Light Wash Denim Perfect for Spring & Summer: 8 Of Our Favorites

by Beau Hayhoe  |  in Style Tips

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.

Good pairings include Oxford shirts with suede chukkas or light suede chelseas, or a henley with white leather sneakers. Simple as that.

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.

Barron wearing light wash 541 jeans
My light wash 541 jeans paired with a navy linen shirt and driving mocs. Check it out on Instagram.
Levi's 541 Athletic Taper Jeans (30+ colors)

The Levi's 541 Athletic Jeans fit a larger, more athletic build. Crafted with extra room in the seat and thighs and sits at the waist for a more comfortable feel. The tapered leg gives you a modern, sleek silhouette.

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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.

Depending on your body type, you may want to explore the other options such as the Levi’s 531 slim taper, Levi’s 502, or Levi’s 512.

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.

Amazon Essentials Straight-Fit Stretch Jean
$29.90 $24.00

"Classic denim and five pocket styling highlight these jeans perfect for everyday wear."

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02/15/2023 01:03 am GMT

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.

Barron wearing The AE Flex Originals. See more detail on my Instagram.
American Eagle Flex Original Straight Jean

A comfortable straight leg fit with built in stretch (AE Flex design) that holds the denim's shape.

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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.

Buck Mason Ford Standard Jean

"Nothing beats a classic. Mid-rise with an easy, straight fit through the hip, tapered at the leg. Button fly." –Buck Mason

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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.

Levi's 501 '93 Straight Jeans

A vintage-inspired fit that sits higher on the waist. A 99/1% cotton/elastane fabric, straight-leg stretch denim in Basil Monday colorway, featuring fading, whiskering, and distressing throughout.

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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.

Adriano Goldschmied (AG) Jeans - Graduate

10 oz. Stretch Denim in a tailored, tapered fit with a slim, mid-rise waist and a relaxed fit from hip to the knee.

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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.

Raleigh Denim Graham Pilot Jeans
Raleigh Denim Graham Pilot Denim

"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

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Even better, they feature 1% stretch for extra comfort and mobility. We’d wear these with a white Oxford shirt and tan suede chukkas any day of the week, in nearly any style situation.

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.

Todd Shelton Pro Soft Mid Jeans
Todd Shelton Pro Soft Selvedge Light Wash Jean

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.

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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.