A comprehensive guide on how to buy jeans that last forever!
We wear them every day. We wear them everywhere. A great pair of denim trousers is the easiest item to style in the history of fashion. However, hunting for the best pair of jeans is not a simple task. Which brand? Which cut? Which wash?
With so many options around, choosing a high-quality, flattering pair of jeans can be a lifelong struggle. But when you do, it’s like finding the Holy Grail of style.
Denim follows its own rules regardless of its essentiality. From workwear to fashion staple, it isn’t just something to throw on when all your other trousers are in the laundry basket: it’s a culture, a way of life.
Jeans aren’t all the same, and what works for one person may not work for someone else. Nonetheless, we are all looking for the same thing here: a kickass pair of jeans that makes us feel great when we put them on.
If you’re in the market for a new pair of jeans, check out my investigative report and denim buyer’s guide filled with expert tips and tricks.
When it comes to denim there is a lot to talk about. Feel free to click on any of the icons or chapters below if one topic is more relevant to you than the others.
- What makes for a good quality pair of jeans?
- How to recognize good denim fabric?
- About the stretch
- Pre-washed vs. raw denim vs. selvage
- What are the details that make jeans perfect?
- Color, wash & fading
- How to find the perfect wash?
- How will your jeans age?
- Why don’t jeans ever look good on me?
- The golden rules when buying denim
- Troubleshooting common fit issues
- How to find the right jeans for your body type
- How much should you pay for a good-quality pair of jeans?
- The denim couture
- What is Premium Denim?
- Luxury Denim vs. Premium Denim
- Is it worth buying premium brand denim?
What makes a good quality pair of Jeans?
Guess what? It’s all about the denim.
There is no single element to identify a good quality pair of jeans. But if I were to pick one, it would be the quality and composition of the fabric.
This is a feature that we can touch and feel, so get your hands on the fabric. Look for something that is comfortable and easy to wear yet durable.
Italy, Japan, Turkey, and the USA are well-known in the denim industry for producing high-quality fabrics. Manufacturing, however, can take place all over the world.
How to recognize good denim fabric?
Good quality jeans are constructed from strong heavy-weight denim. The range can vary from 9 to 16 oz.
Lightweight summer jeans are typically in the lower range of 9 to 10 oz, while for an all-year-round pair, I recommend 11 to 12 oz.
Real denim-lovers? They wouldn’t settle for anything less than 13 oz.
Tip: Exactly as your bed linen, a high thread count is a sign of better quality fabric. It will feel a bit stiffer when brand new, but it will soften and hug your curves better.
Be sure there is at least 90% cotton (personally, I look for 98%) and no more than 2% Spandex or Lycra.
It is worth mentioning that some brands like Citizens of Humanity are now also blending cotton with Cupro, a regenerated cellulose fabric made from recycled cotton waste.
Like Tencel, Modal, Lyocell, Viscose, and Rayon, it is a human-made fabric and not synthetic. Instead, they are plant-based and also eco-friendly.
About the stretch
Stretch jeans will consist of a %-age of elastane. The most commonly used are Spandex and Lycra. Elastane fibers are what help your jeans to snap back into place when you move. They work magic by hugging you in all the right places and make jeans more comfortable to wear than ones made without them.
I strongly recommend reading the label and avoiding anything with a %-age higher than 2. Even if jeans feel and fit wonderfully in the fitting room, they will eventually get lazy in a matter of time, leaving you with a pair of “slacker jeans” that will bag and crease precisely where you need more support.
There is nothing sexy about tugging on your trousers, again and again, while you walk 🙂
As a rule of thumb:
- 1% stretch will provide enough give for you to move comfortably and allow your jeans to hold their shape without being too snug-fitting.
- 2% stretch is a more giving fabric that will contour and smooth your curves and allow you to sit very comfortably.
Care plays an important role as well. Always wash your stretch denim jeans with gentle washing and drying cycles. Otherwise, their ability to bounce back may be compromised.
Tip: If you are between 2 sizes, it’s a good idea to buy stretch jeans in your smaller size, as they will become looser after some time.
Pre-washed vs. Raw Denim vs. Selvage
- Pre-washed jeans: they are treated and washed in the factory to improve their fit and durability over time. Most of the jeans you find around fall into this category unless otherwise specified. They are the easiest to look after.
- Raw denim jeans: a pair of jeans that haven’t undergone any washing treatment in the factory. A substance similar to starch is added to make the fabric easier to handle for denim mills. That’s why they look darker and feel stiffer. With every wear, the stiffness will wash out and the jeans will feel softer. The result will be a unique naturally-faded pair of jeans.
If you choose to buy a pair of raw jeans, my best advice is to go as long as you possibly can without washing them for the first time. Ideally, that should be four to six months of wear.
That might be not compatible with your cleaning standards (I am with you on that 🙂 …) but please don’t freak out. Many people clean their oven less often than that.
- Selvage: Raw jeans made from a type of denim woven on narrow, decades-old looms rather than modern mass-production ones. Distinguishable by the red thread stripe on the inside hem, they are made in only two places in the world: North Carolina and Japan.
It’s probably the most expensive kind of denim and not exclusively because of its quality. Don’t get me wrong. Selvage denim is authentic and cool, but the main reason it’s so expensive is that the manufacturing process produces a lot of waste.
The sewing pattern needs to be placed on the fabric in a certain way so the garment’s seams line up with the red and white selvage on the sides of the fabric. This specific way of laying the pattern causes all the waste. However, I do appreciate the value of the traditional production process.
The details don’t lie
The benefits of strong quality denim fabric would be lost without a good design. Details such as distress patterns, stitching, buttons, and paneling features are best appreciated if extra care has gone into the final product.
What are the details that make a pair of jeans perfect?
Each item below has essential features to look for that set the standard of high quality.
- Rivets: those tiny metal round things on the pockets are among the first things I check. Historically, they had a very important function by ensuring trousers, such as work clothes worn by miners, would not fall apart. But they aren’t just a thing of the past since they still hold and make stronger your jeans in the places where it needs more support. So better to know your rivets!
Copper is considered the best material but it’s not the only one used. In any case, always check that they are securely attached to the fabric.
- Bar tacks: If your jeans have no rivets don’t panic! It’s probably because they have bar tacks. Tight, high-density zig-zag stitches that reinforce the trousers. By definition, a bar tack has to be very high-density and the best places to check if they are strong enough are at the top corners of pockets, on belt loops, and at slit-openings.
- Buttons and Zip: Well secured buttons are good signs that extra care went into making the jeans. Purist denim lovers insist on button-fly, but nowadays we presume that most jeans come with a front zipper. In truth, that is a feature that was introduced much later. Often, the zipper is the most vulnerable part so it is really important to double-check that it is well attached and properly working before buying.
- Stitches: Every time you go shopping for a pair of jeans look for a good, perfectly aligned heavy stitching on both the inside and outside, that won’t pull or appear sloppy under stress. Double-stitching (two rows of stitching placed closed together) and chain-stitching (a looped stitch reminiscent of the links in a chain) are signs of good manufacturing.
- Pockets: When we talk about jeans, we generally talk about 5 pockets. 2 lined pockets at the front, 2 pointed ones at the back, and 1 tiny patch pocket that’s half-tucked into your left front pocket, commonly referred to as the “coin pocket”. Anything less than that goes against the unwritten rules of jeans. We will talk extensively in the fitting guide about how pockets can affect the way you look in jeans 🙂
- Whiskering: The lighter lines around the crotch area, whiskering is a flattering feature that adds interest and depth to your jeans. They will tend to make most styles more casual.
Color, wash & fading
Jeans come in an astonishing but also an overwhelming variety of colors. If you believe that a single pair of jeans is enough for your wardrobe, I suggest choosing the traditional shade referred to as indigo.
Besides color, there are other things to keep in mind when looking for jeans. The wash is one of them. Washes are what define the overall final look of denim. Its signature faded finish and its unique texture.
How to find the perfect wash
A high-grade wash will give jeans that lived-in look. They will not stretch out over time, and the color will remain crisp. The fading, whiskering, and distressing patterns all need to look authentic. The denim wash has an impact not just on the appearance and color of the jeans, but also on the softness.
Tip: Before you make a purchase, I suggest thinking about your current wardrobe. Your dream denim has to work with the rest of your closet and lifestyle. Darker shades such as ink blue and black are more workplace friendly, while lighter shades are more suitable for your leisure time.
How will your jeans age?
It’s very important to understand that jeans change. They age as we do. I am not talking about durability. That is something that comes with quality.
Aging is not a sign of low quality. Instead, jeans undergo a natural process called fading that we should consider when buying a new pair.
Tip: I love my denim jeans more when they start showing some serious wear patterns. But if you prefer a barely-worn look, consider going for a cleaner style, with defined details and little distressing, ideally in a lighter shade.
Mind the fit
How to find the right fit for your jeans
Picking the right fit and style of jeans makes all the difference when you do a 180-degree twirl in front of the mirror. This is really where expertise plays its part. Pockets of exactly the right size. Inclination stitches cleverly placed in the sweet spot. Distress patterns properly used. This is when the magic happens. That being said, you must know your body shape and a handful of tricks that will help you find your dream pair of jeans!
Do you want to learn how to find the perfect fit for your body shape? I will show you how to find the most flattering pair of jeans for you HERE!
Price… it’s not all about the price
How much should you spend on a pair of jeans?
Like other wardrobe staples, jeans range enormously in cost, and it can be hard to understand how much you should spend on them.
With plenty of quality jeans to be found for $100 or less, narrowing your choice can come down to personal preference, lifestyle, and budget. While premium denim brands have their price tag set at around $200/300 per pair.
To splurge or not to splurge is a question that can find a sensible answer when considering cost per wear.
How often do you wear them? How often are you planning to replace them? With this in mind, determine your budget before you plunge and decide if you are buying a wardrobe staple to wear for many years to come.
The denim couture
In 1873, when a man named Levi Strauss started to sell trousers made out of blue fabric, it wasn’t a big deal. But it set the stage for the most successful revolution in fashion history so far.
In the last 50 years, jeans are probably the most worn item in everyone’s closet. And in the past couple of decades, Premium Denim has become a category itself.
What is Premium Denim?
Most people often incorrectly think of premium denim as a luxurious or expensive pair of jeans. The word “premium” refers not just to price but to the manufacturing process. This often takes place entirely in the country of origin of the brand. For example, Paige, JBrand, and Citizens of Humanity are all made in the US.
Quality, design, care, craftsmanship, and company commitment are the principles behind premium denim. In other words, there is perceived value reflected in the final price.
Luxury Denim vs. Premium Denim
A little disclosure. Not all expensive jeans are worth splurging on. I would never suggest you spend your hard-earned cash on something extravagant and short-lived that only fits into a temporary trend. It’s important to shed light on the difference between luxury denim and premium quality. It’s not a myth that in the fashion industry you often don’t get what you pay for.
A fancy pair of jeans priced at $2000 does not necessarily guarantee top quality materials, best manufacturing procedures, or meeting environmental and ethical responsibilities.
The bottom line is when it comes to luxury designer jeans, be aware that the price also includes: the trend, the perception of the brand, and the expensive advertising campaign.
Is it worth buying premium brand denim?
This is my take on premium denim. I advocate considering a small investment for something so essential as a perfect-fitting pair of jeans that will be part of your everyday life for many years to come.
Once you find reliable well-fitted jeans, you will get hooked and wear them over and over again. The good news? Classics are forever. Over time you’ll easily pay off your investment.
Premium brands offer a wider variety of styles and fit compared to department store brands, which is an important factor for customers seeking specific features like petite or plus sizing.
A good look at premium denim will often reveal superior finishes when compared to a lower-priced one. Washes, distress patterns, stitching, buttons, and paneling features all are reflected in the final price tag.
The low price tag of cheap jeans available in the fast-fashion industry may sound tempting, but you’ll end up paying more in the long run when you’re forced to repair or replace them.
Tip: Most premium jeans are best washed cold, to avoid damaging the fabric. Always read the care instructions before washing.
If premium denim isn’t for you that’s totally ok. Finding affordable, good-quality denim nowadays is not hard. For instance, American Eagle, Madewell, and Levi’s.
Beyond the price – the manufacturing process
Why is important to pay attention to the denim manufacturing process
Over the past few decades, jeans have become a globally common item present in everyone’s closet. But there is a side effect we can’t ignore.
Deciding which brand to buy not only have an impact on your wallet but also can have adverse effects on the environment. With this in mind, it becomes a not-so-personal choice anymore.
Source of fibers, manufacturing process, transporting of goods have a huge environmental impact, without mentioning the debate on global working conditions.
According to Everlane, standard denim manufacturers waste thousands of gallons of water in the washing process – it takes about 1,500 liters of water to produce a single pair of jeans.
Their jeans are made in Saitex, the world’s cleanest denim factory. This facility recycles 98% of its water and uses clean energy. After the water is recycled, Everlane’s jeans use 0.4 liters of water compared to the colossal 1,500 liters of water per pair when using traditional production methods. They made their point disproving the industry notion that expensive denim costs more because of eco-friendly practices.
Madewell, Citizen of Humanity, Frank and Oak, Reformation, Everlane, Outland Denim, and many more leading brands are finding their way into sustainability, energy-saving technologies, transparency, and ethical labor practices.
Major facets we should always keep an eye on for any garment we plan to purchase but it’s even more compulsory when it comes to denim.
I really hope this will be helpful next time you are considering buying a new pair of jeans and in case you need any extra tips to feel free to drop me an email!