I’m the Goldilocks of whitewash denim: I’ve tried every reasonable jean brand out there. Like Brooke Shields, I went through a Calvin Klein phase in my teens (though, unlike Shields, many things have come between me and my Calvins). In college, I discovered Urban Outfitters and made BDG jeans my personality — until they quickly fell apart. Express jeans? Tried ’em, they stretch way too much. Gap jeans quickly lose shape. The company JackThreads — low-key the best-kept menswear secret of the 2010s — had the best pair of jeans I’ve ever owned, but now they’re hanging by a thread.
So I’ve settled down with a guy named Levi Strauss. There’s a reason Levi’s is a household name for denim: They’re still the best jeans for cheap. The fits are right for lots of diverse body types; they last and hold their shape; they’re easy to find anywhere you need clothes.
The problem? There are just too many cuts of Levi’s jeans. There’s the 501, the 510, the 550 — how do you keep the fits straight when they all sound like a damn interstate system?
So, as you spend the winter savvily stalking online sales in hopes of attending a social event sometime in mid-2021, here’s an imperfect and completely subjective ranking of all the available Levi’s cuts…
These are Levi’s standard skinny jeans. For that reason alone, they’re last on the list. Skinny jeans are out, kiddos. Embrace loose and natural fitting denim. You don’t need to be adjusting your moose knuckle on a Zoom call.
16. Skinny Tapered
If you have to do skinny jeans, try tapered instead. They slim the body with crisp lines down your leg, but like skinny jeans, they really suck to take off. I’m always stumbling around like a drunk fawn just trying to get my legs freed from oppressive denim.
15. Stay Loose Jeans
The rare unnumbered jean. These are an ultra-modern denim fit for your art bros and cousins who want to be Timothée Chalamet. They have a slim, modern waist with an 18-inch leg opening. These are for the dudes who wear Carhartt beanies above the ear and smoke PAXs.
Simple straight-fit denim. These are the jeans you buy your dad for his birthday.
13. 501 ’93
The revival jean. This ’93 fit is the sequel to Levi’s original 501 jeans. It sits at the waist, has a higher rise and added stretch. They’re great if you’re looking for more modern, comfortable jeans — but for my money, the OGs are superior.
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, wait, it’s a zip-fly! The most notable feature about these regular-fit jeans? They’re Levi’s original zip-flies. Another safe choice.
Garth Brooks called; he wants his jeans back. The 527s are bootcut denim. Cowboys, these boys sit at your waist and open to 18.35 inches at the leg. So ride on up to your local Kohl’s and get yourself a pair.
Another relaxed-fit jean. They’re the looser version of the 501s. Comfy, but not exactly modern. You can do better!
It’s another relaxed straight jean. These look a lot like the 550s.
These loose straight-fit jeans sit at the waist, open to 18.5 inches at the leg and are slim through the seat and thigh. If you don’t want to feel restricted while wearing denim, get these.
Stylish dads and sheepish shoppers, the 511s are for you. These modern classics are a standard slim fit, not too skinny or too loose. They come in a range of waist and length measurements, and — best of all, if you just want to look “normal” — no one will comment on them.
Why mess with perfection? As Levi’s first pair of jeans, these have been worn by generations of stylish dudes since 1873. Everyone looks good in 501s.
The slim tapered 512s, which boast consistent five-star reviews, are Levi’s best big-and-tall option, going up to a size 50. They’re also available in more standard sizes — including a 29-inch inseam, if you want to try a more cropped look. There’s a bit of a stretch (but not too much), and they’re made of “Water<Less techniques,” whatever that means. Earlier in 2020, a happy customer wrote, “Finally glad to have a pair of jeans that fit properly and aren’t designed for some skinny kid.”
Let’s talk slim straights: Hate them as men, love them as jeans. This is top-tier denim. The straight leg elongates your gams (Brooke Shields would be proud), and the slim cut is modern. Perfect jeans for a first date or Summer Fridays. The 513s signify you might know a little bit more about style than you’re letting on.
Thigh guys, listen up. The 531s are Levi’s athletic slim cut. They’re perfect for thicc dudes, cut with room in the thigh and modern tapering. There’s generous stretch, making them more size-inclusive than those skinnies.
Like the 531s, but more space for the entire leg. If you’re not skipping leg day, buy yourself some 541s.
The best fit of them all. These are the “refined, modern alternative” to Levi’s straight jeans. The 300 five-star reviews say it all. There is not a single con highlighted against these bad boys. Put simply, the 502s, which sit below the waist, look effortlessly stylish — and cost less than $60. You’ll never need to splurge again.