From cowboys to hippies, indie rockers to preppy jocks, jeans are that one fashion item that has transcended time, gender and many a fashion wardrobe. Which is why finding the best jeans brands for men is still oh-so important nowadays.
But the denim jeans’ openness to the masses doesn’t mean buying a pair comes naturally. Taking the time to understand the fit and fabric is imperative. After this, comes the brand – finding one that marries perfectly the fit and fabric aspects. Or, you could just get your jeans customised and made-to-measure.
Luckily, there’s a guide to the best jeans brands for men thoroughly researched and written for you. Let’s begin.
Denim by Vanquish
Good jeans and Japanese artisans are like two peas in a pod, which shouldn’t come as a shock when you check out Japanese brand Denim by Vanquish. An ambitious crew, they’ve set themselves the goal to ‘embody a stylish masculine ideal’. In furtherance of this goal, they produce streetstyle-inspired denim that will be right at home with your go-to sneaker/tee combo. Their most popular line is an ongoing collaboration with Fragment, but they run frequent collabs – ensuring that their denim doesn’t go stale and always has something quirky to offer the people. Keep an eye out for new collaborations throughout the year to freshen up to your streetwear wardrobe (because heaven forbid you get caught wearing the same stuff twice).
Rag & Bone
NYC-based Rag & Bone are younger than some of their competitors, kicking off in 2002, but that’s not to say they come up short. In a world of offshore manufacturing, R&B still produce some of their lines in New York, using top notch selvedge without fail. Rag & Bone derive inspiration from clean, heritage tailoring, but still offer hard-wearing raw denim for guys who don’t have the luxury of sitting on an office chair all day. Originally confined to a couple of stores in Manhattan, Rag & Bone have just landed down under, so no stress on postage fees – you can kit yourself out in a pair at David Jones.
It’s probably becoming more obvious to you that Japan is leading the fight in producing tough denim that could survive nuclear Armageddon. Spellbound belong to the third oldest denim manufacturer in Japan, the Domingo Company (also worth a look for non-denim kit). Their style is on the rugged end of the spectrum, making them a solid choice for hard days in the shed or on your bike. Spellbound proudly wear the Made in Japan label, and their jeans are usually 14oz, so they’re a versatile mid-weight construction that won’t let you down in any climate or time of year. Competitively priced, so definitely worth a look.
Albam combine the steady hands of English manufacturing with blue-chip denim selected from Japanese producers. They offer a small, curated selection of denim that doesn’t have any fancy stitching, rips, or details that undermine their no-nonsense, utilitarian ethos. It is kit that’s perfectly suitable for the day-in day-out, and made in such a manner that you won’t have to worry about making a second trip to the shops anytime soon. Albam aren’t in any Aussie stores, yet, so jump on to Mr Porter for your fix if you aren’t heading off to see Big Ben anytime soon.
Originating in post-war Paris, Balmain have been making their way up the competitive ladder of high fashion since 1945. Before you get freaked out, Balmain isn’t the kind of high fashion that you only see on the runway or a photoshoot. Their current collection is fairly minimalist, with restrained colours and slim tailoring. Looking at their denim, their biker jeans won’t look out of place with a button-down or a plain tee. Easy to incorporate within an existing wardrobe, without looking like you just left Paris Fashion Week. Now, I did mention that Balmain are a luxury brand, right? Balmain jeans can set you back over a grand, so work on a serious budget before committing to a pair.
We’ve covered Copenhagen-based NN.07 before, and for a good reason. NN.07 (No Nationality, a nod to their global ethos) have been doing the rounds with quality workmanship, and reminding the global consumer that good jeans aren’t limited to Japanese or American factories. They offer staples that transcend the cycles of fashion trends. Their jeans make good on this promise, offering simple colours and a slim fit that is fairly unassuming, so they won’t be lost in the transition from season to season. NN.07 are a brand for the dressed-down bloke, so incorporate their jeans with looks where you left the blazer and tie at home.
The ethos of Swedish brand Nudie Jeans is all about telling a story. A pair of Nudies will take on a character of its own through repeated thrashing, unique to the lifestyle and behaviour of the guy wearing them. Every pair, therefore, is different. These days, getting your hands on a pair of Nudies has become something of a sartorial rite of passage; a subtle nod to denim fiends that you know your business (or pretend to). Nudie also operates repair shops in various cities around the world, a handy boon for guys who have pushed their kit just a little bit too far, and don’t have the workmanship behind them for at-home repairs (which is most of us).
Dolce & Gabbana
Formed as a collaboration between Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, D&C are well known for flamboyant runway shows that normal guys like you and I never get an invite to. Putting that aside, the luxury brand offers a huge selection of denim for just about any event you could conceive. I’m not kidding. If you can’t find it with D&C, you’re probably an insufferable perfectionist with whom nobody enjoys shopping. You’ll be able to find straight-leg distressed jeans perfect for a lazy day off, next to a slim-fit white option that’ll look mustard with a blazer for a cocktail event. The unifying characteristic is the Made in Italy label, so you’d have to look pretty hard for a fault in the manufacturing process. They’re on the upper end of the pricing scale, but a weekend off the beers will probably set you up for the investment.
Levi’s are the oldest jean company in this list. Hands down. They comfortably predate even the senior brands here by a century. HQ’d in San Francisco, Levi’s are quintessentially American like baseball and high-calorie snacks. Levi’s were responsible for the explosion of blue jeans in every corner of America during the 20th century, with distinctive branding that’s instantly recognizable to those of us who have been to the shops at some point during the millennium. They’re here for a good reason. Like most people, you probably have a few good stories about a pair of indestructible 501’s that you dragged through the dirt on various misadventures. While they’re no longer exclusively made in America, you can still depend on solid denim jeans that are game for a serious thrashing.\
We’ll give you a break from Japanese labels for a minute. ACNE started off as an informal venture in late 90’s Stockholm. The designer, a pretty charitable bloke by the looks of it, created a hundred pairs of raw denim jeans and gifted them to his mates. Nowadays, denim constitutes a much smaller component of a wider effort across fashion and design. But ACNE is still appreciated at the highest echelons of menswear for stellar jeans that are produced in Italy and Japan. The New York Times even credited ACNE with sparking the skinny jean trend most of us have enjoyed (guiltily or not). ACNE’s aesthetic maintains the Scandinavian proclivity for understatement, so you’re on the right track if you prefer jeans that are designed with simplicity in mind. Worn best with an ensemble of basics, for low-key, off duty days. They run five primary fit categories that should see you through a night on the town or kicking back at home.
Parisian brand APC (Atelier de Production et de Creation, we’ll let you use Google Translate) opened for business in 1987 and have turned out a whopping forty collections since. They continue to use premium Japanese selvedge – which, if you haven’t heard, doesn’t fray or collapse due to its unique finishing process that keeps everything right where it should be. Along with brands like Edwin and Nudie, they offer raw denim that gradually adopts the character of your lifestyle. Every night out on the town, road trip, and escape from the police will imprint itself on the creases and fading of your jeans. Sure, APC are another denim brand that have gone on to try their hands outside the comfort of jeans, but it’s their jeans to which their customers return, and are a worthwhile look if you are a budding aficionado of Japanese-inspired denim.
It’s easy to forget that there are other denim manufacturers that don’t live in Europe or Japan. Operated by identical twins, DSquared2 proclaim an international focus with their slogan ‘Born in Canada, living in London, Made in Italty’. DSquared2 aren’t by any means understated or modest. Their jeans are often pre-faded and torn, which is perfect for blokes who don’t have the time for the traditional wearing-in process required of other brands. Despite the pre-thrashed, 90’s grunge aesthetic they have going on, the assurance of quality Italian craftsmanship means you won’t need to worry about a split crotch anytime soon.
Tokyo-based Visvim continue the Japanese fascination with heritage, workwear, and five-star craftsmanship. Owner and artisan-in-chief Hiroki Nakamura maintains a fierce dedication to vintage kit, and Visvim was the natural extension of his appreciation for clothes that will carry through the decades, absorbing the traits of the wearer. For his denim collections, Visvim have pioneered an unprecedented construction process called ‘Social Sculpture’. Basically, he strips denim down to its individual yarns, before reconstructing it to personal specifications that supplement the garment’s durability (we don’t really get it, but it works). It’s great for denim geeks who appreciate the lifelong relationship a person can have with a pair of jeans. Because of the peculiar artisanal manufacturing, Visvim aren’t giving their jeans away. Not to worry, though. If you get a pair of these, you probably won’t need another.
Orslow aren’t keen on the fast fashion game. Tucked away from denim-centric Tokyo in the Hyogo Prefecture, their mission statement is to invest in the garment construction process in a slower, more considered manner that respects the heritage of workwear. In their own words, they ‘present the antithesis of a fast-moving society and fashion industry, and slow it down’. Orslow also treat workwear as a style that won’t fall off the radar, despite the up-and-down motions of fashion trends. A pair of Orslow Standard jeans tick all the right boxes, offering up selvedge denim, made in Japan, in a versatile 13.5oz weight that won’t take a century to break in. Pricier than your entry-level denim specialists, but it’s probably becoming obvious to you that good denim should never be a disposable purchase anyway.
Edwin are long-time denim kingpins, being in the business since ’47. Hailing from the denim mecca Tokyo, Edwin’s consistency is applauded for surviving the turbulent peaks and troughs of fashion across the decades. Their kit is often characterised by a ring-spun yarn. I’ll save you the denim whiz mumbo-jumbo, but that effectively means the cloth tolerates a hell of a lot more punishment than regular weaves, even if it’s a pricier process. They also do jeans from lightweight 8oz to famously durable 16oz pairs, so there’s something for any contingency – whether you need a go-to pair for summer, or for the one day of the year where you try to service your car at home. Look for hole-in-the-wall shops downtown for small selections, otherwise online retailers are your best bet.
Another Tokyo stalwart (noticing the trend yet?). Nonnative battle fierce competition in a heavily-saturated market, with clothes that sit at the intersection between rugged, utilitarian kit and a tailored aesthetic. Drawing inspiration from a range of sources, Nonnative blend historic workwear and military kit with inspiration from the street, so you won’t risk looking like you’re an extra on set for a 30’s period drama film. These guys often construct their jeans from a cotton/polyurethane blend, so you can take comfort in the advantages of stretch fabric if your running program hasn’t panned out too well.
Incotex belong to the long-established Italian Slowear group, specializing in pants for gents. While Incotex usually make tailored chinos with a workwear flavour, they also offer jeans that are an apt replacement for the pair you’ve taken to the tailor three times to restitch a split crotch. Incotex jeans are on the classic side, in staple blues or indigo. Ideal for days where you don’t fancy the notion of spending too much time agonizing over what to wear (which is probably most days).
When you hear Zegna, you think luxury suiting with pervasive global influence. Fair enough, they own the fabric mills used by most high-street labels, besides their own faultless suiting lines that most guys jealously aspire to own. That aside, they’re no slouch in the off-duty casualwear department. Zegna offer steadily expanding casual collections, including schmick jeans for nights out when your chinos don’t cut the mustard. Perfect with an open-neck shirt and a blazer, or a printed short-sleeve shirt for when it’s a scorcher and you’d prefer not to risk it. Japanese denim, made in either Romania or Italy, and priced accordingly.
Hawksmill Denim Co
Hawksmill Denim Co are an important reminder than Japan hasn’t quite monopolised halfway decent denim products (yet). Designed in the UK and manufactured in Europe, Hawksmill Denim is a heritage brand with a seriously affordable price range, generously below most other brands that meet the same criteria of heritage, workmanship, and material quality. Like most denim brands worth your clams, Hawksmill appreciate the history of denim. They construct their jeans on vintage Union Special machines (old-school sewing contraptions), rather than automated machinery favoured by mass-market competitors. At this point you’ve probably seen the word ‘selvedge’ enough to make you nauseous, but HDC don’t settle for anything less, favouring a 14oz weight that has trans-seasonal value.
RRL is Ralph Lauren’s take on the history of the American West, an iconic period of American history upon which countless movies and ill-conceived costume parties were based. Named after ‘Double RL’, his holiday ranch in the American Northwest, RRL take sartorial hints from the American Old West, without making you look like John Wayne in The Alamo. On the manufacturing front, they prefer Cone Mills denim. Cone Mills is one of the last domestic selvedge mills in the US of A, and have been serving the needs of a hungry American market for 125 years, or thereabouts, so they know their business. Considering Cone denim has definable origins in supporting the American worker, the heritage claim of RRL therefore deserves a second look. RRL offers prewashed and raw options, so you have no limit for style.
Tips To Get The Best Fit
Denim is designed to mould to the body – stretching itself out while forming crease and irregularities as the days of wear unfold. Jeans should comfortable without compromising on style and remain somewhat streamline, which is enhanced by knowing your true-fit or waist size (measure just below the naval level or at the top of your hip bone and placing one finger between your body and the tape measure to allow for movement).
Keeping that in mind, here are the main fits to look out for and how they can be worked into your wardrobe.
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Skinny Fit Jeans
Skinny jeans are those that fit very snug – from the hip, to the thigh, to the base of the ankle. Best for guys with more slender, up-and-down frames. While the silhouette has lost its fashion fan-base with slim and relaxed cuts increasing in popular, skinnies should be worn skinny, so go for the size you can just do-up.
Tip: Wear your new skinny jeans around the house (lazing on the couch) to speed up the natural stretching process. They will be ready for their virgin public wear in no time.
Straight/Slim Fit Jeans
Straight/slim fit jeans ride well with most body types but sits particularly well with guys sporting the fit and athletic body type. The jeans should slightly hug the thighs, knees, and calves, while loosening up around the ankles. Skinnier guys can wear this style too as a way of adopting a more casual comfort-look. Pair with plain white tee and Chukka boots or tailored blazer and clean-cut derby shoes for the night.
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Tip: Slim fit sizing should be bought closer to ‘true-fit’. There will be less post-stretch compared to skinny jeans, due to a looser fit in general, so the jeans should already feel fit-ready around the waist before purchasing.
Relaxed/Loose Fit Jeans
This fit is suited to guys with more bulk up top and equally fuller legs. The relaxed/loose fit falls practically straight down from the waist, hanging naturally and in line with the wearer’s leg shape. A more more casual look than other fits, darker colours dress-up relaxed fit jeans. Roll the cuffs to give the wider leg more shape and the ankle.
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Tip: Buy this fit as you would when shopping for normal trousers. You should be able to fasten your belt without the waistline bunching. Roll the ankles imperfectly to create an instant tapering, adding more shape to the fit.
Types of Denim
Most denim starts off life raw, looking dark and inky until washed and treated. As well as black, grey and multicoloured denim (which we don’t really endorse), here are the main blue wash types to look out for:
Classic Wash Jeans
The classic wash, a.k.a your average mid-blue jean colour, is the safest and most acceptable denim hue. To get this look, raw denim is rinsed and then bleach added to soften the inkiness. A classic wash is best for more casual jeans (relaxed fit and classic) worn for more off-duty occasions.
Designed for those who want old-school things – now, vintage wash takes the time out of breaking in a new pair of jeans (something that can take years). Dubbed ‘distressed denim’, raw denim is put through vigorous rinsing (depending on how light the final colour will be) as well as sanding at the seams, knees, and thighs.
This style looks cool with fading, holes and even tasteful rips.
Dark Rinse Jeans
Dark rinse jeans are close to the original raw start of the untreated denim but have been washed once or twice to retain the colour but loose the stiffness that comes with raw denim. Often with variation shading around the seams, knees and pockets, the dark blue of this denim works like black trousers would do. A perfect colour for skinny jeans with light denim jacket or with a blazer in classic fit for more smart casual times.
The other dark variety is your standard black jeans. The hue is achieved through dyeing the jeans and creates an immediate-dressy look, especially when worn as part of an all-black outfit.
This is denim is unwashed (raw), dense and rigid. Selvage denim is when the two ends of a roll of cotton are used to make jeans, from which only a handful of pairs can be made, signalled by a pair of white parallel lines on the cuff. It’s a version of raw and is a unique approach to denim.
Raw jeans are like antiques in that they can last for years, taking months to show signs of wear and tear. Being dark, they are great alternatives to wool trousers or smart chinos. Creases form easily when worn as a skinny or slim fit and avoid over-washing the jeans in the first six months.
Jeans are a statement of self-expression, provide comfort and give out a casual cool vibe to any day time outfit. With a darker colour and tapered fit, they can dress up for night too. So do your denim research. Denim is about keeping things simple, minimising embellishments, logos and random patches or stitching. When it comes to the best jeans brands for men, take the time to know what fabric and fit works best with your lifestyle and body type.
Check out the slideshow above for 20 best jeans brands we’re loving right now.