When you think about light wash denim, perhaps your mind drifts toward ill-fitting, outlandishly faded high-rise jeans, a la 90s-era Seinfeld.
But the best light wash denim for men of today couldn’t be farther from those retro styles.
If you read Effortless Gent on the regular, you know how much we love to recommend and wear a pair of slim, dark denim. It’s a tried-and-true essential that makes every guy look great. That’s all there is to it.
And yet, as temperatures rise, we’re all about trading in your dark wash denim for a pair of light blue denim (done the right way, of course).
Some of our favorite brands are putting serious time and effort into crafting slim-fitting, investment-level light wash denim that will only get better with age. And even the budget options are great for guys who want to keep it sharp but affordable.
Don’t think you’re painting yourself into a corner by wearing light wash jeans. You can wear them the same way you’d wear your favorite pair of dark denim.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about the denim that’s worth buying and wearing all season long.
For organization’s sake, let’s break down the options into three price categories: Affordable ($50ish and under), Mid-tier ($50-$200), and Investment-worthy ($200+).
Affordable Light WAsh Denim
If you’re looking for a well-priced option you can really beat up this spring and summer, check out these picks.
The Obvious Choice: Levi’s 541 Athletic Taper
You don’t have to go with the 541 tapered model specifically (though we do love it here at EG). But if you’re looking for a more relaxed fit with a slight taper to the ankle, we’ve found this to be the best overall option.
The naming conventions for colors are somewhat convoluted, but I’ve checked out the Brass Super Light and Lake Merritt light washes and seem to like these the most.
The Solid Alternative: Amazon Essentials Straight Fit Stretch Jean
Don’t let this affordable pick fool you… it’s a great pair of denim!
I was pleasantly surprised by the Straight Fit denim from Amazon’s Men’s Essentials line. I’d compare the fit to the Levi’s 541, easily my favorite alternative I’ve come across so far.
There are tons of size and wash options available, so if you need a pair of medium wash or dark wash denim too, you can pick them up for a similar price.
Don’t sleep on these! Highly recommend if you’re looking for an affordable option.
The Unexpected Pick: American Eagle Flex Original Jeans
If you’re like me, AE probably hasn’t been on your radar since you were maybe… 15. But their denim selection is quite extensive, with tons of fit and size options.
My favorite so far is the AE Flex Originals. There are a few colorways available, but this light wash is perfect for summer. The Flex technology built into their denim fabric is super comfortable and the jeans tend to hold their shape well.
Personally, I find these to be a bit more on the “slim straight” side, even though they’re classified as straight. This is why it’s important to try on several different styles, especially if it’s your first time wearing a particular brand. You can’t assume that all slim / straight / skinny fits are identical across all brands.
Mid-Tier Light Blue Denim Choices
If you have a bit more cash to spend and are looking for a bump in quality, construction, materials, brand, or all four… try these.
A solid Pick: Buck Mason Ford Standard Jean
If you’re not yet familiar with Buck Mason, we’d suggest you acquaint yourself, and quickly.
The Ford Standard fit is a nice straight leg model, and the Maverick is their mid-rise slim, tapered fit (also a great choice). They also have the Full Saddle fit, a higher-rise, relaxed straight leg pair.
If you’re looking for a versatile middle ground, look no further than the Ford Standard. It’s made from a Japan-milled 14 oz. denim carrying a slight touch of stretch for comfort. The Ford has a full fit through the hip with a gentle taper from the knee down. It definitely feels more like a straight leg, not an aggressively tapered style.
Vintage, but still classic: Levi’s 501 ’93 Straight Jeans
You can always count on the Levi’s brand to have a classic, straight fit model that’s worth trying on. Their 501 fits that bill, and has done so for decades. While denim trends—super skinny, to super flared, to ultra wide leg—come and go, the 501 has more or less… stayed the same.
The vintage-inspired 501 ’93 Straights amp things up a notch, revisiting classic heritage styles and upgrading them for the modern man (that’s you).
The 501 is utterly unimpeachable, and this update is even better. Wear these with white leather sneakers and a garment-dyed pocket tee for breezy spring and summer style.
Innovative Fabrics: Adriano Goldschmied (AG) Jeans Graduate
I love the many innovative fabrics, washes, and designs AG carries. Founded back in 2000, this brand has led the way in eco-minded and sustainable manufacturing and is one of the elder statesmen of premium denim.
While I’m featuring the Graduate model here (a tapered fit), you should start by deciding the fit that’s best for your body type. You have plenty of options, from skinny, to straight, to tapered, and everything in between.
You’re bound to find a model or three you like, and from there, you’ll just need to decide the wash that works for you.
Investment-Worthy Options for Light Wash Denim
Know exactly what you want and why you want it? These are a few light blue jeans worth your consideration.
Raleigh Denim Workshop Graham Pilot Denim
If you don’t want to verge too far off the path of stylish indigo denim, a light wash option like the Pilot in Raleigh Denim’s Graham fit is the way to go. These are an investment-level pair of light wash jeans you’ll have for years to come.
"The Raleigh Denim Workshop is a collection of some of the best jeansmiths here in the United States who take great pride in making some of the best jeans in the country. Every pair of their jeans are sewn on restored vintage sewing machines by their small team of skilled sewers in their North Carolina studio." –Huckberry
Even better, they feature 1% stretch for extra comfort and mobility. We’d wear these with a white Oxford
Todd Shelton Pro Soft Mid Denim
As we’ve said before, not every pair of light wash denim has to veer into full-on “dad jeans” territory. Another fine example of this? The New Jersey-made Pro Soft Mid Jeans from Todd Shelton.
These 11 oz. Pro Soft denim jeans from Okayama, Japan are broken in and incredibly soft. They're sure to be your favorite pair, especially in the warmer months. Cut and sewn, sanded and washed, in small batches at Todd Shelton's East Rutherford, NJ headquarters.
They’ve taken great care in crafting an investment-quality pair of denim that wears well with their essential, custom-made casual shirting — there’s no better spring and summer uniform, in our opinion.
Which pair of light wash denim is your fave?
The main takeaway here is that light blue jeans can be just as stylish, sharp, and part of a well put-together outfit as your dark wash denim. What matters most is the cut and fit you choose.
Also, go for a pair that has a bit of drape, one that hangs more loosely on your body, instead of the jeans that hug your every curve. If you’re skinny, that might mean opting for a pair labeled “slim”. If you’re a bigger guy, that could mean looking for a “relaxed” pair.
Not only will this look better, it’ll also be much more comfortable and cooler when the summer months come around.
Finally, if you cuff your jeans so there’s no break, you will maintain that clean line. The one thing you don’t want is a bunch of excess fabric pooling at the ankles. Unless, of course, that’s the specific look you’re going for… but for a smart sharp casual sorta look, you’re going to want to cuff up. Check out the video above for more details.
That’s it! Got any questions? Hit me up on Instagram DMs.