How to Shop for Jeans When You Have Big Legs: My 3 Top Tips for Buying Denim

I do not think I have ever met someone who says they enjoy jeans shopping.

Why is it so hard to find a good fit? That is the question on the front of most people’s minds when it comes to shopping for denim. When you have big legs (if you are an athlete or avid gym-goer, this is probably you), it can take hours upon hours of trying to find a fit that does not strangle you or crumple around like a parachute. I am – and always have been – among this crowd, and today I will share my top tips for finding denim that fits.

My 3 Top Tips for a Good Fit

1: Stretch fabric is your best friend

The addition of materials such as elastane and spandex into denim fabrics is one of the greatest things to happen for large-legged men in recent times. The first thing you should do when looking at a pair of jeans is to check the tag; what you will hope to find is a label saying something like ‘98% Cotton, 2% Elastane’. This is the most common blend for stretch denim.

Stretch denim will usually have 1%-2% elastane, with some blends having up to 5%. The more elastane or spandex in the fabric, the more stretchy the material will be. How much stretch you want will depend on how tight you like the fit; go for a higher elastane count if you want a comfortable tight fit.

When I first discovered stretch fabrics, I enjoyed wearing a tight fit but these days I like to wear a Levi’s 511 for a slightly more natural fit.

This outfit features R.M. Williams Tweedale Rugby in Navy/Bone, Levi’s 511 jeans in indigo wash and Dr. Martens 1460 8-eye boots in black nappa leather.

2: Stay away from ‘skinny’ jeans

Do not get me wrong, I am not saying you have to buy a straight leg if you are after a slim cut. I simply recommend that you avoid most jeans that are advertised as ‘skinny’ or ‘super skinny’ as they tend to be on the extreme side of the term. Most of these cuts tend to fit much smaller in the waist too; I once tried on a pair of super skinny Levis (519 cut) in a 36″ waist (my usual size), and found that they were several sizes too small. They ended up fitting snugly on the 31″ waist of a friend of mine. I have never found a Wrangler cut that fits either.

Instead of looking for a skinny jean, go for one that is advertised as a slim or (preferably) slim tapered. I have found the Riders by Lee R2 Slim and Narrow to have a strong taper; I can wear one of these with a tight fit in the waist, quads and calf area. If you are after a tight jean, these will do you well.

3: Go to a good alterations tailor

If you cannot find a pair of jeans that fits perfectly off the rack, fear not. Just like when buying suit trousers off the rack, you can get your jeans altered by a good alterations tailor. Note: a tailor can tighten up loose areas, but most modern clothing manufacturers’ methods ensure there will not be enough spare fabric to open up a fit that is too tight.

With that in mind; make sure you look for a pair of jeans that at least fits you well in the thigh area, and try to find something that fits well in the waist too. At the very least, look for something that fits well in the thighs and stays up without a belt. It does not matter as much whether the taper is nice or whether it is a little too loose in the lower leg area as this is the easiest part to alter. Your order of priority for fits in this case should be Thigh, Waist, Lower Leg.

My 511s (see pre-alteration fit in the image from tip #1) are an example of a buy that needed alteration; the fit in the thighs is perfect, the waist is a tiny bit loose (without a belt they move around more than desired) and I found the leg cut best suited to boots as the opening was a little too wide to look good over sneakers. I decided to get the legs tapered.

Post alteration, the taper is more to my taste and I can comfortably wear normal shoes with them now. And they still look great with boots!

List of brands and cuts I have found to work well on bigger legs:

  • Barbell Apparel (good for bodybuilder sizes)
  • Levi’s 508 (discontinued, vintage only)
  • Levi’s 511
  • Levi’s 513 (for a slightly looser fit than the 511)
  • Levi’s 541 Athletic Fit (note these have a lower rise than others)
  • Nudie Jeans (plenty of stretch for tight looks)
  • Riders by Lee R2 Slim and Narrow (for ‘skinny’ fit)
  • Westco Slim Straight (vintage only)

There you have it!

A quick recap:

  • Stretch fabric is your friend!
  • Avoid ‘skinny’ cuts, go for slim tapered
  • Go to a good alterations tailor

These are the 3 rules I follow whenever I am buying denim. Your legs will determine what fits you find best, but using these tips should help you find a better fit with less stress involved.

Thanks for reading! If you have any go-to denim cuts for big legs, drop a line in the comments below.

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