How to Shop for High-Quality Jeans

What to Know About Denim Quality Before You Buy

When shopping for jeans, do you know how to identify a high-quality pair? Are you often dissatisfied with your purchases, but you aren't sure why? If you want jeans that feel good to wear and last longer than a typical celebrity marriage, it's essential to know how to spot superior-quality construction.

A good pair of jeans can be made by designer brands as well as some less expensive labels. While designer denim brands are more likely to use higher-quality materials in general, the best denim brands are not limited to those with higher price tags, which is good news for all of us value-seeking shoppers.

Here's a handy list to take along with you the next time you go jeans shopping. Use it to get more bang for your denim buck.

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A Heavier Fabric

Women shopping for jeans
Finding a high quality pair of jeans doesn't have to be impossible. Getty Images/Fabrice LEROUGE

When you're browsing a sales rack of jeans, get your hands on the fabric. Well-made blue jeans are made from a stronger, heavier weight of denim, which feels different than a cheaper weave. Just as with bed sheets, a high thread count is a sign of better quality fabric.

When in doubt about the fabric construction, ask a salesperson. You can also check a jean's brand label for information. Denim brands that invest in high-quality fabric, such as True Religion and Mother Denim, often share details about it in their product labeling (and in their marketing).

So, what denim weight signals a well-made, higher quality jean? As a general rule, anything below a 12-ounce weight is considered light-weight denim and may be of a lower quality. (A notable exception to this is summer-weight jeans, which you want to be made of thinner fabric). 

Don't worry that heavier denim won't be as comfortable. It's true that higher quality jeans may feel heavier, or even a bit stiff, when you first try them on, which can take some getting used to if you usually wear cheaper denim. However, once you "break in" a heavier jean, it will soften and also conform better to your curves, giving you a customized fit not available from lower-end brands. Heavier denim should also last much longer when cared for properly.

Tip: If you're shopping online for jeans (and therefore can't touch the denim fabric), check to see if the fabric weight is listed in the detailed product description of the jeans. Jeans may also be referred to as "light", "medium" and "heavy" weight in their product description. As above, with the exception of lighter weight jeans designed for wearing only in summer, anything below medium weight is probably not the greatest quality.

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Durable Stitching

Next time you go jeans shopping, check the stitching around hems, pockets and side seams. You're looking for a good, heavy stitch that won't pull, split or unravel under stress. Double-stitching (two rows of stitches placed close together) and chain-stitching (a looped stitch resembling the links of a chain) are both good signs that extra care went into making the jeans. A single row of stitches is fine too if done with a thick and durable thread (you'll see this on many high-quality denim brands, including 7 for All Mankind).

If you're not sure about the quality of a pair of blue jeans, do a little test by gently stretching them at the seams. If you see or hear the threads pulling apart, that's a sign of low-quality construction.

Tip: Shopping online or via a mobile fashion app? Use the zoom feature (if available) to look more closely at the stitching.

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The Stretch Factor

Stretch jeans can do wonders for the curvy figure. If you prefer your jeans with a bit of stretch, there's an easy trick that will help you spot good quality denim. Even though stretchy jeans are made from fabric designed to pull and give, they should only stretch so far. Otherwise, you're getting into jeggings territory, a jeans style that's best left to teenagers and off-duty fashion models.

Check the jeans label for the percentage of Lycra or Spandex.You're looking for 2% maximum. (As a general rule, one percent will give you just a hint of stretch for comfort, while two percent means a more giving fabric). Any more than that and you can expect the jeans to wear out (or "bag out") before you've gotten your money's worth.

Tip: Stretch jeans are meant to fit you snugly. If you are between jean sizes, it's a good idea to buy stretch jeans in your smaller size, as they may become looser after multiple wears. 

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Design Details

Sometimes the little details on a pair of jeans can help you figure out if they're made to last. Certain design features and materials, such as copper buttons and rivets, are good signs that the brand has invested in making a well-constructed product.

A warning when it comes to design details, though. Don't get fooled by fakes. Some knock-off brands have become expert in mimicking the styling of designer jeans. Contoured back pockets, for instance, can be found on cheap pairs and better brands alike, so don't rely on details by sight alone without checking into the actual materials used.

Tip: If you can't find information in the store about the materials used in a certain jean's brand, you may be able to find it on their website. if you can't find it there, proceed with caution. Typically, if a denim brand uses great materials to make their jeans, they will brag about it in the detailed product description.

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Price Isn't Everything (But It's a Good Sign)

When you're learning about what makes jeans higher-quality, it can help to get an actual feel for what you're looking for.

Try on a few pairs of pricey, designer jeans, even if you don't intend to buy an expensive pair. This should help you to notice some key differences between the higher-quality brands and jeans that are low-end. You can then take what you've learned and shop the mid-range jeans brands, such as Lucky Brand or Old Navy, with a better idea of what you're looking for in a pair that deserves taking home.

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Keep Jeans Looking Good

When you invest in a high-quality pair of jeans, you'll want to learn to care for them properly to help them stay looking good for longer. Read up on topics like how to keep dark denim from bleeding, how to soften stiff jeans, and how to remove stains.