For a few years there, trying to find the best jeans for men felt a lot like getting into fancy wines. Point of origin suddenly mattered: was the denim milled in Japan or America? There was confusing terminology to learn—raw, selvedge, ring spun—and a whole whack of weird rules to follow, like never washing your jeans for the first six months. Oh, yeah, and the price tags on these artisanal dungarees were not unlike what you’d find on a well-aged bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape: wallet-busting.
Thankfully, stylish dudes in the know have mostly moved on from that level of denim geekery. Jeans are back to just being jeans: knockabout, utilitarian, the kind of thing you can dress up on a dinner date or pull on for a hungover Sunday without a second thought. More corner store beer than fine wine. As long as they look good, who cares how much they cost? You think Dennis Hopper ever wondered if his jeans were chain-stitched by hand? Of course not!
Your Handy-Dandy Affordable Denim Guide
“Just take me to the good stuff, already!” We get it. Here you go:
With that kind of attitude, you shouldn’t spend more than $100 if you can help it. What can you expect on a sub-Benjamin budget? Well, you can count out many of the details that denimheads covet. That means no super-duper heavyweight joints (the standard 12-14 oz. denim is likely the beefiest you’ll come across). You also won’t find a ton of jeans cut from selvedge, the slow-made denim that’s often woven on rare shuttle looms—though we included a handful of wallet-friendly selvedge options in the mix below. And the artisanal construction details that differentiate the specialty denim stores from their mall brand counterparts won’t be here, either. Hidden rivets, single-piece flies, vegetable-tanned leather patches, lined rear pockets—you won’t find many of those in this price bracket.
But all those bells and whistles are just that—bells and whistles. Those details are for the real obsessives anyway, and if that’s not you, your chief considerations should be fit and wash, which you’ll want to appear as natural as possible. That means no more Jersey Shore bleach-heavy fades, with all that uber-fake “whiskering” across the thighs. Instead, your jeans should look like you broke them in yourself—or be dark enough that you actually can break them in yourself. To give you a head start, we’ve tracked down all the go-anywhere, do-anything, all-around best jeans for men under $100—most of which you can pick up, right now, at your local shopping mall.
The Best OG Jeans
Would a denim roundup even be a denim roundup without a pair of Levi’s in the mix? The age-old denim purveyor’s iconic 501s are the jeans that invented jeans, and thanks to their timeless straight-leg fit, they’re still every bit as relevant today as they were in the late 1800s. The idea with the OG Shrink-to-Fit model is this: wear ‘em as long and as hard without washing them as you can—we’re talking weeks or months or even years—until they’re nice and beaten up. Then, wear them in the tub with a little soap, rinse off, and let them air dry on your body. The result? The best-fitting, best-looking, best-feeling pair of jeans you’ll ever own in your whole damn life. It’s the kind of stuff that started a whole legion of denim-related myths, but don’t let the lore scare you off. You can wear ‘em and wash ‘em however you want and they’ll still look like money.
The Best Stretchy-But-Won’t-Stretch-Out Jeans
Jeans this uniformly dark are normally stiffer than moonshine and about as comfortable as a root canal. Thanks to a clever infusion of stretchy elastane, Everlane’s signature Japanese denim gives you that pristine indigo look—which cement these as the most office-appropriate pair of the bunch—without any of the sandpapery breaking-in period. By that same measure, they’re also surprisingly sag-resistant: you can wear them every day of the week, and they’ll never lose their flatteringly lean shape. Pair ‘em with a tweed blazer, knit tie, and equally-crisp white sneakers for a fit that’ll take you from a meeting with your boss straight into a post-work breakdown of said meeting with your nosy colleagues.
The Best Entry-Level Selvedge Denim Jeans
For anyone looking to score a pair of jeans with some street cred (or modest menswear-forum fame), a pair of selvedge denim jeans is requisite. Why? Most fabrics are woven on looms that leave raw edges. Selvedge denim, on the other hand, is woven on looms that leave a self edge that is densely woven and won’t unravel. When someone’s got their jeans cuffed, look for a vertical stripe (it’s probably white and red) at the outside seam and you’ll know its selvedge. While experts love the slow-made nature of selvedge, that added production time increases the end cost. It’s rare to find selvedge denim under $100, but Uniqlo has consistently been one shining star in a sky of indigo. The fabric is a no-stretch, all-cotton denim that comes raw and unwashed, leaving all the fades up to you. They’ve got a mid-rise waist and a classic cut that looks great on basically everyone, and for just $60, it’s a worthy competitor to the all-time 501.
Your Dad’s Favorite Dad Jean
If you’re still riding the Dad Wave™, don’t quit when it comes to denim—get yourself a pair of Lees. The fabric is hardy, the fit is boxy, and the wash is perfectly uniform, without any crazy distressing. Most importantly, they’ll only set you back a measly $30—because we all know affordability is the sine qua non of a great dad jean.
The Best Slim-But-Not-Too-Slim Jeans
Gap kicked off this whole “quality jeans at an inoffensive price” movement a decade ago, and they keep the party rolling with these medium-wash crowd pleasers. Worried you’ve got too much, ahem, “power” in your legs to squeeze into any of these slim-fit jeans? This pair was engineered to look great on the broadest range of body types: not too snug, not too loose. Not for nothing, there’s also a lived-in character to these that’s hard to come by—they’ll feel like a familiar old fave right from the jump. That’s the denim equivalent of what NBA stat heads would call an “intangible.”
The Brooklyn Blue Jean
Stan Ray’s been hawking its tough-as-nails, American-made workwear since the 1970s. You’ve probably seen its famed painter’s pants if you’ve ever walked under some scaffolding or sipped a latte in your hippest local cafe. While the off-white version is without question the most iconic, this raw denim rendition is possibly even better—and will keep getting better the longer and harder you wear it. With all the storage space you could ever need and a truly roomy silhouette, it’s best served with a baggy sweatshirt and classic sneakers. Or why not sidestep the whole faux workwear lane and gussy up these jeans with some slick dress boots and a relaxed button-up?
The Boot-Ready Jean
This is the jean of choice for Super Bowl stars and real-ass cowboys alike. Wrangler’s bootcut men’s jeans are iconic thanks to their hip-hugging top block and flared hems, which pool over a pair of boots like a denim fondue. The denim is a dense, 100% cotton fabric that can handle its own on and off a saddle, with or without a center crease. If you want to go especially hard, we recommend serving them up the way a young Harrison Ford would’ve: with a western belt, a plaid blazer, and a pair of serious movie star shades. Or you could lean into its groovier side and rock them with a pair of canvas sneakers and a vintage tee. See, these jeans bootcut jeans ain’t just boot-ready—they’re ready for anything.
If It Ain’t Broke, Go Vintage
At long last, you can cop a killer pair of vintage Levi’s straight from the source. Following in the footsteps of brands like Patagonia and its WornWear program, the first name in denim introduced this platform for buying used and vintage Levi’s garms to meet growing demand for secondhand products. Not only does it represent a serious step toward a circular fashion economy that should hopefully help move the environmental needle, it’s also the easiest way to get your legs into great jeans that absolutely no one else will own. You could certainly hit up your local thrift shops to scoop a pair, but if you’re not about the thrill of the vintage hunt, the Levi’s Secondhand site streamlines the process. And what’s better the beauty of a pair of naturally faded vintage Levi’s?
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