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Denim Days: How to Pick the Right Jeans

Jeans are probably one of the most difficult items in a wardrobe to purchase. With the numerous cuts, washes, wear, and material in denim, it becomes a challenge and a skill to not only know what will look right on you but what will feel great and stay within your budget. Denim is the cornerstone of a man’s wardrobe. You own at least one pair of jeans and probably about seven, according to a survey by Cotton Incorporated. So it’s a relief to hear this bit of advice: “You really need to know only one style—and that’s ‘straight,'” says Andrew Powell, vice president of men’s merchandising at Gilt. “The oldest jeans in the world are straight-leg patterns with a slight taper,” he adds, “and they hold true even as trends like boot-cut and super skinny jeans come and go.”

ATHLETIC CUT: A denim hybrid, this contemporary cut blends the legroom of a relaxed fit, the flared hem of a boot cut, and the snug seat of a straight leg. It’s an emerging style that can be difficult to track down, but Lucky Brand, Kasil, and Chip & Pepper all cut pairs to these specs.

RELAXED FIT: These laid-back slacks are cut fuller from the thigh to the hem, allowing ample legroom for maximum comfort. A word of warning, however: Some renditions of this style can be too roomy, creating a sloppy appearance.

STRAIGHT LEG: A simple, straightforward design means these classic jeans play a more reserved role in sculpting your appearance. They’re equally adaptable on the formality front, capable of being both dressed up and dressed down. The jeans are intended to be straight from hip to foot, which can be difficult to judge in a mirror, but if you leave a couple of inches of wiggle room from the thigh down, they’ll fall right into place.

BOOT CUT: The enlarged hem of this style accommodates and flatters sturdier footwear like work boots. From the knee to the waist, however, the cut is more traditional, creating a fitted silhouette that sits at or slightly below the waist and remains slightly loose in the leg.

SKINNY JEANS: Calf-clinging denim was the domain of vintage Western icons Roy Rogers and Gene Autry long before Mick Jagger shimmied into a pair. In the past 3 years, this style has been reborn as an indie-rock staple. They come in slightly longer lengths than other cuts, because they’re meant to be worn bunched at the ankle. The extra fabric is kept above the shoe line, though, since the narrow bottoms keep the hem from falling underfoot.

Now that you know your jeans will age well, locate your body type so you can guarantee they’ll fit that way too.

The Slim Build
Slim Straight, Skinny

Chicken legs? Going baggy won’t fool anyone. Instead, accentuate your frame by going with a streamlined straight fit that’s narrow through the leg and skims your waist. Keep the jeans fitted in the seat; that way you create the illusion of bigger glutes. Pocket flaps also add heft. Avoid accents like pocket stitching and flashy hardware. Lighter rinses and distressing only draw attention to your legs, making you look skinnier. “A clean, dark rinse is the most flattering for thin guys,” says Powell. The simpler the wash, the better.

The Fit Build
Regular Straight, Athletic

If you’re the kind of guy who makes the squat stand his second home, then you should opt for traditional straight-cut jeans that are fitted through the waist, seat, and thighs. They’ll provide ample room for well-developed quads while skimming your frame just enough to highlight your physique. Look for jeans with 2 or 3 percent Lycra so they’ll stretch, but no more or they might cling. Just steer clear of anything overly slim, says Kyle Fitzgibbons, men’s design director at J Brand, since the tight fit tends to look more like leggings than jeans.

The Big Build
Relaxed Straight

As a hefty dude, you should aim to strike a balance, which is why a relaxed straight fit is your ideal middle ground, Powell says. You’ll want a slightly extended rise, which means the jeans sit at, not below, the waist. That’ll offer a few extra inches in the thighs and seat; and since the legs are cut straight down, your ankles won’t be swimming in denim. If you can grab more than a handful of fabric at your quads, find a fit that’s a little slimmer or have a tailor tighten up the pants. And choose darker colors—they do a better job of hiding extra pounds.

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