When your jeans are feeling dirty, hand washing is the best option. But if you’re too lazy for that, both Guenza and Chen say to turn them inside out and wash them in the machine on the cold setting. This helps preserve the indigo dye and prevent shrinking. If you’ve got a pair of inky raw denim jeans in the pursuit of your own personal fades, Chen recommends hand washing them in cold water as a machine can cause some undesired fades. “In both cases,” he says, “I always hang them up to dry to preserve the fit.”
The Best OG Jeans
Levi’s 501 Original Shrink-to-Fit jeans
What, did you really think Levi’s wouldn’t be at the top of this list?The age-old denim purveyor’s iconic 501s are the jeans that invented the category—the begetter of blue jeans!—and thanks to their timeless straight-leg fit, they’re still every bit as relevant today as they were in the late 1800s. The idea with the OG Shrink-to-Fit model is this: size up a 2-3 inches, put them on, and get in a tub of warm water (yes, you read that right). After a few minute of blue bath time, get out and let ’em dry on your body. They’ll shrink down to your normal size, hugging your curves in the right places and forming to your body like they were tailored for you. From then on you can wear ‘em how you damn well please. In fact, you should wear ’em as hard as you can and wash ‘em every couple of weeks. The result? The best-fitting, best-looking, best-feeling pair of jeans you’ll ever own. Eventually, you’ll get that nice vintage fade that’s oh-so coveted by avid jeans folks. (It’s the kind of stuff that started a whole legion of denim-related myths, but don’t let the lore scare you off.) And don’t worry: you can skip the bath portion of the process and wash ‘em however you want, and they’ll still look like money.
The Best Stretchy-But-Won’t-Stretch-Out Jeans
Everlane organic cotton slim fit jean
Jeans this uniformly dark are normally stiffer than moonshine and about as comfortable as a root canal. Thanks to a clever infusion of stretchy elastane, Everlane’s signature Japanese denim gives you that pristine indigo look—which cement these as the most office-appropriate pair of the bunch—without any of the sandpapery breaking-in period. By that same measure, they’re also surprisingly sag-resistant: you can wear them every day of the week, and they’ll never lose their flatteringly lean shape. Pair ‘em with a tweed blazer, knit tie, and equally-crisp white sneakers for a fit that’ll take you from a meeting with your boss straight into a post-work breakdown of said meeting with your nosy colleagues.
The Best Entry-Level Selvedge Denim Jeans
Uniqlo stretch selvedge slim-fit jeans
For anyone looking to score a pair of jeans with some street cred (or modest menswear-forum fame), a pair of selvedge denim jeans is a requisite. Why? Most fabrics are woven on looms that leave raw edges. Selvedge denim, on the other hand, is woven on looms that leave a self edge that is densely woven and won’t unravel. When someone’s got their jeans cuffed, look for a vertical stripe (it’s probably white and red) at the outside seam and you’ll know its selvedge. While experts love the slow-made nature of selvedge, that added production time increases the end cost. It’s rare to find selvedge denim under $100, but Uniqlo has consistently been one shining star in a sky of indigo. The fabric it uses is a mid-weight denim that’s crispy enough to past denimhead muster but also has a touch of stretch to make it bearable for the average Joe. The unwashed finish means you can lock in your own personal fades, but the sanforized process means you won’t have to worry about shrinkage when you eventually decide to give them a wash. Plus, little touches like slick gunmetal hardware and reinforced belt loops give them a premium look and feel that you’d more likely peg as the flagship jean of a high-fashion designer.
The Best Dad-Approved Jeans
Lee relaxed fit straight leg jean pants
If you’re still riding the Dad Wave™, don’t quit when it comes to denim—get yourself a pair of Lees. The fabric is hardy, the fit is boxy and perfect for athletic builds, and the wash is blissfully uniform, without any crazy distressing. Most important, they’ll only set you back a measly $30—because we all know affordability is the sine qua non of a great dad jean.
The Best Slim-But-Not-Too-Slim Jeans
Gap slim jeans with GapFlex
Gap kicked off this whole “quality jeans at an inoffensive price” movement a decade ago, and they keep the party rolling with these medium-wash crowd pleasers. Worried you’ve got too much, ahem, “power” in your legs to squeeze into any of these slim-fit jeans? This pair was engineered to look great on the broadest range of body types: not too snug, not too loose. Not for nothing, there’s also a lived-in character to these that’s hard to come by—they’ll feel like a familiar old fave right from the jump. That’s the denim equivalent of what NBA stat heads would call an “intangible.”
The Best Double-Knee Warrior Jeans
Carhartt Rugged Flex relaxed fit double-front utility jean
Carhartt’s been doling out its tough-as-nails, real-deal workwear for well over a century. On top of its famed Detroit work jackets and duck canvas double-knee pants, the brand also knows how to engineer some solid denim. At 15 ounces, the denim on these utility jeans is the heaviest on this list—and that’s before you factor in the double-layered knee panels. With all that heft, you can bet that these jeans will outlast your barista career and will only look better with every wear. Even without the extra knees and hardware, these jeans would still make our list because of the fine-tuned relaxed fit and classic rise.
The Best Boot-Ready Jeans
Wrangler Cowboy cut 13MWZ original fit jeans
This is the jean of choice for Super Bowl stars and real-ass cowboys alike. Wrangler’s bootcut jeans are iconic thanks to their hip-hugging top block and flared hems, which pool over a pair of boots like a denim fondue. The denim is a dense, 100% cotton fabric that can handle its own on and off a saddle, with or without a center crease. The lightest version weighs in at 12 ounces, which is fairly average for most jeans, but most of Wrangler’s options sit at a beefier 14-15 ounces, about as heavy as anyone can expect for jeans under $100—let alone jeans at around $30. If you want to go especially hard, we recommend serving them up the way a young Harrison Ford would’ve: with a western belt, a plaid blazer, and a pair of serious movie star shades. Or you could lean into their groovier side and rock them with a pair of canvas sneakers and a vintage tee. These jeans bootcut jeans ain’t just boot-ready—they’re ready for anything.
And if It Ain’t Broke, Go Vintage
Levi’s Secondhand 501 original fit jeans
If you didn’t know by now, Levi’s has been around for a long, long time. That means there’s untold amounts of vintage Levi’s waiting to be given a new lease on life. And while we love trawling through thrift shops in search for the perfect pair, you can now can cop a killer pair of vintage Levi’s straight from the source. Following in the footsteps of brands like Patagonia and its WornWear program, the first name in denim introduced this platform for buying used and vintage Levi’s garms to meet growing demand for secondhand products. Not only does it represent a serious step toward a circular fashion economy that should hopefully help move the environmental needle, it’s also the easiest way to get your legs into great jeans that absolutely no one else will own. You could certainly hit up your local vintage joint to scoop a pair, but if you’re not about the thrill of the hunt, the Levi’s Secondhand site streamlines the process. And what’s better than the beauty of a pair of naturally faded vintage jeans?
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COS regular-fit tapered-leg jeans
Not only does COS make its jeans from recycled cotton, the Swedish brand foregoes the usual smattering of metal rivets to make them easier to be recycled once you’ve worn them into the ground. But of course, the comfy thigh and slightly tapered silhouette are plenty compelling on their own.
Arket Park cropped regular straight jeans
In today’s spandex-saturated denim market, it’s a little tricky to find big-box jeans made entirely of cotton, let alone the responsibly-sourced version of the stuff. Enter Arket’s pair, crafted from a blend of recycled and organic cotton, and carefully cropped at the ankle, right on time for the indie sleaze revival. All you need now is a pair of Chucks (extra points if you opt for Onitsuka Tiger’s Mexico 66 sneakers), a slim button-up, and a healthy disdain for The Man.
Uniqlo x Helmut Lang classic cut jeans
Helmut Lang was red-hot in the ‘90s, and its stripped-back, deceptively sexy basics from the era weild an outsized influence in the fashion consciousness today. The designer is no longer associated with his namesake label, but you can still see vestiges of his work—particularly his way with denim—in the jeans lining the shelves at your favorite menswear boutique. So last year, Uniqlo decided to go straight to the source, collaborating with Helmut Lang, the brand, to reissue a pitch-perfect pair of jeans from the brand’s catalog—at a way more forgiving price.
Flint and Tinder Italian jean
Made with denim from the renowned Italian mill Candiani, Flint and Tinder’s deep indigo jeans might boast the most impressive pedigree of this sub-$100 bunch. If that’s not enough to sell you, they’ve also got a touch of stretch for flexibility and come pre-rinsed to do away with that box-fresh crunchiness.
Madewell 1991 bootcut jeans
Thanks to a slightly stretchy denim made by the venerable Cone Mills and the gentlest of flares, Madewell’s groovy jeans will turn any skeptic into a bootcut believer.
Abercrombie 90s straight jean
Blue jeans, as we’ve said before, do not have to be blue. Thankfully, Abercrombie got the memo—the mall brand mainstay gave these brown dungarees a discerning wash that feels naturally lived-in without going overboard.
J.Crew 770 straight-fit garment-dyed five-pocket pant
If you’re a diehard denim guy who just can’t get down with shorts, even during the summer, you’ll need a pair of white jeans. J.Crew’s 770 is a classic straight fit similar to the 501 (if a hair slimmer), and features a lightweight 9.5-ounce denim with a slightly slubby texture that’ll add character to any outfit.
Tellason Stock straight leg fit jeans
Raw denim doesn’t get much better than this, especially for the price. Though Tellason Stock isn’t made of selvedge denim like its pricier counterparts (sorry, purists), the 14.75-ounce raw denim is just as durable and crispy, which should yield some truly killer fades. The denim is cut and sewn in the home of blue jeans, San Francisco, and if you can catch ‘em on sale, they’re just below the Benjamin threshold.
Gap ‘90s original straight selvedge jeans
Vintage redline jeans are hard to come by, and will typically cost you a pretty penny—but Gap’s are the next best thing. On top of their selvedge denim fabric, they also feature a light wash and tasteful distressing—whiskers, train track fades, subtle nicks at the hems—that lend them the most convincing pre-worn look you’ll come across, especially at this price point. If you’d really rather not break in a pair of jeans yourself, these are for you.
Dickies regular fit 5-pocket jeans
If you like the cut of Dickies’ popular work chinos, you’ll be a fan of this 5-pocket jean variant.
Levi’s 505 regular fit jeans
The official jeans of the Ramones, and the slightly-more-tailored cousin to the famous 501.
Ben Davis carpenter pants
Ben Davis is a titan of real-deal workwear, the kind of label you see in shops filled with military surplus gear and goods made for construction workers. The brand’s carpenter jeans use a dense and crunchy 14 ounce denim that comes raw and ready to fade just like the high-end stuff. At the same time, though, they’re a far cry from fancy fashion dungarees—which means they’re definitely not slim and are almost criminall