We all have a favourite pair of jeans—soft, worn in just right, with the perfect amount of stretch to hug all your curves. But with prices that can range from $20 to $500, how much do you really need to spend on the perfect pair?
Stylist and fashion writer Ingrie Williams is a denim fanatic who says she can be found wearing jeans 99 percent of the time. When Williams is on the hunt for reasonably priced, good-quality denim, her go-to stores are Levi’s, The Gap, and more recently, Topshop, and the pairs she buys usually fall within the $80–120 range. Her current favourites are Levi’s straight-cut wedgie jeans, which cost her $98 plus tax, and a pair of wide-leg white jeans from H&M.
“You should shop what your budget allows. If you can splurge on a pair of $300 jeans that you love and fits you amazingly, then I think you should do that because the cost per wear is going to be very beneficial,” says Williams. “But there’s lots of great denim on the market that is in that $100-and-under range that looks just as good.”
According to Expatistan, a global cost of living calculator, the average price of jeans in Toronto is $67, compared to $76 in Montreal and $82 in Vancouver. But Williams says it still may be worth spending more than these averages to get that long-lasting fabric and proper fit. While it may seem like a smarter financial decision to opt for the pair that’s $40 over $100, if the pricier one keeps its shape and colour longer, it’s clearly a better buy. And if you’re looking to really splurge with a $200–$400 pair, make sure to pick a classic style that will remain a staple in your wardrobe for years.
But cost and fit aren’t the only factors to consider. Jo Jin, a Toronto-based stylist, says that in some cases, jeans may be pricier if they are ethically and sustainably produced, and this would make paying a bit more worth it.
The denim industry is notorious for being unsustainable. According to a 2015 Levi’s study, 2,912 litres of water are used to produce an average pair of jeans, and many denim factories have also been caught dumping dyes and chemicals into surrounding bodies of water. But now, there are more and more brands — including Everlane, Outland, and the Quebec-made Yoga Jeans—that have adopted sustainable production practices for a few or all of their products.
The bottom line? You don’t need to spend a ton to get a good pair of jeans—just invest some time in looking for that perfect pair for you. Here are some tips to help in your quest for the ultimate (and affordable) pair.
The right fabric
When it comes to fit and shape, the right fabric can ultimately make or break a pair of jeans. While there’s recently been a rise in the vintage-style 100 percent cotton denim jeans, Williams recommends going for a pair that has at least two percent stretch so it’s a little more breathable, comfortable and form fitting.
Find the style that’s right for you—but experiment with different cuts
There are many denim styles to choose from, and it’s worth exploring your options to find the one that is the most flattering on you. One style that Williams thinks is underappreciated and flattering on most body shapes is the wide-leg cut. “It often gets overlooked and it has an edge to it that some of the other types of jeans don’t,” says Williams.
How many pairs of jeans do you need?
It depends on whether you wear jeans every day, or just on weekends. For Williams, you can never have too many pairs of jeans if you get a lot of wear out of all of them. As with any wardrobe decision, assess what’s in your closet first. What do you wear regularly, and what haven’t you worn in months? After your moment of reflection, take your lifestyle, budget, and laundry routine into consideration, and if the purchase still makes sense, go for it. A good denim thumbnail is to have three to four pairs in a range of styles and washes, from high-waisted skinny to boyfriend to mom to black or white denim, in constant rotation.
Originally published September 2018; Updated October 2019.