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May 24, 2012

The Art of Fit Pt 6 – Denim


As society continues to become more casual, many men spend the majority of their time in jeans. Unfortunately, most men also don’t buy denim that fits them properly. The good thing is that, with so many different denim labels readily available, you can find a quality pair of denim that fits you well with little difficulty.

One of the most important things to consider when shopping for denim is that every brand will fit differently and will likely also have several different styles. What that means is that when you are checking out a new label, you need to try it on to know whether it is going to work for you.


When it comes to buying denim, simple is usually better. The days of elaborately embellished pocket details and crazy contrast stitching are (thankfully) gone. Any in doubt should take into account the rapid demise of Rock & Republic and their subsequent reinvention as a discount Kohl’s house brand.

Despite the newfound popularity of the drop-crotch, or carrot fit, and the ever-enduring skinny jeans, the best choice is almost always a slim-straight. This will give you a clean legline without making your jeans look like they were painted on, and will flatter the majority of body shapes.

When shopping, remember to take into account that denim is composed of tightly woven cotton fibers, and thus will stretch and shape to you somewhat. So, you want to make sure that the waist of your jeans fits well to a tiny bit snug because it will stretch. If you’ve ever noticed that your jeans sag more after a while of wearing them without washing, you’ll know what I mean. You don’t want them to be too tight at the waistband though, because the stretching won’t be too extreme.


If you want to check whether the jeans you are thinking about buying are too tight at the waist, a common trick, like with a dress shirt collar, is to stick two fingers in the waistband- if you can fit them comfortably, but with little extra space to fit another, they should be the right size. Can’t fit both fingers? In that case, they’re probably too tight.

The next element of denim fit is the inseam. The inseam of all pants is measured from the center seam line of the crotch to the bottom edge of the leg. Most people’s inseams will fall between 30-34”, however some lines will be more accommodating to one or both ends of the spectrum and will run anywhere from 28” all the way up to 36”(Levi’s and Dickies are good examples of this, without having to go to a specialty store). Despite this range, if you are looking for designer denim, pairs often come only in 34” inseams. Personally, I favor a cuff on my jean, so a 34” length to my normal 32” works well, but if you’d prefer the uncuffed look, don’t be disheartened- you’ve got options.

First, whatever you do, do not attempt to hem your own denim. If you take a look at a pair of jeans, you’ll see that they use a special chain stitch with a heavy-duty thread. This stitch is made using a chain-stitching machine, and is not something you can replicate on your home sewing machine. You can certainly stitch them yourself, but it will never replicate that professional look and the subtle gather that a chain-stitching machine will give you and thus I do not recommend it.


Most regular tailors will not have the proper machine, so make sure to specifically ask if they have a dedicated chain-stitching machine. If they seem unsure of what you are talking about, walk away or else you will likely end up with a standard straight stitch. The problem with this is that a straight stitch is a locking stitch, which does not allow the hemmed edge any movement. As I’ve mentioned, denim is constantly stretching and shrinking, so a locking stitch will eventually break from the extra strain.

If you live in a major city, more than likely you will be able to find a company with a chain-stitching machine that offers professional jean hems, like Self Edge. Don’t live in NYC or LA? No problem. There are several companies, such as Denim Therapy, that will allow you to mail your jeans with measurements and they will put them through their machine and send them back to you.

Along with the inseam, the other measurement you should take into account is the outseam. The outseam is measured on the side of the leg from the top of the waistband following the seam to the bottom edge of the leg. With all the different rises (the length of the crotch seam from waistband to the center of the crotch) available, from super low rise to the vintage 50’s high-waisted long rise to dropped-crotch carrot jeans, you can’t rely on the inseam alone to tell whether the legs of your jeans will fit. A standard rise is about 8-10”, with long rises being anything from 15”-18” or longer.

Remember, no amount of measurement is a replacement for trying clothing on. What it will do is help you pick the correct size off the rack to minimize the number of trips to the fitting room (and the frustration that often accompanies them).

Denim by AllSaints Spitalfields; Shirt by Vince;
Sneakers by Paul Smith Jeans; Scarf and tote by Gant;
Sunglasses by Alexander McQueen; Watch by Bulova;
Leather bracelets thrifted.

Aside from measurements, the other fit issue to take into consideration is back pocket placement. How the pockets sit on the pants will help determine whether or not a pair of jeans will flatter you in the posterior department. This will depend primarily on your body shape, but you should check whether the pockets sit central on your butt and don’t either start too high, too low, spread too wide, are too big, or too small.

Most of these will lead to what I call saggy butt jeans. That is to say jeans that may fit in the waist, but the pocket placement or size throws off the visual dimensions of your butt and make it appear droopy or extra wide. This is not something a lot of people consider when purchasing a pair of jeans, but trust me, it will make the difference between a good fit and an excellent one.

Over time, you will become familiar with the way different labels fit you and what you like and don’t like about each. If you find a brand and style that you like and fits you really well, stick with it. Quality jeans only get better with age. Despite the innumerable options, with some basic knowledge and a little fitting room time you should be able to find that holy grail – your perfect pair of jeans.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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