You might not think jeans can be great summer wear, but if you’re a guy who loves wearing boots or if you go to a lot of outings for which shorts aren’t appropriate, you’ll be glad to know that jeans can be worn in hot weather — if you buy the right weight.
Denim thickness is measured in ounces per square yard, and your average pair of Levi’s has a thickness of about 13 or 14 ounces. A lot of Japanese denim is remarkably thick, feeling more like wearing a thick carpet or suit of armor than a pair of casual pants. But if you know where to look, you can find jeans that are remarkably thin: 10 ounces is considered very light, but we even found a pair for 9 ounces on the list below.
Most of the brands we selected are selvedge denim. That means it’s woven using old fashioned weaving techniques, typically on antique looms, and it tends to be made with a lower tension weave, meaning it’s a little more breathable.
That said, we included a couple of non-traditional options made with modern techniques, so this list will satisfy just about anyone who wants to stay comfy in warmer months.
Here we go, in order of lightest to “heaviest.”
1. Railcar Fine Goods’ Unsanforized 9oz American
- Made to order; expect a 3 week wait
- Darkens from light grey to indigo after washing
This all American specialty store is based in El Monte, California, and while their operation is small they’re renowned across the land for their fine, handcrafted heritage clothing. (Fun fact: The store is also a barbershop, so they also produce their own hair products.)
Railcar has plenty of heavy duty apparel like chore coats and duck canvas, but for their ultimate summer jean they worked on a fabric with the fabled American denim manufacturer Cone Mills, winding up with the lightest 100 percent cotton denim we’ve seen. (Railcar also sells a 7oz pant, but it’s made with stretch and wouldn’t be considered denim.)
Note that these 9oz beauties shrink after washing, so make sure you follow the sizing instructions on their site, and the fabric is so rare and limited edition that all the jeans are made to order, so expect a few weeks’ wait.
2. Naked & Famous’s Summer Sky Selvedge Denim
- Breezy, light blue fabric
- Made in Canada from Japanese fabric
If you’re interested in upgrading your denim to selvedge, you have to stop at Naked & Famous. I’m a regular at their Soho store in New York City and I went straight for their Summer Sky Selvedge when the weather started warming up.
There’s a lot to like about Naked & Famous. For starters, they’re considerably cheaper than a lot of selvedge jeans because it’s such a large company — they’ve got an economy of scale — and because while the denim is made in Japan, the jeans are made in Canada.
Another reason Naked & Famous stands out from the crowd is the wide variety of fits. If you’re like me and you’ve got thick thighs and a big butt you’ll want the Easy Guy, but these jeans come in several other fits (Weird Guy is the most popular.)
The Summer Sky Selvedge has a really fun retro vibe that’s inspired by 1960s indigo shade, plus the lighter color — achieved by reducing the number of times the warp yarn is dipped in the indigo vat — makes it better for reflecting heat in the summer.
Note that Naked & Famous has an even lighter denim than this right now called Whisper Stretch which is 8 ounces, but it’s not selvedge and it’s not 100 percent cotton, so some don’t consider them jean-worthy. You might, though, as the 2 percent elastane helps it stretch considerably.
3. Dawson Denim’s Deck Pants
- Richly textured, neppy fabric
- Made in England from Japanese fabric
- £270 (~$380)
Heading over to Britain, we’re taking a look at Brighton’s Dawson Denim. Clocking in at 10 ounces, these jeans are both lightweight and vvery loose fitting for some extra ventilation.
The jeans takes after vintage US navy pants that were worn during the 1930s and 1940s, and the fabric is very richly textured with what denimheads called “nep,” bits of cotton poking through the surface of the fabric. (It’s technically an imperfection, but imperfections are a large part of why people covet Japanese jeans.)
Besides that neppiness, they’re also very interesting in that they used one piece panel construction, so there’s no outseam running down the outside of your legs. They’re handmade in Brighton and woven on hundred-year-old Japanese Imamura looms, but they’re the priciest on this list at 270 pounds, or 380 US dollars.
4. Naked & Famous’ Brown Fox Selvedge
- Made with undyed brown cotton
- Milled in Japan, made in Canada
Another unusually lightweight selvedge from Naked & Famous, the Brown Fox is so named because it’s made with undyed, natural brown cotton called Fox Fiber. A distinctly “earthy” looking jean, the interior weft is made with both brown and green Fox Fiber, and the jean will become darker over time.
All of this makes for a denim that’s surprisingly rough and gritty in texture for something that’s so lightweight, a jean that appears tough even though it’s very thin. It’s very popular, just make sure you’re OK with a jean that becomes darker and a little browner over time.
5. Big John x Okayama Denim “Bamboo” Jeans
- Made with 86% cotton and 14% recycled bamboo
We’re getting a little weird with this collaboration with popular denim store Okayama Denim and Big John, a celebrated brand that was founded all the way back in the 1940s. This particular pair aims for an eco friendly bent, and as such it has thematically consistent green pocket bags and green stitching on the inside of the leg opening.
But the real hook here is that the denim is 86% cotton and 14% recycled bamboo. As a fiber, bamboo yarn is incredible: it’s antimicrobial (so it’ll help keep odor at bay), it’s sweat absorbent, and it’s powerfully insulating. In other words it’ll keep you dry when it’s wet, warm when it’s cool, and cool when it’s warm.
These jeans may actually be the stand-out pair for all-around perfect summer selvedge because on the bamboo yarn and the fact that it’s so lightweight, plus bamboo is a really interesting renewable resource with a lot of untapped potential. They’re a bit itchy when you first get them, but after some wear they smooth out and become really comfortable.
6. Bluffworks’ Departure Jeans
- Stretchy; made with 68% Cotton, 22% “Coolmax” Polyester, 9% Rayon, 1% Spandex
The only jean on this list that’s made from non-selvedge denim and it isn’t 100 percent cotton, Bluffworks is aiming to revolutionize denim with their combination of cotton, rayon, spandex, and “Coolmax” polyester. Designed for the traveling man, it’s got multiple hidden pockets to stash your passport and cash, and the addition of spandex and rayon makes for stretchy jeans that are far more comfortable on a plane or bus trip than rigid selvedge.
That helps with comfort, but the Coolmax polyester is what really makes these a great summer jean. It’s a brand of polyester fibers that wicks moisture away from your skin and onto the surface of the fabric where it evaporates quickly. This keeps you cooler in warm weather, or if you’ve had a particularly sweaty outing.
Add all that to the light, 11-oz weight and you’ve got a killer jean.
7. Tanuki’s THT Ten (“天”) Jeans
- Combines Texas, Pima, and Peruvian cotton.
At 12.5 ounces, they’re the “heaviest” jeans on this list, but in addition to still being significantly lighter than your average jean, it’s important to emphasize that these jeans are woven with very low tension, making them quite breathable.
Tanuki’s an interesting brand (my review) because they have a more streetwear focused take on the traditional, “heritage” material of selvedge denim. Personally, I’m a big fan because they have a ton of high rise, relax tapered fits, a cut that’s popular in streetwear and for guys with meaty thighs.
Made by combining Texas and Pima cotton for the warp and Peruvian cotton for the weft, this is probably the best jean for denimheads that love the kind of slubby texture that Japanese denim is known for — it’s rare to see this kind of slubbiness on such lightweight fabric.
By now, we hope we convinced you that jeans can indeed be summer fare. Whether you’re looking for something stretchy and functional or the most cutting edge fabric from vintage looms, we think we’ve put together a solid list for any style.
Featured image via Dawson’s Denim