The thing about finding the perfect pair of jeans isn't that it's impossible. Sure, it can often feel that way when you're bouncing back and forth between the brawny, selvage denim pair that looks good now but will look absolutely amazing in a couple years and the comfortable, stretch option that's pretty damn great from day one. Both are solid options. Both might even be perfect! Who's to say? And therein lies the rub: With so many options—light wash or dark? slim? skinny? straight? bootcut?!?!—it's almost impossible to choose just one pair.
Thankfully, a little knowledge goes a long way. And right now, in the midst of your incipient denim debacle, some of the most useful knowledge you can get your hands on has as much to do with the product as the players. In other words: If you start by figuring out what jeans brands are best suited to your needs, you're starting out right. Are you a designer denim guy, or would you rather opt for one of the old reliable brands? Do you care if your denim comes from a shuttle loom or a projectile loom? How do you feel about Japan's jean output? Are you looking for "performance" denim you can wear on a bike commute, or high-end artisanal stuff that's so rarified it (almost) sounds like it's better suited to collector's vault than your day-to-day life. How do you feel about warp and weft and fabric weight? (That 11-ounce denim is a very different best than 14-ounce denim, after all.) Does this all sound a little too specialized?
C'mon, man! Nothing's too specialized when we're talking about jeans! Denim is one of the greatest ways in the world to nerd out on menswear. But who has the time? So, instead of sending you down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, we've instead pulled together a list of the 25 best jeans brands out there, ranging from your mass-market standbys to your hyper-niche specialists, with a little of everything in between for good measure. So whether you're in the market for Carhartt or Levi's, Visvim or Fear of God—and by the way, have you heard of Glenn's Denim, because you should have—we've got you covered. Happy hunting.
The original jeans-maker is still turning out the hits. If you're not sure where to start, go for the can't-fail 501 in the rigid, shrink-to-fit wash. It doesn't get much more classic.
Workwear is always having "a bit of a moment" in some way or another, so it's always a good time to get yourself a pair of Carhartt's famous double-knee pants. Even better if they're jeans.
Uniqlo does a lot of things well, and jeans are no exception. The Japanese mega-retailers offers up selvage denim, for less than $50 per pair, with just a little bit of stretch for comfort (but not so much that your jeans feel weird and rubbery). What's not to love?
The brand that started out selling old Levi's from a single store in San Francisco has slowly turned itself into a denim powerhouse, and another favorite around the Esquire offices.
Should it really come as a surprise that Everlane—a brand predicated on making well-priced, well-made, and easy-to-wear iterations of all your favorite wardrobe staples—also makes some very good jeans? No, probably not.
The entire world of Ralph Lauren is built on an idealized, incredibly stylish version of America. So, yeah, of course Polo makes a pair of perfectly executed distressed jeans that look like you've loved them for years.
Mott & Bow makes a mean pair of slightly more formal denim for everyday wear, including these slim-but-not-skinny dark wash beauties.
Hey, remember those Polo jeans from a couple entries back on this list? Sure you do! Here are their cousins, hailing from some imagined ranch in the American West where guys in rugged denim don't do any real work but look great doing it. Sounds like the life, huh? Well, that's RRL for ya.
The brand name, however it may read to you, is actually a reference to the overall focus on fabric. Naked & Famous's jeans aren't going to arrive pre-distressed, because the folks who designed them are denim nerds, and they want you to nerd out on the material, too. Plus, the minimal processing brings the price down. That's value, baby.
Kelly Slater's label has been based on sustainability and ethical production from the jump, so it's not a shocker that the brand's very good jeans are made in a Fair Trade-certified facility from organic (Italian!) cotton. Not a shocker—but still very well appreciated.
Adriano Goldschmied built his entire career on selling pair after pair of perfectly cut jeans. (The Graduate, seen here, is something of a calling card for the brand.) They don't just start calling you "The Godfather of Denim" for nothing.
Paige's Transcend fabric disrupted what the denim world thought a pair of pants could feel like. These are soft (so very, very soft) and, crucially, won't dig into your stomach whatsoever when you're sitting.
If you're looking to level up your denim game, you can't beat a black pair of Rag & Bone jeans. They'll fit just right straight out of the packaging.
Todd Snyder, the NYC-based designer behind every other expertly elevated basic in your closet, is equally adept when it comes to denim. Go figure.
J.Crew's sister brand entered the men's denim market strategically— the label's selection of jeans avoids overwhelming while still offering an option perfect for every occasion.
A whole generation of denimheads cut its teeth on A.P.C., and there's a good reason why: The Parisian label's signature jeans are just that good. Do they take some serious wear before they're truly comfortable? Sure. But that's kind of the point: You beat the hell out of them so you can make them your own.
3Sixteen launched almost two decades ago with a fairly straightforward mission: Make really good pair of jeans. To do that, the brand sources its denim from (where else?) Japan, but its manufacturing remains stateside.
One of the OG players in the Scandinavian denim movement (it's real, and it's spectacular), Acne Studios got its start making really good denim before expanding into a full-fledged fashion brand. The options are on the pricier side, but thanks to their high-end construction and materials, they'll last you for years.
Lee makes a lot of stuff for a lot of folks, but for the devoted denimhead, the 101 line is the place to look. The collection includes classics like the 101Z jean, done up in fabrics—like this absolutely monster 21-ounce selvage from Japan's Kuroki Mill—that pay homage the golden age of denim. If you're a bit obsessive about provenance and history, Lee's got you covered.
If you're the kind of designer who's done a collab with Levi's—like streetwear savant Heron Preston has—it's generally a pretty good bet that you know what you're doing when it comes to denim. The rule holds true here.
At this point, calling Kapital a denim brand is a gross disservice to everything else one of the most influential Japanese labels in the market makes today. But Kapital started out painstakingly recreating the perfect pair of vintage jeans, and the brand still sells some of the best denim styles around.
OrSlow isn't a huge brand, but that's part of the appeal. The Japanese maker is focused on a small selection of products, made well and put into the world with love. Its signature denim—seen here in a rinsed selvage—sticks to that very effective formula, and we're all luckier for it.
Custom-made jeans inspired by the heyday of NYC's most stylish subcultures? Say less!
If you're a fan of Virgil Abloh & co.'s work, but aren't necessarily fiending for any more gigantic graphics, the (relatively) subdued ones on Off-White's jeans should be right up your alley.
Unless you've got the ultimate plug (share the wealth, man!), you're not going to score anything from the design mind of Hiroki Nakamura on the cheap. But that's not the point of Visvim, anyways. The point is exceptionally well-made, small-batch product with an artistic bent and the best materials in the business. These jeans are a shining example.
We've said it before: Jerry Lorenzo just can't miss. The jeans from his mainline Fear of God collection sell out instantaneously, but by some stroke of luck, you can still get your hands on his collab with Zegna.