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Dress codes (both written and unwritten) are more casual than ever with offices foregoing the business suit and t-shirts peppering high-end restaurants. It can seem tricky to navigate, but one piece of clothing can arm you for the casual era like no other: jeans.
The right pair of jeans can be thrown on for weekend adventures, date nights, office meetings and everything in-between. Correctly fitting denim also lends unique powers of flattery: they can slim or widen where necessary to make you look and feel your best.
However, things get hard when you set out to find those perfect jeans. All of the denim cuts can be hard to remember — let alone figure out. Brands sometimes come up with their own system of naming and even categorizing their denim cuts, meaning “slim jeans” from one brand might fit the same as “skinny jeans” from another.
If you’re currently searching in vain for some new go-to jeans, fear not: we’ve done the legwork (no pun intended) of discerning the right denim cuts for different body types and styles. Below, you’ll find the basic denim cuts, as found on Gap.com, with tips on who should wear each style. We went with Gap because they’ve recently rejuvenated and simplified their denim selection, offering high-quality jeans in straightforward cuts.
How to Find the Best Jeans for You
The first and most important step in finding the best jeans for men is assessing your body type. Gap does a great job of making denim accessible for everyone, with a range of sizes, fits and inseams designed to make everyone look and feel good.
For simplicities’ sake, we’ll stick to three main body types: slim, average and big. Of course, there’s plenty of variation within these categories, as some guys have wider hips and others have more muscle in their legs.
Although jeans are famous for their versatility, it’s also important to think about where and how you’ll be rocking your jeans. If your jeans will be taking you from the office to the bar for happy hour, you’ll want something pulled-together. If you’re wearing your jeans more casually (think, traveling or running errands) you can get more adventurous with streetstyle cuts.
Brands typically note how their jeans fit in three areas: the hips, thigh and leg. Hip and thigh fit are self-explanatory, simply meaning how much room there is in each section. The “leg” can be a bit confusing, as this usually means the knee, calf and ankle area. You’ll see things like “tapered leg,” which means the pants taper beginning around the lower thigh and get smaller towards the hem. Also, keep in mind that these notes are in reference to the average man’s leg size. So, if you’ve got bigger thighs, “a bit of room in the leg” might translate to a snug fit in your case.
Types of Denim Cuts
Gap offers a wide selection of jeans for men, available in different cuts that flatter every style and shape. Here, we breakdown some of the best denim cuts for men, so you can find jeans that fit you best.
1. Straight Fit
After a brief period of skinny and slim jeans dominating, straight fit jeans are very much back in style. The classic silhouette (sometimes called ‘regular fit’) is marked by a straight fit through the hips, thigh and leg, providing room to breathe and move. Straight fit jeans are the most versatile fit, looking great on just about every body type. They’re also great for guys with wider hips, as well as tall guys who run the risk of looking like a stick figure in jeans that are too slim.
In terms of style, straight jeans are best in classic washes for casual looks. Pair them with chunky sneakers and a tee or boots and a winter coat on weekends. They also work with business casual attire — think a button-up and a sweater — if you go with a black or grey wash.
2. Slim Fit
Slim jeans are the sophisticated grown-up cut. Because they’re not too tight, they work with a range of footwear from dress shoes to minimal sneakers (chunky sneakers or boots might look a bit odd, however). In a dark wash, slim cut jeans can even be a viable substitute for slacks and chinos on dressy occasions — say, going to nice restaurants, attending a wedding or heading to the office.
If you’re skinny or average-sized, slim cut denim is a great choice. It’s also perfect for shorter guys, as the slimness has a lengthening effect. However, slim fit can easily be too tight for bigger dudes, so we recommend that heftier guys choose dark wash straight fit jeans for a pulled-together, office-ready look.
3. Athletic Fit
If you want the roominess of a straight fit without bagginess in the leg, go for athletic cut jeans. They’re straight through the hip and thigh but tapered in the lower leg, providing serious comfort while walking and sitting. This shape is a great choice for average to big guys, as well as men with wide hips, as the taper creates a slimming effect.
Style-wise, athletic denim is very similar to slim jeans. They’re sophisticated enough to wear with dressier outfits, such as button-ups, suit jackets and dress shoes, but still classic enough to rock with casual attire as well. Due to the taper, athletic jeans are better with classic footwear — boots and chunky shoes might not work.
4. Relaxed Fit
Relaxed fit jeans are sometimes confused with straight cut. Here’s the difference: relaxed cut denim is wider in the hips and thigh but tapered in the leg. This means relaxed jeans are roomier in the top half than straight jeans and about the same in the leg. As the name suggests, these are jeans for kicking back on weekends and pairing with casual outfits.
The added roominess in relaxed fit jeans makes them ideal for bigger guys that want space for comfort, as well as guys with wide hips. Skinny or average-sized guys can still certainly wear these wider fit jeans, but more so as a baggy, nineties look.
Bootcut jeans have been relegated to ranches and farms for years now, but there are rumblings of a comeback for the straight thigh, bootcut leg look. A couple years ago, brands such as Balenciaga started experimenting with dramatic leg designs and, although not mainstream, bootcut jeans are certainly viable today. Wear them with other statement pieces like big t-shirts, flowing seventies shirts and grail-worthy sneakers for a fashion week-ready fit.
Of course, bootcut jeans are still great for their original purpose of fitting over boots. If you rock cowboy boots or any other bulky footwear, grab a pair of these jeans to match.
6. Skinny Fit
Although straight fit jeans are the new staple, skinny fit jeans are still in many stylish guys’ closets. Fitting like a second skin around the hips, thigh and lower leg, the best skinny jeans offer a rockstar look that plenty of modern rappers are adopting today. As you may have guessed (or seen for yourself) skinny fit jeans are best on average-sized guys. Big guys should steer clear, but skinny guys can certainly rock skinny jeans for that rockstar or European model look. For best effect, go with a black wash on your skinny jeans.