Your first challenge when shopping for a new pair of jeans? Trying to understand how there are so many goddamn types of jeans for men, period. There’s an infinite spectrum of washes to choose from, not to mention hundreds of brands vying for your attention and your legs. And that’s to say nothing of all the offbeat interpretations on the classic pant currently sweeping the market. But the most confusing thing of all might also be the most imperative: navigating the perplexingly wide world of denim fits. Like: What exactly is a relaxed taper, and how is it different from a slim straight? Which jeans are best for your body type? And what kind of rise is in right now?
Don’t panic, because your pals at GQ are here with a comprehensive guide to all types of jeans for men. We’re walking you through each silhouette from slim fit and straight leg to baggy and bootcut, and giving you handful of iconic options to shop in each. Find the fit that’s right for you, get yourself a grade-A pair of dungarees, and move on with your life. Let’s dive in, shall we?
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Let’s start simple. Straight fit jeans are exactly what they sound like: The silhouette runs straight from the hips down through the legs. Picture the GOAT Levi’s 501s and you’ve got the right idea. Like Baby Bear’s porridge, straight jeans are just right: the fit is not too tight and not too relaxed, the mid-rise is generally not too high, not too low (hitting below the belly button but above the hips). Sometimes you’ll see brands calling this fit a “regular straight” or “classic straight.” If you’re looking for advanced stats, straight leg jeans tend to leg openings that measure about eight inches across. If you really aren’t sure what you’re looking for, this is a good starting point for figuring out your body type and ultimately how you want your jeans to fit.
The next common style of jeans you’ll find is the straight taper, and again it’s pretty self-explanatory: the silhouette starts off straight through the thighs, with a tapered leg which narrows past the knees and through the hem. Straight taper jeans are great if you need more room in the thighs, but want a cleaner leg. If you’re someone with bigger legs after a slim—but not tight—fit, these are the jeans for you.
Slim up top and straight through the knee, slim straight jeans are the kind of fit you’d see on a Ramones album cover (they wore the Levi’s 505, by the way). Often referred to simply as slim fit, these jeans are like most slimmer silhouettes, and are usually cut with a slightly lower rise, sitting just above the hips.
This is your last stop before hitting full-on skinny jeans territory—the slim taper is trim through the thighs and a narrow leg. (If you’ve got meatier legs, though, these are skinny jeans.) Slim fit jeans also tend to be low rise jeans which sit at or even below the hips.
Yeehaw! Bootcut jeans are a western wear staple, cut to fit over a pair of cowboys boots. They come in their own sub-flavors like slim and relaxed, but each one flares out at the hem—not necessarily a disco, bell-bottom-level flare, but a flare nonetheless. Classic bootcut jeans are cut with a high rise that sits closer to your natural waist, but contemporary versions often have a low rise. The bootcut was last truly relevant in the mainstream in the early-aughts, but have returned to the fore again recently with brands like Gucci exploring ’70s aesthetics, to say nothing of Gen Z’s ongoing obsession with Y2K fashion.
Now we’re venturing into more comfortable fits with a tad more leg room. Think of these like a slightly wider pair of 501s—or if you’ve got a more prominent derriere and thighs, these are your straight leg 501s. Conversely, if you’ve got a skinnier build, opt for a pair of these to tiptoe into baggy jean territory.
Perhaps best known as the “athletic fit,” the relaxed taper is designed for fellas who never skip leg day. The silhouette—roomier above the knee, tapered below for a more tailored fit—is meant to not simply accommodate a powerful pair of tree trunks, but accentuate them. If you’ve got impressive gams, these are the perfect jeans to show ’em off.
For the ultimate in breathability and comfort, wide-leg jeans are the move. The baggy jeans that are in these days aren’t quite JNCO-level loose, but they’re still plenty roomy and will make a major statement when deployed correctly.