No matter your shape and size – tall, short, skinny, not so skinny – we all have one thing in common, shopping for jeans can be a total nightmare. For men and women alike, finding the right pair of jeans is like hitting the lottery and honestly, people might hit the lottery more frequently. Terms like slim straight, narrow leg opening and low rise get thrown around and with all the various options that are out there, buying a car can seem like an easier task than finding a new pair of jeans.
In this article we will break down some of the lingo, drop some knowledge about fit and style and hopefully, by the end of it all, you will have a better understanding of what to look for in your next denim-search adventure. However, even with all the knowledge in the world, nothing beats a good old fashioned trip to the fitting room. Every brand will have their own take on various fits, and terms like “slim” can mean very different things depending on the brand you are working with. So, leave a little room for error, but in general, here is everything you need to know about understanding jeans.
Fit is everything. A good pair of jeans will “fit” you perfectly, but does that term mean in the world of jeans? It’s usually describing the overall feel of the jean. Some are skinny, some are baggy and some fit right in the middle. Here is a list of common jean ‘fits’.
Slim or Skinny
There is no middle ground when it comes to skinny jeans – for men or women. Slim or Skinny fit is just that – tight fitting, all the way thru, top to bottom. If you can read the year on the quarter in your pocket, you are probably wearing skinny jeans. On the right body type, skinny jeans are amazing. On the wrong type, they are, well, less than amazing. The one benefit to going skinny is there is usually a decent amount of stretch weaved into these jeans. You might see something like 2% spandex on the tag of your skinnies. This allows you to actually move comfortably even while wearing a constricting pair of jeans.
Slim Straight or Modern
When you are not quite ready to fully commit to a true skinny jean, a slim straight fit might just be perfect for you. It sounds just like what it is, slimmer than a traditional straight leg jean but not completely hugging on every part of your lower body. Generally speaking, a slim straight fit will taper in just slightly at the knee and lower leg area, offering a clean, slim look. This is a great fit for a lot of guys because it gets you out of the ‘baggy’ jean category without cutting off your circulation. And a little hint – this fit can also be referred to as a “modern” fit thanks to it’s take off a classic straight leg, just slimmed down a little.
Straight or Classic Straight
For the traditional guy that wants nothing to do with the tight jean phenomenon, a classic straight fit is the route you want to take. Essentially, there is no (or very little) taper in a straight jean from the knee to ankle – hence the term “straight”. For a comfortable jean that does not feel restrictive at all, a classic straight is a great choice.
Relaxed or Loose Fit
When it comes to the relaxed category, we are not talking about late-90’s raver pants. Relaxed or loose fit is just a wider-leg version of a classic straight fit. Relaxed fit jeans also tend to have more room in the butt and thigh area making this a great style jean for a more athletic build. If you tried on some classic straight jeans and you still felt too much hug in the thigh area, a nice relaxed fit jean might be more comfortable. Relaxed fit jeans will usually have a longer rise and have an overall loose fit, all the way down to a slightly bigger leg opening.
Cuff Width (Leg Opening)
The cuff width, or leg opening of the jeans is the area at the very bottom of the jean, around your ankle. This is measured in inches and refers to the entire length of the opening (meaning all the way around). Skinny jeans will have a very narrow cuff width, as low as 7-13″ and relaxed fit jeans can go up to 18-20″ on average.
The inseam measurement is the length of the jean from the lowest part of the crotch area to the bottom seam at the ankle. A very average inseam is 32″ but many jeans are offered in more than one length to accommodate both shorter and taller people. Most jeans can be found in 30″, 32″ or 34″ inseams and specialty denim brands will even go below or above those sizes. So your basketball player buddy that’s 6’5″, yeah, he’s needing a little longer than a 34″ inseam.
The rise of your jeans refers to the length from the very top of the jeans (above the button) to the lowest part of the crotch area. You might hear various terms like “low rise” or “high rise” (also known as “high waisted”). Generally speaking, most mens jeans will have a mid to high rise. The super low rise is usually found in ladies jeans.
This category is pretty straight forward – buttons or zippers, this refers to how the jeans close. The classic combo is a zipper and button waist, but who knows, there could be some really cool pant closure system out there that we don’t even know about yet…
Denim is just denim, right? Not necessarily. Not when that denim is mixed with another material to make it more awesome. This category is usually going to refer to jeans that also have some stretch in them. It only takes a tiny bit of spandex to make your jeans more comfortable so you might see numbers like 98% cotton, 2% spandex – that means a small amount of spandex is woven into the jeans creating a slight stretch in the fabric. Jeans that stretch a little are not only more comfortable but also work great for skateboarding, biking or high kicks.
This where things can get a little silly. Denim companies have been experimenting with different “washing” processes for years. Remember stonewashed jeans in the early 90’s? (btw, they are making a comeback, scary we know…) Or Acid washed? We could go on for days, but just to clarify this terminology, these various washes refer to the process of “breaking in” denim to give it a certain look. This process can allow denim companies to make your favorite pair of jeans in a bazillion different colors and washes. For example, antique washes will be heavily faded where classic washes will be virtually untouched denim.