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!
These days, your chief considerations should be fit—look for pairs that are slim and slightly tapered through the leg—and the 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 first name in blue jeans have taken their iconic 501s and modernized them juuuust a pinch—think less “painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa,” and more “putting free wifi in the Louvre.” The silhouette here is meant to mimic jeans from the early ‘90s, but it’s pretty much bang-on for 2021: they sit a little higher on your waist, with a timeless straight leg fit that hits the ideal middle ground between old-timey railroad worker and calf-circulation-averse emo frontman. Beyond that, you pretty much know what to expect here: five pockets, hardy denim (with a hint of stretch for comfort), au naturel wash that’ll look damn good with everything you own. Classic American jeans served up at a classic American price.
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 jeans 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 Best Entry-Level Selvedge Denim Jeans
Remember all those highfalutin denim details we mentioned up top? These guys actually come fully loaded with a bunch of them. Flip up the cuffs, and you’ll find selvedge—that’s the white-and-red striping running up the seams—and chain stitching, AKA those tiny loops of yellow thread along the circumference. Both are hallmarks of high quality (read: more expensive) jeans. Add to that a perennially good, tastefully slim silhouette, and you’ve got one fine pair of denim—all ready to break in like a charm.
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 happy hour.
The Best Beat-to-Hell Jeans
Ralph Lauren lives in jeans. He wears ‘em with big western shearlings and Scottish tweeds, with classic dinner jackets and wild naval blazers. And, so, he also makes jeans with the exacting eye and abiding care of someone who really, truly loves his denim. Even the Varick, the budget-friendliest model in the RL menswear lineup, come complete with the convincing worn-in wash and perfect hip-hugging fit you’d normally find on a jealousy-inducing vintage find. Only you have to know you got them fresh off the rack for less than 100 big ones.
Your Dad’s Favorite Dad Jean
If you’re still riding the Dad Wave™, don’t mess around when it comes to jeans and get yourself a pair of Lees. The denim 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 mere $30—because we all know affordability is the sine qua non of a great dad jean.
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 ’em. 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.
The Boot-Ready Jean
This is the jean of choice for Super Bowl stars and real-ass cowboys alike. Wranger’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.
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 late last year. 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.