best of brand

The Strategist Guide to Shopping at Levi’s

Photo-Illustration: retailers

A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist U.S.

Anyone who has shopped a bigger-box brand knows it can be hard to figure out where to begin. There are dozens of options that all seem as worthy as the next, but the reality is that not all products from any given brand are created equal. When you shop as regularly as we do, you learn that many brands just do some things better than they do other things. Levi’s, with more than 400 styles of jeans alone (in nearly as many washes), is one of those brands — its expansive inventory of denim, whether wide-leg, high-rise, or skinny-fit, must be carefully picked through to find the perfect pair. To make that task a little easier, we’ve sifted through our archives to put together a list of the Levi’s garments that celebrity stylists, denim experts, podcasters, plus-size models, stylish teens, and other cool people (including our writers and editors) have recommended on the Strategist. Since these products come in various colors and washes, we’ve tried to include two retailers wherever possible to offer the maximum selection.

For women

The Levi’s Wedgie Straight Jeans made our list of the very best mom jeans for how nice they look on all body types. Sara Zucker, director of social media at KORRES, says they have “a leg that’s slightly slimmer than your standard mom jean.” “They’re popular because they fit you like you want old 501s to fit,” explains Bird clothing founder Jennifer Mankins: A “perfect straight leg, but with a bit more of a generous, modern cut.” She describes the rise as “high, but not too high,” and the jeans have a subtle stretch that Madewell designer Joyce Lee says makes them “super comfortable … without losing an authentic vintage look.” Dianna Cohen, the founder of hair-care line Crown Affair, calls the Wedgie Straight Jeans a daily staple, even for working from home. “It’s the only pair I’ve worn frequently at home during [the pandemic] — they’re almost as comfy as sweatpants,” she promises. “They look as great on when they’re still tight and just out of the wash as they do once they’re more worn and loosen up through the week.” Celebrity stylist Ali Levine describes their relaxed fit as modern while “still hitting the right notes for a mom jean,” and Richer Poorer brand director Allie Greenberg adds that, with 26- and 28-inch inseam options, they’re “great for shorties like me.”

Levi’s 315 Shaping Boot Cut Jeans are a favourite among plus-size women, with model Yasmin Geurts calling the style her “everyday go-to for work.” She says they “come in right at my belly button and suck in everything,” adding that the flared legs “actually balance all my curves.” Geurts also loves the jeans’ wider back pockets, telling us they make her butt “look great” because of the way the pockets “fan out to the side a little.”

“It took me 34 years, but I finally tracked down the perfect jean,” designer Susan Alexandra says of these oversize, relaxed-fit jeans that she notes “are often sold out” (a telling sign of their popularity). They’re a “wardrobe staple,” she adds, as well as a convincing dupe for vintage denim. “I had mine nipped in the waist to give them that perfect ‘I got these at a flea market in Berlin’ look.” College student Sylvie Nelson also swears by these jeans, calling them an essential part of her “comfortable stay-at-home uniform that still makes me feel cute.”

“They shape you out and hold you in place without creating rolls,” model Essie Golden says of the mid-rise 310 Shaping Super Skinny Jeans. “These also make my butt feel good and create tummy control, which I appreciate.” Golden has worn hers for two or three years, telling us they haven’t developed any holes in the thigh area (a common problem she has with other brands).

When it comes to skinny jeans, Strategist editor Maxine Builder opts for Levi’s 501 Stretch Skinny Jeans. “[They’re] the skinniest jeans I wear these days,” says Builder, who prefers them in black and “appreciates that they have a little bit of stretch.” They’re also a favourite of Gen-Z cool girl Emma Chamberlain, whose dad converted her into an ardent Levi’s fan: “Nothing fits me or hugs my body better than 501s. My dad inspired me to get into 501s and then vintage jeans, to the point that I became a denim collector.”

According to writer Diana McCorry, Levi’s 720 High Rise Super Skinny Jeans strike a very happy medium: They have enough stretch “to avoid that nasty tummy compression” but enough shape to “create a great silhouette when you stand up.” They’re also good for those who often have problems with waist gaps, as McCorry finds these jeans to be only “a little loose in the waist, but not quite enough to necessitate a belt.”

“The closest I’ll ever get to love at first sight” is how Strategist writer Jenna Milliner-Waddell describes Levi’s Mile High Super Skinny Jeans. She fell for them because they don’t gap at the waist and stretch “just enough” to get them over the hips, but still have a vintage-y “rigid-denim feel.” While stretchy, Milliner-Waddell assures these won’t bag out, telling us the waist remains “as tight as it was the day I bought them.” Artist Lucy Litman, who’s five-foot-eight, adds that these are a great pair of jeans for tall women. They have “the perfect amount of stretch and come with an option for an extended length,” she explains, noting that the higher rise is “perfect if you have a longer torso like me.” And Rachel Bullock, a co-founder of outdoor-furniture company Laun, adds that they’re durable enough to wear to work days on “especially dirty” job sites thanks to their “indestructible” feel.

This classic cut counts multiple fashionable people among its fans, including Queer Eye star Tan France, musicians Aly and AJ Michalka, and celebrity stylist Karla Welch (who has collaborated with Levi’s on capsule collections). “I’ve been wearing this style of Levi’s since I was 12 years old, when I stole a pair from my brother, which I still have,” Welch told us, adding that, like many pairs on this list, these relaxed-fit jeans only get better with wear and age. France used to wear men’s 501s but prefers these because they have “a little bit of a higher waist — I love a high waist — and tapered fit.” And Aly calls them “just classic: the fit, the semi-high waist, the colour. I probably own six or seven pairs.” They’re also a hit among teens, with one girl saying 501s would be the style she’d choose if she could only own a single pair of jeans, and another describing the fit as “perfect,” with a third adding that the style is also the “best fit” for plus-size girls, too.

Photo: retailer

Former Strategist senior editor Casey Lewis owns the shorts version of Levi’s 501 Women’s Jeans, naming them a great alternative to a full-length pair when working from home. “Although I was tempted by the Ribcage and Wedgie fits, I ultimately went with the classic (and less constricting) 501s,” says Lewis, who got hers in a size up so that they’d be “extra comfy.” (She also bought the longer knee-length version so she could further cut them herself.) Strategist contributor Maria Dueñas-Jacobs, the founder of kids’ jewellery brand Super Smalls, has also recommended 501 shorts (though she prefers buying them vintage rather than new): “Like jeans, I can never get enough.”

Levi’s Ribcage Straight Ankle Jeans — the “Goldilocks of jeans,” as we like to call them — are beloved by New York deputy editor Alexis Swerdloff as well as by Builder, who describes the rise as “deliriously high, easily clearing my belly button,” but promises that they don’t “feel uncomfortable when I sit.” Swerdloff agrees, describing them as “stiff without being too constricting” and having “just the right amount of flare.” The wash, adds Swerdloff, is “worn-in without trying too hard.” Content creator Amy Serrano, who is five feet tall, also lists this style as one of the best options for petite women: “This pair gives me legs for days because of the ultrahigh waist. It hugs what it needs to hug, and the rest of the leg is a nice relaxed straight fit,” she says. This pair has younger fans, too: Teen Claudia Perez calls them her “soul-mate jeans” because they’re “comfortable and fashionable and perfect to lounge in.”

Photo: retailer

If you like the Ribcage fit but you’re looking for something a tad longer and wider, actress Brie Larson likes the bootcut style because “they always look effortlessly cool.” She calls these a “classic that I can dress up or dress down.”

Photo: Courtesy of the Retailer

In our 2021 survey of the best pants to wear now, the trend in denim seemed to skew more toward jeans that are baggier, more comfortable, and less cropped. Milliner-Waddell raved about these wide-leg Levi’s because they’re “super high-waisted, like almost to my boobs, so they are really flattering.” And Audrey Woodward, graphic designer for shoe brand ILYSM, loves her baggy Levi’s for warm weather “because of how loose they are.” She also says “they border on low-rise when they stretch out, which I think is unexpected and fun to work into outfits.”

While writing our guide to the best teen-girl gifts, we learned that lots of teens are skipping jeans in favour of overalls. These new but purposefully faded ones have a cool vintage look — and a very reasonable price tag.

Photo: retailer

A solid denim jacket is just as much of a wardrobe staple as a good pair of jeans. New York–based creative consultant Michele Janezic owns several vintage and new Levi’s jean jackets. “One is a well-loved boxy classic, another is a fitted ’70s orange tab, and another is an oversize boyfriend fit,” she says. She keeps this oversize trucker jacket in medium wash on permanent rotation when the weather is cool.

Or for chillier days where you want something with a bit more warmth, this sherpa-lined denim jacket comes recommended by trend forecaster Melissa Moylan. She notes that it taps into the ’90s-throwback looks that are currently popular, especially with teens. “We’re seeing oversize jean jackets trend in a big way,” Moylan says. “Levi’s ex-boyfriend style works in a relaxed silhouette with the addition of sherpa lining for winter.”

For men

As noted above, many of the guys we’ve talked to about jeans really love Levi’s 501s. Garnering praise from denim experts, writers, podcasters, and former Strategist columnist Chris Black, they are without a doubt the most recommended pair of men’s jeans we’ve written about to date. “If we’re going to talk about jeans that every man should have in their closet, a pair of good-old Levi’s” is a must, according to denim expert and writer Amy Leverton, who calls 501s the gold standard of men’s denim. Former Strategist writer David Notis is also a fan, calling out the jeans’ “strong hardware and 100 percent cotton” material, which he says is non-stretch and therefore tends to hold its shape better as the jeans age. Jeremy Kirkland, the host of men’s style podcast Blamo!, swears by 501s, too, because their high rise makes them easier to dress up. “I’ve always been a fan of higher-rise jeans versus the lower-rise pairs because I wear tailoring and sport coats, so it helps to wear something totally high,” he says. Summing it all up, 501 fan Black says the jeans are “perfect for every occasion.”

For our Insider Goods series, we spoke to several cowboys about what to buy to achieve an authentic “yeehaw” style. Nick Villanueva, the public relations chair of the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association, notes that tight-fitting jeans have always been a staple. “From what I read in interviews all the way back to the 1980s, with regard to jeans, you have to have a quality-fit pair of Levi’s,” he says, adding that they’re still what’s worn the most.

“Skinny but not skintight” is how Netflix brand and editorial manager Alex Simons describes the fit of these jeans. He promises that they’re “comfortable from the moment you put them on” and that they have the “perfect amount of pocket space.” Simmons adds that he was a “fancy-jeans guy for years,” opting for pricier pairs from brands like Marc by Marc Jacobs until he tried these on and, as he puts it, “never looked back.”

The Levi’s 511 is to slim-fit jeans as the 501 is to straight-leg jeans: a standard-bearer. Menswear writer Tim Melideo told us that 511s are a staple in his wardrobe, and stylist Brandon Garr likes them, too — especially their price, which he says allows him to “be a little bit more daring in them because I don’t have to worry as much about the replacement cost if they get a little roughed up.” And Chef Jacques Torres appreciates that these “give a little bit, so if I gain a couple of pounds, I don’t have to change my jeans.” He compares bad jeans to bad knives: “If you feel like your jeans are a prison and you don’t feel good in them, then you should change your jeans. There is no reason to wear bad jeans, just like there is no reason to put up with a bad knife,” he advises.

When we asked cyclists to recommend the best men’s jackets to wear while biking to work, Robert Evans, CEO of Cycling Quests, suggested a classic Levi’s denim trucker jacket. “If it’s not wet and I’m feeling kind of hippy-ish, I’ll wear spandex shorts and a jean jacket on top,” he says. Evans owns several Levi’s jean jackets and likes their “iconic styling,” declaring that “the rest just don’t look as cool.”

We knew this Levi’s crewneck sweatshirt was a hit when it was recommended to us by four different guys in the same week. Andrew Favorito, who works in public relations for skin-care brand Tatcha, calls it “the coziest, chicest sweatshirt I’ve ever owned,” explaining that “because it’s modeled after a 1930s original, the fit is somewhat different: Slightly shorter in the torso, a little baggier, and a looser neck, which together with the vintage detailing and stitching makes it perfect.” We heard similar praise from Joshua Katz and Ben Starmer, the co-founders of CBD brand Dad Grass. Katz owns a whopping seven versions of this sweatshirt, and Starmer told us he owns two — both of which he’s washed “probably 100 times” without any significant change to their look or feel. And Drew Westphal, who works in digital marketing, calls it his “go-to crewneck” and appreciates its simple, “utilitarian” design.

The Strategist UK is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Read about who we are and what we do here. Our editors update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The Strategist Guide to Shopping at Levi’s