How to Buy Raw Denim: Sizing Your Jeans

This is a subject that I never thought I would write an entire article about. I have talked a little bit about sizing in different denim reviews previously, but I don’t think I really dedicated enough focus to the subject in the past. In fact, I must confess that in the early days of this website, I did not dedicate enough focus to sizing in general. At the time, I was trying so much to focus on objective aspects that I did not talk enough about more subjective topics such as fit. While subjective, fit is undeniably important in terms of clothing. This is why I went back and added more sizing information to all of my boot reviews a while back. 

Interestingly, I have actually discussed fit quite a lot with leather jackets. This is because fit was always difficult for me personally with leather jackets.  Boots, jeans, trousers, shirts, and non-leather jackets were all relatively easy for me to size when I first started this website. Of course I made some pretty devastating mistakes with denim sizing early on in my raw denim journey, but after some initial blunders, everything went smoothly so I didn’t feel the need to discuss the subject much.

That all changed when I lost weight and started to work out more consistently. I have talked about my weight loss quite a lot here, but it really did change a lot for me. It caused me to have to sell quite a few leather jackets, but that was to be expected and at the end of the day, it actually made sizing leather jackets easier for me. My chest size barely changed so it just made buying smaller, shorter, and more tapered jackets easier for me which has been wonderful. I am happier than ever with how my jackets fit. It also made little difference in terms of shirts other than making some shirts that tapered significantly fit much better on me.

It’s been easier than ever for me to get leather jackets that fit me well lately

Jeans are a completely different story, however. Losing weight has made getting the right pair of jeans ridiculously difficult for me. For the previous 5 years, pretty much every pair of jeans I bought fit the way I wanted. In that time period, I went from preferring tapered cuts to straighter, more classic cuts. In terms of sizing, there was no awkward transition. Everything fit me well.

At my heavier past weight, I was able to get jeans that fit exactly how I wanted quite easily.

After I did lose weight around a year and a half ago and worked out more consistently, sizing jeans became really difficult for me. This is caused by two main issues. The first issue is my preference for wider leg openings and straight fits rather than slim or tapered fitting jeans. Issue number two is the discrepancy between my waist and my thighs. 

The first issue was the one that I noticed with the first denim purchase that I made once I dropped to roughly my current waist size (~30”). When I got down to a 31.5” waist, I bought a pair of TCB x SUFU 1940s contest jeans. This pair was a reproduction of WWII-era Levis 501 jeans which have a classic and fairly straight fit. My previous favorite jeans were all classic Levis reproductions which all had fairly straight fits. I was used to having leg openings of around 8.8”-9.25” and was quite comfortable with that. 

My old jeans.

After dropping 6-7” in the waist, buying the same cuts resulted in much smaller leg openings. I ended up with leg openings of around 8.25”-8.5” taken at half measurement. To many people that may not be a major problem, but it threw things off for me. Even though I was thinner, these jeans just looked much slimmer and more tapered on me. Many other people said the same thing, reassuring me that I was not crazy. Unfortunately, this was not something that I wanted. I like my jeans and trousers to look pretty straight and classic on me. Smaller leg openings and a tapered look is not what I prefer. 

One of my newer pairs of jeans with the same boots. You can see how much slimmer they are.

Making all of this worse was the second issue of the new imbalance between my waist and my thighs/buttocks. My waist dropped by 6-7”, but my legs did not do the same. I don’t remember my exact measurements previously, but I do a lot of leg workouts and so with a 30” waist, I still have thighs of around 24.5”-25”. This is not absolutely massive and serious NFL, association football, rugby players, and people who simply work out more than me of course have larger thighs. With that said, I’m pretty sure my thighs are bigger than average for someone who has my waist size. My measurements mean that I need jeans with at least a 12.5” upper thigh at a size 30. This does exist of course, but even some relatively straight fit jeans have slimmer thighs than this. Also, 12.5” is a minimum. This measurement isn’t super comfortable or flattering for me at all.

Even when I do get jeans that have big enough thighs for me, they still look slim on me because my top block below my waist is so large. It’s similar to the issue I have with my boots looking big for me because I have relatively large feet for my height (size 10.5 Brannock at 5’7”). I usually need at least 13.5” or more in the thighs to prevent trousers from looking slim on me. With my thighs filling out the jeans, it makes them look tighter and slimmer on me.

You may have a similar build to me or you may not, but my weird troubles with sizing my jeans do show how important measurements aside from just the waist are. For example, another issue I have is with the rise. If the front rise or especially the back rise is too low, then the jeans will not fit me very well.

Here are several pictures to show what I am talking about in terms of fit:

None of these are slim fit jeans, but they fit slim on me even though they are loose in the waist.

Firstly and in my opinion, most importantly, you must understand that waist is not the only measurement that matters. I spent most of the first part of this article explaining why other measurements are important so hopefully you already have internalized that by now. As of the writing of this article, I size more by thigh, hip, and front and back rise measurements than I do by waist. These measurements can affect each other in a way as well. For example, a pair of jeans that are 34” in the waist with a 13” rise will not fit the same as a pair with a 34” waist and a 10” rise. You could have a 33” true waist (which is around your navel), but have a 35” natural waist which is lower down and closer to your hips. 

To get jeans and trousers that fit well, you need to know all these different measurements and how they interact. That means that not only do you need to pay attention to all product measurements, but it also means that you need to measure yourself and the jeans that you already have. 

The best clothing investment you will ever make is a soft, flexible tape measure. This allows you to measure not only the clothing you own, but also measure yourself. A lot of people make the mistake of going solely by the size of their mall jeans that they used to own, which are usually vanity sized by several orders of magnitude and have stretch fabric. Tag size is practically meaningless today. Fast fashion pieces are usually tagged several sizes smaller than they actually are and often have extremely low rises. The stretch fabrics also help them stretch even wider to make you think that your 36” waist fits into a size 31. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not because that happened to me. 

This is not only true with fast fashion to be fair. Sizing with raw denim brands is all over the place. Stevenson Overall Co. is quite vanity sized. Even when I was a 37” waist I could squeeze into chinos from them that were tagged size 33 and they had a relatively low rise as well. On the other hand, brands such as Conners Sewing Factory and Ooe Yofukuten do not vanity size at all. I wear size 33 and 34 in my Conners jeans even though I have a 30” waist. Part of this is because of how the hips taper in, but they also tend to shrink from the tagged size, not shrink to the tagged size. I also have a pair of Buzz Rickson trousers that are tagged 32, but have a 31” waist. Basically, tagged size is only a rough starting point. There is so much more that you need to look at to get well fitting jeans and trousers. 

The Buzz Rickson trousers are a size 32 with a 31 waist and I love the fit of them. They are proof that you have to look at more than tag size.

When buying clothing online, knowing your exact measurements and the measurements of clothes that fit you well is absolutely essential, but it can also be quite helpful even when trying clothing on in person. Knowing that you need a high rise and wider thighs can help you when talking to the salesperson and help save you time by not even bothering to try on items that you know will not work for you. If you know your measurements, you can also figure out why something you try on doesn’t feel right and that can help guide you toward something that will fit you better.

These Buzz Rickson chinos are my best fitting trousers. I sized them by the rise and thighs. They are slightly loose in the waist, but they still fit exactly how I want them to fit. You can see that they do not look as slim as any of my jeans do now.

My brother is getting more and more into higher quality clothing and I have helped him get into jeans and trousers that fit him well by having him measure himself as well as the trousers he has that fit him well and do not fit him well with a soft tape measure. We measured everything and he told me what he likes and dislikes about the fits of different trousers. We were able to figure out that the issue with his poorly fitting jeans was the fact that the rise was too low. This allowed him to purchase new chinos that now fit him exactly how he wants them to. 

Something else that must be kept in mind is the fabric of the jeans and trousers. If you are coming from fast fashion, you will probably be used to fabric that has some degree of stretch in it. These fabrics are usually quite thin, stretchy, and light. Actual good quality fabrics will not be like this. Sure, some of them might be light, but they will not have elastic stretch in them. Most cotton and linen fabrics will stretch to some degree, but that will be limited and it will take many wears to get that to happen. Plus, some fabrics like cotton duck do not stretch as much as denim does. You need to be aware of the amount of give a fabric has and also know that sizing down in general is just a terrible idea. Trust me, I tried it several times. It never goes well.

Heavier, more rigid denim fabrics will feel tighter and less forgiving and comfortable than lighter ones and fabrics that are woven more tightly will stretch less and may feel less comfortable than looser woven ones. For example, I have had two pairs of jeans that were over 21oz. One of them is quite loosely woven and feels completely different to the other which has a much tighter weave. The looser weave is more comfortable, easier to wear, and breathes better. Of course, I don’t wear either pair because I don’t really like heavy jeans, but this just goes to show that there are several aspects of fabrics that affect how a pair of jeans fits and feels on you. You may need to size up with one fabric while staying true to size with another fabric and that’s OK. 

These are pretty heavy jeans at 21.5oz so you don’t want to size down, but they’re not uncomfortable thanks to the loose weave.
Duck canvas does not stretch much. You definitely cannot size down at all with this fabric. These trousers are probably two sizes too loose in the waist, but I think sizing up by at least one is best with this fabric.

As I write this article now, I still do not have a pair of jeans that I think fits me perfectly. Does this make me unqualified to even write about this topic? Maybe, but on the other hand, I have a lot of experience with sizing jeans both correctly and incorrectly and this current struggle has made me think about this topic quite thoroughly. In addition, I have experience with buying jeans with practically two different bodies. My best advice is to buy a tape measure and measure yourself and your current trousers, know the characteristics of the fabric you are purchasing, and look at all measurements, not just the waist. I have jeans and trousers now from size 30-34 that fit me well right now. Going by rise and thigh measurements and using a belt to cinch the waist down is what works for me right now, but you may have different needs. Find out what they are and you’ll find jeans that fit you how you want.

These are my current jeans – CSF D-42. I sized up several sizes on them and they still fit a little slim, but I like them. As of now, I like the way my trousers fit me more than any of my jeans.

3 thoughts on “How to Buy Raw Denim: Sizing Your Jeans”

  1. You don’t mention suspenders and how pants hang from the shoulders rather than cinch from the waist. Try the option and you may find yet another dimension to your fit. Real McCoys makes a great suspender. Also TCB did a suspender collab with Moto Leather. Regardless, suspenders provide a really different fit than belted or beltless.

  2. You don’t mention suspenders and how pants hang from the shoulders rather than cinch from the waist. Try the option and you may find yet another dimension to your fit. Real McCoys makes a great suspender. Also TCB did a suspender collab with Moto Leather. Regardless, suspenders provide a really different fit than belted or beltless.

Leave a Reply