Buying Premium Denim: Why are jeans so expensive?

by Jaime on February 7, 2012

You’ve heard me spout on about quality versus quantity when it comes to denim and maybe you still don’t really get it. Why should you go drop $150 for a pair of jeans that doesn’t seem any different from that $20 pair you got at Forever 21?

From the touchy-feely reasons to the superficial (don’t we all want to look good in jeans, after all?), here are six things you might not think about when you put your jeans on.

Cheap vs. Expensive Jeans – Six BIG Differences to Consider

1. Do you know who made your jeans? Ethical (and, most often stateside) design, creation and raw products all require more money for a multitude of reasons (marked up costs, for example), but the primary one? Labor costs. You pay more for those boutique jeans that are made in the US versus those made in China/Vietnam/etc. because it costs more to legally (and ethically) maintain a knowledgeable, well-staffed team. Textile sources like Cone Denim make better fabric so that brands like Agave Denim, Rag & Bone, Raleigh Denim and many more have that ideal base to make your butt look good.

2. Cheap jeans just don’t fit like premium denim does. Keep in mind, I’m using the term “cheap” loosely – it doesn’t just mean price point. I have pairs of under $100 jeans that have lasted longer and looked better on me than ones almost twice the price. The key is knowing what you’re paying for. Great denim costs more, but so do embellished pockets, heavier detailing and, of course, the hidden cost: marketing. Companies need to make money, so if it costs them more to cover the back pockets with rhinestones, they’re cutting the cost somewhere else. Being an educated consumer means knowing what you’re paying for just as much as what you aren’t.

3. Good jeans have a longer lifespan. If you want to boil it down to dollars, then this is how to do it. Let’s say that your Forever 21 jeans last you 4 months at $20. That’s $60 per year. Conversely, my heavily-worn 7 For All Mankind skinny jeans have been around for three years, and cost around $160. Even if they died tomorrow (and they still have a lot of life left in them), that’s still a savings of $20 compared to those cheap jeans. Whether you think of it as an investment for a long-term return, or just as an extra $20 to spend on something else you want, you’re $20 richer either way. And your butt looks better.

4. You’ll look slimmer. Seriously. One of the best parts of wearing nice jeans is how they make you look. Mass-produced denim goes through the same process no matter the size – you get the same whiskering on a size 25 that you do on a 32. Quality denim fading and whiskering is done by hand in denim-specific laundries to give your jeans that genuine, worn-in look without years of wear on your part. And for those of you who still think that you look slimmest in unwashed dark denim , think again: a dark wash with fading on the front thigh makes your legs appear longer and thinner.

5. You get better denim. Period. From fabric to finishing, there is no comparison. Just like a great chef, great denim designers know that you can only make a great pair of jeans with the right ingredients. Cuts made to flatter curves can only come from research, time and working with a good fit model… and you’ll find that when more love goes into the process, you end up with more love on your body.

6. You are buying talent, experience and originality… instead of knock-offs. We hear about this all the time when we’re talking about fashion, but guess what? There’s no difference when it comes to denim. Those original ideas that people pay big bucks for are being ripped off – both in the form of cheap and counterfeit jeans – by the same exact stores. If you won’t carry a fake Prada bag, and you won’t use cheap, throwaway makeup, how can you justify buying a pair of fake True Religion jeans (or even going to H&M for disposable denim)? A lot of work, time, passion and money goes into premium denim. Poorly made jeans just don’t add value to your life, no matter how you justify them.

For those of you who don’t pay big bucks for better blues, I’d love to hear why. And those who do – leave a comment about how you changed your ways!


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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Alyssa February 7, 2012 at 11:59 am

So last night I had a revelation that I wasn’t going to buy shitty jeans anymore… then you wrote this post. I think this is the universe teling me to never buy cheap-o jeans again!


Paula @lkg4sweetspot February 7, 2012 at 12:58 pm

yes x 6!!!!


Lisa February 8, 2012 at 2:13 am

You know how I changed my ways, missy… YOU changed ‘em!

(I’m still cheap, though. Sample sale and thrift store buys only. SELECTIVE better blues!)


Nicole S. February 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

I love denim! I am obsessed. I stopped buying cheap denim a long time ago, the differences are just as you described. The material, the fit, the feel, the look, the lack of random threads hanging out, investing in denim is well worth it. I like the challenge of finding designer denim for an affordable price. I get a lot on eBay for 20-60 a pair new and used. I actually don’t mind used jeans. I know I don’t have to worry about shrinkage.


Jaime February 13, 2012 at 3:13 pm


I love hearing your thoughts on denim! I do the same thing – in fact, I’m currently rocking a pair of $45 Current/Elliott jeans!

Hope you’ve subscribed – I enjoy your comments!


sandra February 14, 2012 at 11:06 am

I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve been buying premium for about 9 years now. Started out with Seven, and have moved on to my current faves Current/Elliot, AG, J Brand, and Paige. I am a petite gal with thin legs and non-premium jeans just don’t fit me properly. I was lucky enough to find my first pair of C/E at Nordstom Rack for $80 and was amazed by the soft, high quality of the denim. I am a bargain hunter, so I do scour various sources in order to find the best prices. Plus, I feel SO great in knowing that my jeans were made in the USA.


winnie July 4, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Yeah I gotta agree about sticking with quality. From personal experience quality was found in brands like 7FAM J Brand & several other names. The majority of the jeans in my collection are made in the US that regularly retail from about $150 to $250 but in most cases were had on sale with some sort of discount.


Elly November 19, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Even a cheap pair of jeans lasts longer than 4 months, You exaggerate quite a bit.


Jaime November 20, 2012 at 5:16 am


Thanks for your comment! The point is that if you only wore one pair of jeans for that period of time, you’ll only get four months of wear. If you have multiple pairs though? Then you’re right. But the overall durability of cheap jeans isn’t anywhere near the same as that of quality premium denim.


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