About the Author: Jason P. is a Dappered devotee, having curated the majority of his wardrobe through the site. He is an enthusiast of wool sweaters, chino pants, and affordable automatic watches. In his free time, you can find him at his boxing gym or antiquing with his wife.
“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.
As the air begins to cool and an auburn glow fills the sky, sartorial life begins anew for many of us. Summer is a time when it can become a burden to look your best. Dressing well becomes difficult, with days saturated with overwhelming heat and a blanket of humidity stifling our style.
But, as the season begins to turn, our closets begin to bloom. Fall is a time of endless options and deeply rich color palettes. One of the foundational elements for many a guy’s wardrobe is a pair of proper fitting dark wash denim jeans. For so many of us in the more “robust” category of physiques, this has often been difficult. Especially recently. Nothing but slim and (gasp) skinny as far as the eye can see. Athletically inclined men have had to wander the desert of ill-fitting pants.
No longer. Athletic fit denim has come on strong in the past few years, and there are now plenty of options. Below, I took 7 affordable options (with one exception) for a spin to test how they worked for my tree trunks and put them into three tiers. As a necessary disclaimer, your mileage may vary. These groupings are based on how the pants fit on MY body. Now, two very important pieces of information:
- I am 5’7”, 180 pounds, and I usually wear a 32×30 in athletic fit, but take note of where I deviated in the individual pairs below.
- The boots are the Allen Edmonds Higgins Mill. Because I know some will ask.
TIER 1: Just Right. Goldilocks approved.
Just as Goldilocks struggled to find the right temperature porridge (anybody still chowing down on porridge anymore?), it took me some time to find the right pair of jeans for my physique. These two offerings from Banana Republic and Bonobos are spot-on.
Bonobos Premium Stretch Athletic Fit Jean – $125.80 w/ SOLSTICE15 ($148)
- Size Shown: 32×28 (I’m 5’7″, and a 28 inseam option is nice, but, there’s not much room to cuff, if that’s your thing.)
- Fabric Makeup: 94% cotton, 5% Polyester, 1% Elastane
Let me get this out of the way now: These are the best. As with the rest of their pants portfolio, the fit is sublime and forms perfectly to more muscular legs without being tight. These had, by far, the best taper out of the group. Simply put, there are no compromises in this pair. The quality is superb from the fabric to stitching to metal quality. The stretch is just right- natural movement, without feeling like spandex. Fabric blend is 94% cotton, 5% Polyester, 1% Elastane. That last bit is the stretchy portion, and it works beautifully. If all things were equal, this would be the pair that dominates my closet. That said, it is not. Because they cost $148.
Banana Republic Athletic Tapered Rapid Movement Jean – $70.80 when 40% off ($118)
- Size Shown: 32×30 (I wear these cuffed or uncuffed.)
- Fabric Makeup: 92% cotton, 6% elasterell, and 2% spandex
Athletic cut, great quality and craftsmanship, and a copious amount of stretch. These, just like the Bonobos, stretch to move with you as you go about your day. A 92% cotton, 6% elasterell (presumably an elastane of sorts), and 2% spandex blend provide the flexibility. These are a touch stretchier than the Bonobos.
If the Bonobos is a 10/10, these are a 9.8/10, a barely discernible difference. So why do I choose these – I have quite a few pairs – over the Bonobos? With the 40% off BR runs every so often, these come down to about $71, and were found even lower during the recent 50% off friends & family sale. If you want to dabble in some colors other than deep blue, real bargains can be had. I purchased a gray pair for $30(!!) at a BR store. The “Resin Rinse” shown above is my favorite; I have a few pairs in this color in my closet. These are also the pair shown at the very top of the post.
TIER 2: Good options, but little quirks make each pair unique to the buyer.
While the Tier 1 options will work for just about everyone and have minimal to no faults, Tier 2 options are in a gray area. These are good pants, and have unique value propositions, but the fits can give you fits depending on your body type, and build quality and material was below the tier 1 options.
Amazon GoodThreads Comfort Stretch Athletic Fit Jean – $40
- Size Shown: 32×30 (they offer these in a 29 length, which is rare and terrific, but were out of stock when these were ordered for testing, which isn’t very terrific.)
- Fabric Makeup: 98% Cotton and 2% Elastane
From this second tier, my choice is the Goodthreads Comfort Stretch Athletic Fit Jean. The best way to describe this option from Uncle Jeff and Amazon is that these jeans are what Levi’s wants to be. 98% Cotton and 2% Elastane blend is the source of the “comfort stretch,” but these had noticeably less flexibility than the pairs in tier one. The denim was a bit stiff, and the overall fit was a bit large in the, uh, “frontal area,” but the legs fit nicely. No squeeze despite the stiffer fabric. Buttons were a unique black color, but I wonder if they’ll lose color in time. These are minor quibbles, and at $40, these win “best value for the money.”
Everlane Athletic Fit Jean – $68
- Size Shown: 32×30 (nothing shorter than a 30 available with these.)
- Fabric Makeup: 98% Cotton and 2% Elastane
In the middle of the middle tier, the absolutely 100% average Everlane Athletic Fit Jean. I really liked the unique look these had. As you can see above, they’re not as saturated/dark/super inky as the other pairs so far, and the second lightest of the group overall, but the stitching and pattern of the denim gives these a nice pop the others don’t have. This is, of course, subjective. Some may hate it; some may love it. I was, again, in the middle. I would not want these as my only athletic fit jean. But, if you’re like me and have a closet full of trusty denim (like the BR Rapid Movement Athletic), this would be a nice pair to add to the mix for variety. My biggest complaint is the taper. While it did have taper, it wasn’t much, and the portion just below the kneecaps felt large as a result. If you want something halfway between a standard fit and a tapered fit, these might be it. A fairly standard 98% cotton, 2% elastane blend for this pair.
Liverpool Palo Alto Dark Slim Straight Jean – $98
- Size Shown: 32×30 (only available in two inseams… 30 and 32.)
- Fabric Makeup: 78% cotton, 21% CoolMax Polyester, and 1% Lycra
Rounding out the middle tier is the Liverpool jean, and these come with a lot of caveats. I was tempted to put these in the bottom tier, but they grew on me. I went to ‘Ole Nordy to look for some athletic fit jeans around the $100 mark for this review, and landed on these. These “Slim Straight” jeans were included in my search when I had “athletic fit” as a filter. Slim Straight itself is a bit odd, but their inclusion in the athletic fit category was even more perplexing. These were, by far, the slimmest pair in the review. However, they had an immense amount of stretch. These had the most stretch in the test, in fact. The fabric blend is 78% cotton, 21% of something called CoolMax Polyester, and 1% Lycra. So, while they were the slimmest, they never felt overly constricting because of how well they moved. The fabric was VERY soft to the touch, and the construction was on par with the rest in this second tier. But, because they were both the most expensive in this group and slimmest fitting overall, they fell to last in this grouping and 5th out of 7 overall.
TIER 3: What Happened To These Guys?
This group makes me sad. Two respective stalwarts in their spaces coming up quite short against the competition.
J.Crew 1040 Athletic Fit – $98
- Size Shown: 32×30
- Fabric Makeup: Cotton/Elastane
J.Crew was my introduction to affordable, classic American menswear as I came of age. As such, it has held a special place in my heart and wardrobe. And I still, yes STILL (even with the recent struggles) shop there for certain favorites. These athletic fit jeans, though? Abysmal. They fit like burlap sacks. It isn’t actually made of burlap, though. The fabric is a cotton/elastane blend. Unfortunately, it did not matter one bit. I truly did not even get a gauge for the stretchiness because, despite being in my normal size, they were about 2 inches too long and fit extremely large in width. On top of that, there is zero taper to be seen or felt, and the fit was the polar opposite of the Liverpool jeans. Athletic cut? No way. These are a straight cut, large fitting, underwhelming jean.
Material quality was par for the course, and the construction was good from a stitch and durability perspective, but the fit completely ruined these for me.
Levi’s 541 Athletic Fit Jean – $39.97
- Size Shown: 32×29
- Fabric Makeup: 99% cotton, 1% elastane
Until I found the BR rapid movement jeans, Levi’s 542 fit were my go-to denim. They never fit quite right, but the price – with codes- was always nice. That price can still be had, but when compared to the competition (particularly the Goodthreads above), I cannot recommend the Levi’s Athletic Fit Jeans. The fit was much better than the J.Crew for this tier, but the denim was scratchy, rough, and had no discernible stretch to them. Maybe I received a defective pair? For me, these were uncomfortable. Hugely disappointing experience for a brand that use to be my ‘ole reliable denim. But, times have changed, and these just don’t fit or feel quite the same.
Both of these are awarded zero points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
The Big Picture:
Both the Bonobos and BR are exceptional, but the best in show nod goes to BR because of how darn close it comes to matching the Bonobos in every facet, while smoking it in price. Amazon’s Goodthreads option was a positive surprise, and at $40 with fast shipping (you have to be a Prime Member to order) they’ll be tempting for plenty.
All in all, the BR Tapered Athletic Fit Rapid Movement Jean wins this “Author’s Choice Award.” And at seventeen syllables (if you include the brand name) they also win the “most needlessly long name” award.