular tapered). This is the brand’s most popular style because it looks good on most everyone. It has a medium rise, fits straight through the leg and has a gentle taper from knee to ankle. These are made from selvedge denim and colored using a natural indigo dye. I got my normal size (32) based on the company’s measuring guide. They fit snugly at first, but after a few weeks have loosened up nicely. The jeans are sanforized.
The company also has a new Recycled Selvedge Denim jean, made from denim scraps left over from pattern cutting that are recycled and spun into new yarn. They’re a striking heather blue because of the addition of ecru fiber.
Dearborn Denim SVR Tailored Fit Jeans
Dearborn Denim manufactures its jeans in Chicago and charges reasonable prices, which is kind of unheard of these days. Best of all they look great and are well-made.
Dearborn Denim is an outlier. It’s a U.S.-based company that manufactures its jeans in its Chicago factory and sells them for less than $70. They also just launched a less expensive version under $40 that sold out of the first run almost immediately. Don’t worry, it’s back in stock. Robert McMillan, a former bond trader, started the company in 2016 looking to help revitalize American apparel manufacturing, believing it is “a great industry for steady and fulfilling employment for many people,” he told me in an email. He credits Dearborn’s efficient production and supply chain and no outsourcing for being able to sell quality, American-made jeans at reasonable prices while giving the workers fair wages and good benefits.
As mentioned above, Dearborn recently released 100% cotton jeans called SVR that, like the company’s other products, are made in Chicago. The Tailored Fit jeans run true to size, have a medium rise and have a slight taper from knee to ankle. These zip-fly jeans come in a dark rinse, which is a stunning midnight blue. They are comfortable from the get-go and are a great value at $39. Dearborn can sell the jeans at this price by not including things like rivets, which are pretty much just decorative anyway. You end up with solid, American-made jeans.
If you’re looking for a slimmer fit, Dearborn makes a Slim Fit that comes in 9 washes, including two different dark washes. This is a stretch denim, made from 92% cotton with 7% polyester and 1% elastane making for comfortable wear. The denim is made in Mexico and sewn in Chicago and Dearborn sources all the trim (button, zipper, leather for the label) in the U.S.