A stylish pair of jeans can suit you well on date night, at work, and, assuming you’ve found a comfortable fit, at home while you lounge around without feeling restricted.  

That last part, the one about the comfortable fit, is the most important. Unlike most of the dudes we feature in our magazine and on our website, I am not built like a perfectly symmetrical piece of chiseled marble. No matter how heavy or light I am, my ass has always been too big. (Or, as my dad once gently put it: “You’re built like an NFL linebacker with none of the athleticism.”) Therefore, finding a pair of jeans that I look—and feel—good in has never been easy.  

I’ve only ever had luck with husky jeans that end up tight in the legs and loose in the waist. It wasn’t until the athletic jeans entered the market in 2014 that my beefy brethren and I could slip into some denim without a worry in the world.  

“We always talked about how finding pants that fit was a huge pain, that nothing was made for people that had more athletic builds, especially athletic lower bodies,” says Hunter Molzen, the founder and chief marketing officer of Barbell Apparel. Along with three other co-founders, Molzen and Co. launched a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to construct the perfect jeans for guys like them. They raised over $700,000.  

Barbell Apparel’s athletic fit is tapered at the waist and allows for a little more room in the glute and hamstring area, according to Molzen, who adds: “We also use a really expensive, high-performance stretch denim that allows for flex.” 

According to Molzen, keyword growth for “athletic fit jeans” has grown from zero searches a month in 2014 to as high as 3,000 monthly searches in 2018. “I think we’re headed towards a market where being able to buy something tailored to an athletic build will become expected,” Molzen says. “And companies who fail to cater to that market will fall behind.”

Turns out, he’s not wrong. Other brands have begun to craft jeans with more flexible denim, tapered waists, and roomier seats. In addition to smaller startups like Revtown Jeans, which have outfitted all of their jeans  with flexible denim, bigger brands like Levi’s and American Eagle now manufacture athletic fit jeans. 

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Jonathan Cheung, senior vice president of Design Innovation at Levi’s, answers some common jean questions.

What is flexible denim made of?

Generally, it’s cotton with a small percentage of spandex–usually around 2%. Sometimes there may be some other fibers blended in, like polyester and Tencel to add softness and strength.

The crotch of my jeans usually rip. How can I help prevent this?

Any area of high friction will cause abrasion, so the knees and the crotch tend to go first. To prolong life, hang your jeans up on a line to dry. This will decrease the amount of friction from the jeans being tumbled in a machine.

I recommend one wash before you wear raw denim if you want to prolong the life of the crotch area. Raw denim is stiff and that makes it a little more brittle than a washed pair. Lastly, repair any holes early. 

I’ve read that you shouldn’t wash denim. Is this true, and if so, how can I keep them clean?

The advice I would give is to wash your jeans as little as possible. Use common sense, if it’s a little drop of food that’s landed on your jeans, you can just spot clean by wiping the area with a damp cloth.

But if a slice of pizza faceplants on your lap, then it’s time to throw it into the wash along with your other darks.

Should I take care of my athletic fit jeans any differently than raw denim?

You can treat them the same way. Jeans are built to be pretty tough and to look better with age, so wear them as hard as you like, wash them infrequently and repair them if they start getting holes.

We’ve curated jeans from some of the most popular brands and a few lesser known entities and put them to the test to save you some time in the store (or browsing online).