The skinny jean lives. While Balenciaga, Dior Homme and other headline-grabbers of fashion push wide-leg ‘dad’ fits, high street shop windows, internet shop windows, any given night down the pub prove skinny is still very much in circulation.
Speaking of which, not all skinny fits need cut yours off. Thanks to the lean jean’s enduring popularity, brands have rushed to develop a slew of new fabrications and shapes that promise your legs (and the family jewels) more comfortable wear. From slim and tapered selvedge to skin-tight spray-on, there’s a style to flatter every man.
(Related: How To Pick The Perfect Jeans For Your Body Type)
It’s not a stretch to see why the skinny jean has stuck around, either. After all, what other jeans offer you warmth, style and a little body-enhancement? (Don’t lie, we know.)
A staple of the Beatnik wardrobe, skinny jeans first shot to fame around the 1950s – their leg-hugging fit a proud point of difference for men who considered themselves stylishly counter-mainstream. But it wasn’t until the 1970s, when punk spewed onto the scene, that skinny fits took their limb-compressing hold. Today, they’re a staple, thanks largely to Hedi Slimane’s stint at Dior Homme in the early 2000s, otherwise known as the Skinny Jean’s Second Coming.
“Skinny fits have been adopted into the offering of pretty much every denim brand,” says Fraser Trewick, founder of premium workwear brand Hawksmill Denim Co. “And although its popularity may fluctuate [from season to season], it will always be present in the market.”
Why? Because skinny jeans have gone from left-field to front row. In 2018, wearing a pair of black skinny jeans isn’t so much a provocative statement as proof you have a classic taste in clothes.
What’s more, skinny fits offer something many other jeans can’t: a look-twice silhouette. “Skinny styles are great because their narrow line provides a platform on which to play with more directional tees, sweatshirts and outerwear,” says Topman buying director Rachel Morgans.
How Skinny Is Skinny?
The best litmus test for finding out whether or not a pair of jeans is for you is to try them on. But if you’ve been a bootcut man until now, you may also find this primer on fits of use when delving into a whole new world of denim.
- Slim. Narrower than straight-leg jeans, but with room for your junk to breathe. Slim jeans taper slightly from the thigh all the way down to the cuff.
- Skinny. Tight, throughout. How tight? Enough that you should be prepared for hair on the outer sides of your lower legs to stop growing if you wear them daily. Cool enough that they’re worth it, though.
- Muscle. For men who got back (and quads of steel). Often cut from a combination of lightweight cotton and elastane to comfortably contain your gains.
- Carrot. Like its vegetable namesake; broad at the top, gradually narrowing towards the bottom. Not necessarily orange, mind.
- Spray-on. They’re leggings, basically – but with a fly. Imagine wrapping your legs in cling film, but instead of cling film, it’s slightly elasticated cotton.
When it comes to assessing the quality of a pair of skinny jeans, there are two key things to consider: comfort, and resistance to wear. The former because you’ll be encasing your testicles in this denim, and the latter because friction is one of the main causes of warped shapes and crotch holes.
If you’re stuck for time, or just simply can’t be bothered with the changing rooms, Topman’s Morgans has a handy trick for testing comfort. “Take one of the jean’s legs and, with one hand on each outside seam, gently pull to see just how much the jean stretches,” she says. That’ll give you an idea of how flexible, and therefore wearable, they are.
“Now, release, and check to see if the out seams return to their default position, or display a slight wobble as a result of being stretched.” This, according to Morgans, is the best way to gauge the jeans’ recovery. “The closer the outseams are to their original position, the less likely you are to see bagginess in the knees and seat after a few wears.”
Finally, check the weight of the denim – and no, you don’t need scales. Simply use your thumb and index finger to get a good feel of the denim itself. If it feels light, almost papery, then it’ll fit like a super-comfortable sausage skin, but will probably wear through within a few months of heavy wear. As jeans become thicker and heavier, they become more difficult to wear-in but will generally last longer.
(Related: The Best Affordable Jeans Brands)
Knitwear, underwear, cotton T-shirts in pretty much every colour imaginable – when it comes to quality basics, Japanese giant Uniqlo won’t be beaten on price. And luckily, that promise extends to denim.
In fact, so dedicated to the craft is Uniqlo that it opened its own Denim Innovation Centre in Los Angeles in 2016. There – under the exacting eye of director Matsubara Masaaki – teams of denimheads concoct and continuously refine wardrobe essentials like the retailer’s selvedge slim and ultra-stretch skinny-fit jeans, which are then made available to you for a song. Win.
Proudly the hottest on high-end trends, Topman was one of the first high street brands to pounce when Hedi Slimane sent skinnies down the runway more than a decade ago, swiftly garnering a name for itself as the destination for a pair of jeans to pour yourself into.
Today, the British stalwart’s offering has exploded. From acid wash with rips to slate grey biker styles, you’ll find around 40 skinny variations, starting from just £30.
Otherwise known as the OG of jeans, stateside brand Levi’s has been equipping men with quality indigo since the late 1800s. Though it’s probably best known for its shrink-to-fit straight-leg 501s, the granddaddy of denim boasts an expansive selection of skinny fits too, including its beloved 510s.
Crafted with just 1 per cent elastane, this brand’s skinnies might not ‘give’ as much as other manufacturers’, but we’d wager their crotch will hold up a hell of a lot longer.
Few brands are as synonymous with denim as Nudie Jeans. Founded in 2001, the Swedish label might not have the heritage of some of the other names on this list, but it hasn’t let that hold it back.
In fact, you could say its relative newcomer status is exactly what inspired some of its most commendable points of difference in a crowded market. Nudie only uses 100 per cent organic cotton to produce its wares, ensures the workers who make them are fairly treated and paid, and also offers a free repair service at several of its stores. Your move, Levi’s.
If you like your denim comfortable and cheap (and who doesn’t?), then this H&M-owned brand should rank high on your hit list. With super-skinny, skinny and slim-fits starting from just £49, Scandi favourite Cheap Monday carries some of the most stylish skinnies at prices that’ll keep your wallet fat.
Most are made from a combination of lightweight cotton and at least 2 per cent elastane, which means not only do they wrap closer on your body than heavier denim, but there’s none of that cramp-inducing constriction either.
Searching for something more slim than skinny? Look no further than this Brighton-based outfit, which prides itself on raw and selvedge styles with a slight taper.
Helmed by Fraser Trewick – a denim veteran who helped launch Nudie Jeans in the UK – Hawksmill Denim Co. manufactures its jeans exclusively in Europe from non-stretch Italian and Japanese denim. Which means they won’t lend your legs the super-sharp silhouette of a pair of stretch skinny jeans, but they will, with a little TLC, last a lifetime.
West Coast cool meets Scandi minimalism in the LA brand started by two of fashion’s most pioneering polymaths. Not content with founding Saturday Group – a fashion empire comprising magazines, a major creative agency and more – Swedes Erik Torstensson and Jens Grede set up Frame Denim, a tightly curated luxury clothing line designed and produced entirely in Los Angeles.
Choose from skinny and slim fits in an array of washes, safe in the knowledge you’re wrapping your gams in the same jeans as A-listers including Jamie Dornan, Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Unlike others, Wrangler jeans are actually making America great again. This North Carolina-founded brand, particularly beloved of anyone who was of jeans-wearing age in the 1990s, makes good on its claim of all-Americanness, supporting grassroots organisations from the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association to the American Quarter Horse Association.
Most importantly, however, it also makes quality skinny jeans that, while not exactly trendsetting in their design, will be the workhorses of your wardrobe for years to come.
For the sheer choice of styles and fits – not to mention prices that won’t see you weeping into a tin of baked beans a week before payday – ASOS comes up trumps.
Not only is the global e-tailer’s skinny offering on the money when it comes to trending details – think knee rips, distressing and neutral colours – but its Plus styles make it possible for bigger built men to get in on the action, too.
The jeans former sports agent Jerry Lorenzo designs might cost as much as a month’s rent, but denim this grail doesn’t come cheap. With 1.1 million followers on Instagram and celebrity fans including David Beckham and Travis Scott, Fear Of God has managed to do for denim what other brands couldn’t: shed its roving cowboy/workwear vibe in favour of a zeitgeisty streetwear slant.
If you’re copping, swerve the entry-level styles and cough up a little extra for a pair of painted jeans that were born to stunt.
Known for popularising Japanese selvedge denim (not to mention some choice TV ads starring Brad Pitt), Edwin started out taking its cue from American jeansmakers in the 1950s. Now, seven decades on, it’s arguably beating them at their own game, producing exactingly crafted selvedge jeans – some of them even at home in Japan.
Try the ED-80 or ED-85 slim, tapered selvedge styles, or for a snugger fit, pick up a pair of the EW-70s, made from Powerstretch Denim (that’s cotton and elastane to you and us).
The high street stalwart’s prices are famously low, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting a sub-par product. River Island relaunched its entire denim offering in 2017, keeping a focus on skinnier cuts including super-skinny and spray-on styles.
Whether you shop in-store or online, expect a mind-boggling array of washes, too, as well as all the rips or distressed touches you could want (or not).
Californian street cred is more commonly linked with skaters, medicinal weed or skaters on medicinal weed. Paige, however, is but one denim brand to polish up the profile.
The label has peddled skinny jeans since 2004, partnering with only the most reputable wash houses in the US with a rigorous wear-testing process for ultimate durability.
AG Jeans launched in the year 2000 when Adriano Goldschmied (the man who created Diesel and Replay) partnered with seasoned denim manufacturer Yul Ku.
This refined, contemporary denim brand prides itself on supplying seriously premium clothing, focusing on the two only things that truly matter: fit and wash.