All this talk about a man’s essential wardrobe and what real, down-to-earth guys need in their closets can be a little overwhelming for most dudes.

You know why? Most of us don’t like shopping.

Sure, there are a small subset of us who do, but in general, dudes don’t want to do it.

So, let’s just say you only make one single purchase all year. Just ONE singular item. What should that thing be?

Roy Denim

Roy Denim, Oakland, CA

A pair of dark wash jeans. Straight leg, well fitting, un-whiskered, non-faded, dark wash denim.

If you STILL don’t have a pair of dark, inky blue denim with no pre-fabricated creasing or faded wash, shame on you! If you’re curious, this is one of the pairs I have (and the kind I’m suggesting you pick up).

Check out the Effortless Gent Shop for more denim options »

Why is it so important for every guy to have at least one pair?

1.) It’s the ultimate in versatility

You can wear it in almost any social situation. Going grocery shopping? throw on a polo and some desert boots, and BAM, perfect casual grocery-shopping outfit. Heading to a nice bar with the lady friend? Add a sport shirt or OCBD, a sport coat, and some brogues, and you’re good!

2.) You look like a grown-up

Faded washes, whiskering, and that whole pre-worn style is really youthful… but not in a good way. It looks as if you haven’t changed your style since high school or college. Dark denim just takes your whole outfit up ten notches, especially when you pick the right fit.

3.) You avoid the dad jeans look

Sure, this has a lot to do with fit as well, but that light wash color just screams Dad Jeans. Or it screams high school, if you go the other extreme, fit wise (tight and super skinny). With dark denim, you don’t have to worry about that (to the right).

4.) They look great dressed up

Touched upon this in #1, but dark denim is a great substitute for trousers. You can look really sharp in a well-fitting pair. In fact, it’s become sort of my default if I need to get dressed quickly and nicely. I throw on an OCBD or dress shirt, sport coat, sometimes a tie, a great pair of shoes, and I’m out the door in like 12 minutes.

5.) They’re available at a variety of price points

So really, you have no excuse. If you go the selvedge route, you will be shopping at a higher price point, but you don’t have to buy selvedge to score a great pair in the same wash. Check out Levi’s, J.Crew, or Lands’ End Canvas (resin rinse) for some options at various price points.

How to pick and take care of your dark wash denim (and other things to remember)

Basic rule, aka The best rule to follow

Wear it a lot, and barely wash it. The denim stays dark and conforms nicely to your body. Wash it only when you absolutely must (rolling through mud, getting stuck in a port-a-potty that was thrown down a hill, after eating a lot of beans, etc).

Mind the rise

This is a fit issue, and you should pay attention to this no matter what kind of bottoms you’re buying. I touched upon rise in this article (Fit > pants). If you have other questions about this, feel free to ask in the comments.

Consider leg and seat room

You want to make sure you pick a slim (not skinny) pair. For a lot of you bootcut-wearers, you’re gonna think a straight leg pair feels like spandex around your calves, but trust me, straight leg looks better. Wear em for a while and eventually you’ll get used to them (and good Lord, get rid of your bootcuts).

You want the seat of your pants to hug your ass gently and lovingly, but not squeeze it to where it looks like your butt’s suffocating.

You’re gonna crock

Crocking refers to the dye rubbing off on lighter-colored fabric. It happens, and it happens a lot. So before you hop into your Ferrari with the cream-colored seats, make sure you lay down a towel so you don’t stain the hand-stitched leather.

Or, more realistically, if you’re wearing light-colored canvas shoes or desert boots, better cuff em up once or twice, so the dye doesn’t transfer.

Bottom line

This weekend, pick up a pair of dark denim. It will change your life and grow up your style by at LEAST 6700%.

I know there are a bunch of you denim connoisseurs out there.

What can you teach the class about picking the right fit / type of dark denim? Let’s hear your opinions in the comments below.

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81 Responses

  1. Anonymous on

    I have several pairs of Levi’s, but my favorite pair of jeans is a pair of straight fit jeans from the Gap. When I bought them they were black rinse, but I washed them a few times until they bled to a very, very deep navy color. The fit is perfect. They’re mid-rise, something I like better than the sometimes extreme low-rise of Levis’ denim. Price was about $60, so not too bad. Plus, when is Gap not on sale?

    • Barron on

      Good point, I always buy stuff from Gap when it’s on sale. It’s almost ridiculous to buy something full price there, because their stuff will certainly go on sale the following week.

      Glad you have that one perfect pair, I do too, and even though I have like 20 pairs of pants, I could get rid of all of them and just have that one, and I’d be okay with that.

      • Michael106 on

        Gap VS Banana Republic – Is there a big  difference quality  wise or should i save my money and just go to GAP ???  Same company , look forward to everyones opinions…….

        • Barron on

          I’m not sure if there are noticeable quality differences, but there are differences in the type of offerings, as BR serves a slightly different market. If you’re in the market for dark denim, for example, it wouldn’t hurt just picking something up at GAP and saving yourself a couple bucks.

  2. Mike on

    I only wear levis and gap jeans. I did J. Crew for a while too but the price got to me. Levis/Gap/J.Crew seem to make things that are always a bit more classic and manly. I did try out some light wash bootcut levis on sale once about a year ago, had some fun in them for a bit, but now I never wear them. But my dark straight Gap jeans from 4 years ago still get my most wear.

    • Barron on

      Glad you got rid of em 🙂 I used to have several pairs of bootcuts, in fact it was my first foray into “fitted” denim (meaning, denim that wasn’t huge and baggy) so it was a transitional thing for me… eventually I learned about the classic straight leg and got used to the fit.

      Gap makes some great denim for their price point, I really like their fits too.

    • Barron on

      Depends on what you’re comfortable with. I cuff sometimes, but usually just one flip up, and never a huge cuff. Sometimes I roll them up twice, sometimes not at all.

      If it’s not your thing, don’t bother.

  3. Frank on

    Everytime I read one of these articles it entices me to buy another pair of this classic jean, from some other brand.  I’m kinda on a search for the perfect fit and due to settling here and there I have 3 different pairs of this jean in different brands with different degrees of stretch that are all doable, yet not quite right.  And to think I could end this all with a trip to the tailor… but where’s the fun in that?

    • Barron on

      Do you stay within the same price point range? Maybe you’ll be able to find something in a different (higher) range. It’s tough too, because denim fits every body differently, so even if I found something perfect for me, it could be a terrible fit on you.

      Keep the faith! haha

  4. Aaron Levy on

    A few things on denim, at least from my history. 

    1: IT WILL STRETCH – buy quality denim a size smaller than you think you should, wash it minimally (if at all)
    1a: If you buy denim and it’s too long, cuff ’em for a few weeks so you see how they wear before hemming them.
    2: Regular “dark denim” won’t rub off. Dry denim will. 
    3: If you plan on getting it tailored, don’t bother with selvedge. Tailors have to cut the selvedge side to trim it.
    4: Straight fit people. Straight fit. 

    My personal favorites (that I’ve worn) are PRPS and Wrangler Blue Bell. Premium Levi’s just aren’t worth it, Nudie’s fall apart, Gap (selvedge or otherwise) fit well but fall apart fast.

    Good pair of denim should last you 200-300 wears, at least! 

  5. Glen on

    Having searched long and hard for proper fitting denim pants, I have to say that not all bootcut fits are a bad idea. It is definitely advisable to avoid a 70’s type of flare, but there are some bootcuts that taper down to the knee, and then barely flare out from there. My favorite pair of jeans is a Levi’s 527 Low Bootcut that I had hemmed. The flare is no longer obnoxious, but I get that slight taper down to the knee that a 514 wouldn’t have given me.

    I guess my point is, some of us need that “balance” that a slight bootcut can provide. Some of us with humongous glutes/upper-thighs and itty-bitty calves. (thanks mom and dad)

      • Nick Golleher on

        I have 18″ calves and 26″ thighs, 501s fit me more like Wrangler Cowboy cuts. I have a pair of Hilfiger Freedom Bootcut that fit better than any 501 I’ve ever owned (10+ pair).

  6. Guest on

    “You want to make sure you pick a slim (not skinny) pair.”

    Unless you’re skinny (and relatively young), when skinny jeans (but not super skinny) are an option worth trying that many men seem to be afraid of.

    • Barron on

      good point (if I’m reading your comment correctly). Slim / skinny is relative. If you’re a 38 waist, most likely “slim” fits will be too tight, but a basic slim fit would be too wide on a skinny dude.

      I’ve tried 511 Levi’s, for example, and I can’t fit in them, but the 514s fit me perfectly, whereas they’d be baggy on dudes slimmer than me.

      Try on a bunch of denim and it’s easier to find a better fit for one’s body.

      • Matthew on

        when i wear Levi’s i wear a 559. but im also 6 ft 4 and just a tad on the heavier side. plus i like to keep my pants a little baggy but always wear a belt.

        • Daniel on

          Matt, I’m with you. I only wear Levi’s 559. My jean choice is however limiting my shoe choice. They cover enough of my shoe that they work well and I just always wear a belt to get the most comfortable fit. I wear a pair of Clarks boots similar to these but more appropriate for casual wear and the 559s cover the boots perfectly. If I want to wear other shoes (Fred Perry types) or even chucks the 559 cut covers too much of the shoe. What Levi’s would be a good alternative?

  7. Steve on

    Jcrew 484’s are just about as perfect as you can get if you’re a relatively skinny guy. As this is my case, I cannot vouch for how they fit on any other body type. But for me, they are not too skinny and definitely tailored enough to not be baggy at all–simply perfect. 

    • Barron on

      Yeah, those are a really great fit for the right body type. My buddy really liked them and I went to JCrew to try them myself, and I could not fit in them, so that’s why I always tell dudes to try on many different fits and sizes to figure out which is best for their body type.

  8. thepersonjacob on

    I’ve read that with dark denim jeans you want to wash them as little as possible.  So does that just entail using a lot of Febreeze?  

    • Barron on

      Just don’t wash them as often as you wash your other clothes… maybe once every few weeks if necessary. If they clearly smell for whatever reason, definitely wash them, but do so inside-out in cold water. Hang dry if you can.

  9. Collin on

    I’m on the stocky side and most of the Levi’s Jeans that I’ve tried are tight in the crotch. The only Levi’s that don’t leave me sterile after wearing them a while are the 560 Comfort Fits. Does anyone have any other recommendations for jeans that have a little more room in the thighs and crotch but don’t balloon out?

    • Barron on

      I think it’s just a matter of getting used to the fitted crotch area, unless it’s uncomfortable to the point of bleeding or castration or something. When I went from the baggier variety to something more fitted, it took a little adjustment (both figuratively and literally).

      You know who had the whole roomy crotch / fitted leg idea down? THIS guy:

  10. Miles on

    Im still hunting for my Levi’s 514’s dark wash. Apparently 36/34’s are either very popular, or very rare, as I’ve been to 3 levi’s stores plus an outlet without any luck.

    Also just wanted to say that i really enjoy the site and articles. As a new dad, my clothing budget is next to nothing now, but it has also forced to scrutinize every putchase, and only spend on quality itmes. I really identify with the theme of EG. Keep it up!

    • Barron on

      Thanks for reading Miles. I’m glad the message resonates; it’s always better to have fewer–but better- things.

      Yeah I’m not sure if that’s a rare size, or just a popular one. Have you tried ordering online at Or even, or They all carry 514s in many different washes.

  11. Ochiora on

    What is the perfect length for straight leg jeans? I usually buy a 34 but my true length is a 32. I’m trying to wear more fitted clothes so I want to know if I should continue with the 34s or go with 32 length since they barely touch the floor; about an inch off the floor if i’m standing on barefoot. 

  12. Janet on

    As a woman who, as I have found from experience, has a better sense of smell than my husband…. please wash them regularly. Just buy a new pair if they start to fade.  🙂

    • Barron on

      Yes, if your wife / girlfriend / significant other thinks your denim smells, for the love of God, wash them. But if they don’t stink and they’re not soiled or dirtied in any way, avoid washing them.

      Denim looks better broken in and worn, and it molds to your body the more you wear them. Washing / drying undoes all that work. So yeah, I suggest washing them but only when absolutely necessary.

      • Shawn ( on

        @6648b16f6e54ac9841ff3502306756ac:disqus, @barroncuadro:disqus, and @19287727b2415ae1d8e4d1ba60627e4f:disqus:
        FYI, your comments on wearing jeans more than once were the inspiration for my latest blog post at

  13. Thomas on

    What if your able to get away with a pair of slim fit denim. Honestly, I just prefer them over straight leg.. Thoughts and opinions?

    • Barron on

      Oh yeah, definitely. If you’re a slim dude, go with something more fitted, like for example a silhouette similar to the 511. Depending on your proportions, those just look better on some guys.

  14. Sprawl on

    I lift often and my thighs are too big to fit into most slim (514) jeans. What would be the next acceptable Levi jean and color combination?

  15. Barron on

    I wouldn’t consider plain Levis a premium brand, that’s a pretty standard choice. But regardless of what brand you choose, it’s more about the fit. Each brand produces different cuts of their pants. So like going back to Levis, they have the original 501, the 505 (a straight leg, pretty similar), 514 (slim straight), 511 (skinny) etc. The brand doesn’t matter so much, the fit does.

  16. Arthur2sheds on

    As a former diehard bootcut jeans wearer, it took me a while to see the merits of straight leg jeans. I’m not what you would call slender, and I was convinced that slim-fitting jeans would accentuate my frame in all the wrong ways. Turns out the opposite is true: they make me look considerably slimmer – with the added bonus of being far more stylish.

    • Barron on

      Pretty incredible, right? I wore bootcuts for the longest time as well. I gradually got into straight legs, and then now I even like a slight taper. It makes a big difference but it’s not something you fully realize until you are open to giving it a try… and that goes for any new style one tries to adopt.

  17. Mark on

    I usually wash my jeans as soon as I buy them just so I don’t have to worry about the dye rubbing off everywhere, and THEN I wash them minimally after that.

    • Barron on

      In the future, if you do this, I’d wash them in cold water inside out. That way you minimize fading but get rid of the excess dye.

      In any case I don’t advise this, but to each his own.

  18. Nordlund63 on

    Try out Nautica’s slim straight. They have a dark blue, similar to the 514’s and also feel much better built. I got a pair for $40 after deliberating between them and a pair of 514’s.

  19. Corey on

    Just bought my first pair of 511s and they are fantastic (I am tall and thin). Immediately went back and purchased different shades and colors.

    Completely agree that boot cut jeans look, for the most part, very bad.

    I am also a big fan of the website Bonobos. They’re slim straight pants look very classy.

  20. Taylor on

    Just picked up some super dark 505’s. My first pair in a 33″ in a long long time. I’m a 30″ length, so that probably tells you I’m rather short and stocky. I have one pair of straight fit 505’s now that aren’t compeltely dark and I usually wear them with boots. I feel weird wearing them with a dress shoe or anything else as they taper so much at the bottom. Any advice on this from anyone? Should I go with a different style? My pair i’ve owned for a while are different size since I got them before a weight loss.
    Great read by the way, Levi’s should give you royalties.

  21. KyleKyleArgyle on

    I haven’t seen anything about Levi’s 513s. I thought I’d mention them as a great middle of the road slim/skinny jean for those that are on the slim side, but don’t want to dive into 511s. They fit my skinny legs well and can still be worn in an office setting.

  22. bikenerd on

    Just bought my first pair of 514s, and while I really like the look and fit I have a bit of a dilemma. I bought 32×34 size, but only because 32 is the smallest waist size in which I can get the 34 length I need. I tried on 31×32, and the waist/butt was much better but they were just too short. I might even be able to wear 30 waist – I have several pairs of Kuhl pants and they’re all 30×34. Any ideas where I can find reasonably priced yet nice jeans in 30×34 or 31×34? Shopping through websites it seems a hard size to find.

      • bikenerd on

        Thanks for the link, Barron. I’m not sure that I can pull off the slim fit, I am tall & skinny but I’m also 48 and have cyclist’s thighs. I’ll go try ’em on though, the price is right. I suppose the other option is to go back to my denim roots (high school) and get some Shink-to-Fit 501s, but I just don’t want to go through the trial and error of figuring out the shinkage factor. I see they have 31×36 and 32×38…

        • Barron on

          You’re not limited to a slim fit. First off Old Navy is notorious for making things larger, so give it a try. They also have a straight leg model in a Tall version.

          Don’t dismiss “slim fit” because you’re skinny or 48. It’s really all about the fit regardless of the denim’s classification or your age 🙂

          501s are always a good option. They make it relatively easy and list the specs on the back pocket tag / label.

  23. Len Geiger on

    Just bought my third pair of Lucky Brand 361 Vintage Straight Leg dark wash jeans. They are my go to jeans for work with a Burberry navy blazer. I’ll switch up shirts and shoes (ties on occasion), but the jeans and blazer are my “suit”

  24. XXXX on

    I respect your opinion, but there are plenty of people who own no denim.
    Hence I disagree – a pair of jeans is not an essential wardrobe item.
    Jeans are overrated, and It’s all too easy to fall into the ‘Dad Denim’ or ‘kid denim’ camps.

    Go to Bonobos (for example) tick everything other than their denim category, and see the huge array of stylish trousers available… the worst thing those guys did was bend and add denim to their range.

    • DZ on

      In a way I agree. While a dark denim is the ultimate versatility piece, its not the most essential piece. I do love wearing my dark jeans especially in cooler months. But I like my chinos just as much, if not more. I will wear my jeans once or twice a week in the cooler months, and probably never in the summer.

      I think a well-dressed man can get away with never having to wear denim because of the other options you mentioned. But a well-dressed man should ALWAYS have a classic navy wool blazer. But here is the paradox, a LOT of men probably don’t have a navy blazer but own several pair of jeans… so the point is, if I didn’t have my denim, would I still be able to dress well? yes. If I didn’t have my navy blazer, I really don’t have anything to take its place when the occasion calls, not to mention its versatility as well.

    • wildejamey on

      I do wear jeans but wouldn’t say they are essential so much as they are ubiquitous – and that’s the unsettling thing, they’ve become a modern uniform and people seem to think you are somehow weird if you don’t dress in them.

  25. stardreamer42 on

    I dunno, to me cuffing your jeans up is really an old-man look. Better to wash them a couple of times until any excess dye is gone; it doesn’t change the color, and it will make them fit more comfortably.

  26. PC on

    Barron – New to upgrading my fashion. Do you only wear dark denim straight leg un-whiskered, unfaded jeans? As in you don’t buy other shades of blue additional to the dark pair? And how many pairs of jeans should a man have in his wardrobe? Thanks for the help.

    • Barron on

      I wear those the most, but I do own other pairs in different washes. Study our Lean Wardrobe series to see what works best for your wardrobe.

  27. Only Moses on

    Cheers Barron, another great article!!
    I live in the uk myself and have spent the last 2 months looking for my perfect pair of clean dark wash denim. Funnily enough just as if to prove your point about a great pair of jeans not having to cost the earth, after trying on 30 plus pairs of high priced designer brands, none of which fit me quite right, I ended up finding my perfect fitting pair at our local supermarket TESCO, for a mere £15 (approx 24 US dollars). Needless to say I purchased two pairs, just incase they don’t wear so well :O)

  28. Pig.Pen on

    So, I’m very new to this. Was pretty much the worst dressed guy until I got married and since then have let my wife dress me, which works well sometimes and sometimes doesn’t. Maybe a stupid question, but can you break it down a little more romper room style for me about what kind of cut of jeans to get? As for the not washing, I pretty much invented that, so I’m good there.

    • Barron on

      Look for something that’s labeled as straight leg, slim straight, or tapered, which narrows a bit from the knee to the leg opening.

      Examples of these would be Levi’s 501, 513, 501CT (in that order)

      What fits best will depend on your actual size. Like if you’re stocky, 513 may have too skinny a leg, and so something like the 501CT may work better. If you’re more slim all over, then 513 may work better, and 501 would be too wide of a cut.

      Hope that is a bit more clear.

    • Jim Robinson on

      Quit tagging it like a woman. “Bigger” haha. You are overwight….fat….out of shape….round…..etc. Loose some weight, man. Did you dad not teach you how to eat right and hit the gym? Fat acceptance is what fat women use. You are a man and need to get into shape so the 501 Levis can make your legs and ass look good. Until then, enjoy shopping at Big and Tall fatty.

      • John on

        Hahahahahahaha this actually made me angry and then made me laugh????
        Yeah im all those things, whats your point with all the synonyms? And no my pops didnt teach me any of that shit, if he did, i wouldnt have posted this, dontcha think numbnuts? I dont shop at big and tall, i’ve actually never shopped there at all but thanks for the suggestion. So is that what a dad does? Inform the child how to eat and about the gym?

      • lianas on

        This is such a mean comment! He may be overweight but you’re right down cruel! I think a fat nice guy is way sexier than a prick that’s in shape! Find some kindness somewhere and start spreading it. This world is at it’s limit with cruelty.

    • Barron on

      Hey John, do you have access to a store that sells Levi’s? Try the 505 in your size. Not too slim, pretty much a straight leg, but should fit pretty well. The 541 Athletic fit might be good too. And there’s always the 501 original.