From humble workwear origins, denim has evolved to become an essential part of our collective wardrobe, providing ruggedness, luxury, sophistication, brand rep and comfort all at once. They might be an everyday garment that you throw on without much thought, but your choice of jeans say a lot about you.
Below we showcase the types of jeans worthy of consideration when pulling together a modern casual wardrobe, whether you’re a total selvedge hound or just a stretch-denim kind of guy.
Denim And Washes
Raw Denim Jeans
Raw denim is exactly that: denim that has not been washed or treated in any way. Purists love it for that very reason. Don’t expect a buttery-soft fabric just because it’s more expensive either – raw denim can be really stiff and take an absolute age to wear in, but when it does it feels and looks like no other treated denim.
Because of the initial stiffness, it works well roomier cuts such as straight-leg and wide-leg jeans. Of course, because they haven’t been washed, the denim is very dark thanks to all of the indigo dye it’s holding so be mindful of where you sit and what you wear with them before the first couple of washes because the indigo will bleed.
The best raw jeans almost always come from Japan, where great pride is taken in the production of small batch denim..
Japanese Selvedge Jeans
When it comes to denim, it doesn’t get better than Japanese selvedge. The name comes from the term ‘self-edge’ to describe a denim cloth that has been typically woven using an old-fashioned shuttle loom to create neatly finished edges.
The shuttle threads the weft through the warp shed, continuously passing back and forth so that the edges of the fabric are self-finished. It doesn’t directly relate to the quality of the denim per se, but the fact that these old looms are more expensive and slower to run means that the weavers using them are typically doing so with high-quality raw denim.
You can tell if denim is selvedge by turning up the leg and looking to see if the seam is neat and tightly constructed.
Stone Washed Jeans
What used to be the preserve of 80s rockers, stonewashed jeans have infiltrated just about every menswear genre, providing a slightly distressed, faded-out contrast to the typical indigo-dyed jean. As such, they project a more casual vibe, suited to laid-back summer looks.
The stonewash effect is caused by washing the denim with pumice stones, which removes the indigo dye and dishes out a fair bit of distress to the cloth. The upside of stone-washing is that it does all the wearing in for you, saving you a tonne of time, but the downside is the environmental impact because the denim has to be washed multiple times in order to remove pumice particles, so bear that in mind when you’re looking to purchase a pair.
Try and learn about the brand’s practices and choose one with the best sustainability credentials.
Acid Wash Jeans
Popularised by the punk movement in the 70s, acid washing denim gives a much more contrasting effect than stone washing, creating an experimental art canvas out of your jeans. Of course, the punks were doing it themselves with home kits of potassium permanganate and sodium hypochlorite but these days there are plenty of jeans brands that produce creative acid-washed styles.
Perhaps it’s the punk reference, but there’s definitely something anarchic about acid-washed denim. It’s a great way to add a subtle tonal pattern into a denim-based fit, working well with skater-inspired streetwear looks.
Rinse Wash Jeans
A rinse wash or dark wash is, after raw denim, the least processed style of denim. The fabric is given a short wash to remove the excess indigo and to soften up the fibres. The result is a dark jean that preserves the best of the dye but won’t leave a blue stain on every white surface you park your butt on.
From a sustainability point of view, the rinse wash uses the least amount of water so it’s a great option. Naturally, the darker tone provides a smarter finish so look for slim or tapered styles that you can wear with Chelsea boots, chukkas, or loafers for a preppy look.
Distressed Denim Jeans
Distressed jeans are as old as the hills – they were first donned by rugged farm types who would wear them down to the last few obstinate threads. These days, you can pay good money to have your denim pre-bashed, ripped, frayed and splattered.
A dose of grunge for the masses, distressed denim can be worked into all manner of looks depending on how you want to style it. We’d steer clear of overly distressed styles – i.e. completely absent knees – and instead opt for more subtle details that embellish the look.
The distressed element denotes a sense of ambivalence, so these types of jeans work well in black or stone-washed denim within slightly dishevelled rock ‘n’ roll looks, but don’t even dare take a pair of scissors to your Japanese selvedge.
Alternative Denim Colours
The French and Italians have long understood that a good pair of slim-fit white jeans are worth their weight in styling gold because they function much like cotton chinos, only they bring that subtle ruggedness that only denim can offer.
The joy of the white jean is in its versatility, being able to be styled up or down with ease. Team them with a Breton tee and espadrilles for an effortless summer look, or bring the smart dial right up with a navy double-breasted linen blazer and horsebit loafers.
You can go the preppy route by layering a polo shirt and lightweight cardigan with your white jeans and boat shoes, or opt for a grungy vibe with a baggy style and oversized knit. They really are the glue that sticks your warm-weather wardrobe together.
Every chic Parisian guy’s favourite pair of trousers, black jeans look best when they’re slim cut and worn as part of an all-black outfit, or with a black/white contrast look.
If you prefer a less polished and more dishevelled feel then you can certainly add some distressed elements to your black jeans, or opt for a more washed-out grey style if you like that typical rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic.
Unlike blue jeans, black ones don’t tend to work with a turn-up, hence look for slim tapered styles that you can wear with Chelsea boots.
When white is too pristine and black is too ageing rock star, an off-white or ivory pair of jeans can tick all the boxes. You can find some sumptuous raw, undyed Japanese selvedge styles in this category, and they work really well in boxier silhouettes, too.
That said, a slim-cut tapered style will look as smart as any pair of cotton chinos, but will have that inimitable textural quality of great denim.
As unflattering as straight-leg dad jeans can sometimes be, they deserve a place on this list because they are a major denim trend right now. High-rise straight-leg styles, and cropped versions at that, have been doing the rounds on the runways and whether you call it norm-core or anti-fashion, there’s no arguing that plenty of brands are producing them.
Classic straight-leg styles can be great if you’re endowed with tree trunks for legs, but if you’re dialled into trends you’ll also find plenty to love by pairing straight-leg styles with chunky designer sneakers and oversized streetwear silhouettes.
Wide-leg trousers have been around since collegiate types were sporting Oxford bags in the 1800s. They have been through a few different incarnations in denim, not least the bell bottoms and flares of the 60s, but today’s wide-leg styles are thankfully cut with a straight leg.
With a boxy, fluid look, they’re quite the fashion-forward silhouette right now due to streetwear influences infiltrating luxury labels. Hence, find a good pair of raw selvedge wide-legs in a black or off-white tone and dress them up with hype sneakers for a bold urban look.
The perfect everyday option for casual dressing, the slim-cut jean is typically defined by a gradual taper from mid-thigh down to the ankle. As such, they’re an excellent shape for adding a turn-up and pairing with smarter shoes such as loafers or Chelsea boots, while also being a great foil for minimalist sneakers.
The lower the rise, the more casual they’ll look, so if you want a pair of slim-cut jeans to wear with polos and blazers, then opt for a mid-rise that sits higher on the hips and is thus more fitted around your waist.
Skinny jeans typically come with an age limit and so if you need to ask whether you’re too old to wear them, you’re probably too old to wear them. By ‘skinny’ we don’t mean painted/spray on – there is never a place in a man’s wardrobe for ‘jeggings’. They should be skinny without outlining the contours of every muscle and sinew in your legs.
Black styles work well and can look sophisticated, as demonstrated season after season by Saint Laurent. Of course, skinny jeans come with a pretty obvious caveat: you need to be skinny to wear them, so if you’re been doubling down on leg day at the gym, they’re definitely not a look for you. If you’re more Timothée Chalamet than Terry Crews then by all means indulge.
The rise of jeans refers to the length between the top of the waistband and the crotch, hence a low-rise pair of jeans only has a short distance compared to high-rise jeans, which will sit above the hips.
Low-rise jeans sit below your hips and so have a natural slouchiness which is perfect for a relaxed vibe. You definitely want to steer clear from overly skinny low-rise styles for risk of exposing your crack whenever you bend down.
Low-rise styles arguably look best in relaxed fits, making them an excellent option if you lean into grungier streetwear styles with oversized hoodies and sweats.