Jeans for Keeps: What to Look for When Shopping for Durable Denim

Anna Roos Van Wijngaarden
June 12, 2024

You don't have to be an expert to judge the quality of a pair of jeans. However, it's important to take the time to carefully examine them before making a purchase. There are several components to consider – more than you might think. By keeping an eye on the following factors, you can ensure that your jeans are a durable choice that will remain in your closet for many years.

Fit & Shape

When we talk about fit, we usually mean the combination of leg shape, rise (waist), and length. Choose a shape that flatters your body type and provides comfort. For example, bootcut jeans bring balance to an inverted triangle body type, while skinny jeans elongate and streamline curvy bodies. High-rise options create the illusion of longer legs, while folded hems break the continuous line of your lower body.

Pay attention to the length of your jeans. They should hit the right spot on your ankles, with the hems falling just on top of your shoes. While the debate about 'too short' is subjective, you don't want the hems sweeping the floors. Consider the stretch content of the jeans when determining the right size. If the fabric contains elastane, the jeans are likely to stretch out by an inch. Therefore, it's wise to purchase slightly tighter-fitting pairs based on your intuition.


Assessing fabric quality requires careful observation and touch. Look for sturdy denim fabrics that are tightly woven with a high thread density per inch. Start by examining the twill weave, which gives denim its characteristic diagonal lines. Twill can be assembled in two ways. The preferred variant is usually right-hand twill (RHT) or Z-twill, where the diagonal lines slant from the bottom left to the top right. It's also important to consider the direction of the yarn twist. Neatly aligned lengthwise (warp) and horizontal (weft) threads without any loose or slack sections are desirable.

Weight is another indicator of fabric quality. Heavier weight denim, measured in ounces per square yard (oz/yd²), generally signifies higher quality. It ensures the denim can withstand frequent washing without losing its shape or color integrity. Weight is influenced by yarn thickness and the closeness of the yarn. Midweight denim is typically around 12 oz, while heavyweight denim is classified above 16 oz. Raw denim, which is untreated and develops a unique patina with wear and washing, falls into the most heavyweight category.


After examining the fabric, evaluate the overall construction of the jeans. Avoid loose hanging threads and unfinished ends. Look for well-finished seams and secure hems. Hardware such as buttons, rivets, and zippers should be sturdy and preferably made of quality materials like copper rather than weaker metals such as aluminum. The stitches should be even and resistant to breaking under stress. Double stitches and chain stitches are signs of premium quality. Additionally, consider the pocket design and the brand patch located above the right back pocket on the waistband.

Classic premium details such as selvedge also indicate quality. Selvedge jeans have a self-finished edge on the folded hem, preventing fraying of the fabric. This fine detail is a result from using shuttle looms, an old-school method of manufacturing jeans. Non-selvedge jeans have outseams to cover the ends. Another classic feature worth examining is the raised belt loop, which has a small bump in the center.

Wash & Color

Due to the popularity of intentionally distressed or faded denim styles, judging quality based on color alone can be challenging: many different blues and hues are desirable. However, uniformity is still important. Well-dyed denim jeans should have a rich color that extends evenly throughout the fabric. Check for any unevenness or splotches. While it may be difficult to determine the dyeing method used – one of the key sustainability hotspots in denim – you can often discern the type of wash applied if the jeans have been pre-treated.

Although we have become accustomed to faded and soft-touch jeans straight from the hanger, true denim enthusiasts know that the most beautiful jeans evolve with time. 'Faders' prefer to purchase raw and dark jeans, allowing the inherent characteristics of the fabric to reveal themselves over the years. Treatments like stonewashing are generally not sustainable, but raw denim is considered environmentally friendly as it does not undergo any post-dyeing water treatments. On the other hand, alternative treatment methods such as laser distressing, chemical stone washes, and washing with plastic ‘eco-stones’ are becoming more common in sustainable practices. So, if you prefer lighter shades of indigo and distressed finishes, sustainable options are available. You might just have to pay a bit more for them.

In an era of inclusivity, where the ideal body shape is increasingly criticized, it's important to take these conventions with a grain of salt. Experiment and make use of the available knowledge without feeling pressured in one direction. Ultimately, the golden rule of fashion applies to denim as well: if it looks good on you in the mirror, it's made for you.

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