It’s difficult to imagine a time before jeans. Over the course of the last 150 years, these hard-wearing denim pants have gone from workwear workhorse to fully-fledged everyday essential. There’s a fit for every body type, a colour for every occasion and, as is evidenced by a lengthy stint at the top of the mainstream menswear hitlist, they just don’t go out of fashion.
It’s for these reasons that a good pair of jeans (or three) is an absolute must in every man’s wardrobe. They’re timeless, versatile and can be called upon for everything from a walk in the park to an evening on the town.
One of the major plus points that sets jeans apart from other styles of legwear is their unrivalled durability. But that only holds true if you buy from the right labels. From American originators and Japanese perfectionists to masters of European minimalism, there are a select few denim brands across the world crafting jeans on their own terms and doing it better than anywhere else.
Sartorially speaking, the French are known for many things, but denim isn’t traditionally one of them. That all changed when aptly named Jean Touitou’s A.P.C. burst onto the scene in the late 1980s. In the time that has elapsed since, the Parisian label’s raw denim offering has earned a reputation as some of the best-fitting and most reasonably priced around. For many seasoned denimheads, it was a pair of A.P.C. jeans that first got them interested and industry insiders rarely have anything but praise for them.
Key Style: A.P.C. Petit New Standard
Given that it was Levi Strauss who invented denim legwear in the first place, it stands to reason that his eponymous brand would make some of the best around. Levi’s is a label that really needs no introduction. Since 1853, the San Francisco brand has been doing pioneering things with denim – changing the menswear landscape in the process. It’s difficult to imagine a more mainstream brand, but even so, Levi’s status in the mid-20th century as a symbol of rebellion has immortalised that little red tag as an icon of counterculture. Expect classic styling, timeless designs and premium construction courtesy of the label’s Levi’s Vintage Clothing offshoot.
Key Style: Levi’s 501
Founded in 1927 by Army veteran Louis Rosenstock, Devil-Dog is an American heritage brand named to honour the United States Marine Corps. As such, the brand’s jeans are much like the men that protect their country: tough as nails and able to withstand even the toughest of conditions. This focus on durability has made Devil-Dog jeans a popular choice for fans of workwear, whether it’s a manual labourer who needs his denim to protect and perform on the job, or the everyday guy who likes to get his hands dirty.
Comfort also sets Devil-Dog denim apart from your typical fashion brand alternative. Whether it’s a perfectly cut straight leg or its moisture-wicking Sorbtek technology, these are the type of jeans you’ll want to wear all-day, every day – and will look better each time you do.
Key Style: Slim Jean
Hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden, Nudie (featured image, top) is a brand that believes in wearing and repairing. Founder Maira Erixon is a firm believer that the more a pair of jeans is lived in, the more character they’ll ultimately have. That’s why the Scandinavian label’s outposts all feature repairs and alterations in-house, to enable the customer to get the most out of their denim. Styles range from skinny to loose-fitting and are all finished off with signature rear-pocket embroidery and a catchy name that references the cut. Plus, prices are reasonable and there’s an overarching focus on sustainability so you can feel that little bit better about making a purchase.
Key Style: Lean Dean
These days, Japan is known as one of the best countries in the world for high-quality denim. The fixation began shortly after World War Two, but historic brand Edwin’s shuttle looms had been firing on all cylinders since long before then. Among other things, the Nipon-based label is known for its “rainbow selvedge” denim which features a multicoloured trim at the edge of each selvedge line. There’s also a full range of casualwear, running the gamut from T-shirts and tops to accessories and luggage.
Key Style: ED-55 Rainbow Selvedge
Swedish label Acne Studios might be best known for its fusion of avant-garde styling and stripped-back Scandi minimalism, but its roots are in denim. The company first found success in the fashion arena with 100 pairs of raw denim jeans made exclusively for friends and family. Since then, Acne has earned a reputation for making some of the best low-key jeans out there; heavy on quality, but light on branding and detail.
Key Style: North Slim
Conceived in the mid 1990s as a homage to the Old West and early 1900s workwear, RRL (pronounced “double RL”) is the top-tier offering by preppy American heavyweight Ralph Lauren. The workwear influence means that denim is a big part of the brand’s collections, and while RRL does make some exquisite raw denim, the washes are what it’s really all about here. Authentic whiskering and distressed detailing in all the right places mean these jeans look and feel just how you want them to from the second you pull them on. Sure, the prices may be a little higher than the competition, but you really do get what you pay for.
Key Style: Slim Narrow
Rag & Bone
New York’s Rag & Bone may not be an out-and-out denim brand, but it’s still highly spoken of by those who know their jeans. Clean silhouettes, flattering fits and tasteful washes are all par for the course, and with all jeans made by skilled hands on USA soil, you can be assured that the quality and craftsmanship are up to scratch. Expect simple styling, minimal branding and heaps of class.
Key Style: Fit 2
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers
Britain hasn’t historically been known as a hotspot for quality denim, not in the same way that American and Japan are. However, London-based brand Blackhorse Lane Ateliers is on a mission to change that. The relatively young label describes itself as “London’s only craft jeans maker”, offering up high-end, British-made jeans that are more than capable of standing up to the intercontinental competition. Fancy making them yourself? You can even pop along to the studio for a masterclass in denim and walk out with a pair that are truly your own.
Key Style: E5 Relaxed Tapered
When it comes to raw denim, the Japanese have most of the clout these days, but there are still American labels keeping its spirit alive stateside. One of them is Tellason: a North Carolina-based brand using San Francisco-sourced materials to create some of the heaviest and best raw selvedge jeans we’ve ever laid eyes on. These are the type of jeans that even the most hardened of denim snobs would have a hard time faulting. Definitely one for the connoisseurs.
Key Style: Ladbroke Grove