How much should you pay for a pair of jeans?

James Dean changed denim forever in 1955 when he donned faded Lee jeans in Rebel Without a Cause. More than 50 years later, jeans can be found in almost every man's wardrobe.

Some prefer to wear top-end designer jeans such as Pierre Balmain or Gucci, others are quite content to follow in Dean's footsteps and stick to more affordable brands. However, where jeans were once only ever five-pocket strides with a straight silhouette, today's permutations, as well as prices, are overwhelming.

Top of the range

Those with champagne taste and relatively deep pockets should head to Harrolds in Sydney and Melbourne for a look at the top of the range. Here, you will find jeans by Alexander McQueen priced at $790, and for an extra $85 you can buy ones with a leather waistband. For the more price-conscious, Harrolds carries Acne Studios jeans for a relative bargain price of $380.

Reinventing jeans is an unenviable task given how much competition there is in the market. Occasionally there are breakthroughs. The current Balenciaga jeans, in raw denim and priced at $625, are void of any visible hardware, such as rivets, with the distinctive tan stitching creating a contemporary edge.

Labour of love

At Harrolds you may spot 'Fear of God' jeans, worn by the likes of Justin Bieber and Kanye West. The American label virtually sells out as soon as it hits the racks. Ripped at the knees with zips at the ankle, these jeans fetch $1275.

The price doesn't necessarily cover the denim that's used ... it's about the labour involved.

Rob Ferris

Pierre Balmain jeans start at $1600 and go up to the early $2000s, are for those with extremely deep pockets. "The biker-style Balmain jeans are priced in accordance with the amount of work it takes to produce them.

Some of these jeans combine denim and leather together in the most exacting manner that they command up to $3000 a pair," says Rob Ferris, buyer for Harrolds. "The price doesn't necessarily cover the denim that's used, whether it's sourced from Italy or Japan. It's really about the labour involved," he adds.

The Jacob Cohen jeans, made in Italy, and pony skin tabs, are produced to exacting standards (priced at $560 including GST). "We refer to them as 'tailored' jeans. Look at the way they're finished with the extra fabric placed on the inside of the fly," says Ferris.

Off the rack

Gucci also sells a limited selection of jeans at the upper price point. There's 'Lot number 25', a straight-leg jean with a soft faded touch priced at $650 and 'Lot number 53', a raw-finished jean with a wider leg and priced at $620. And if you want people to know they're Gucci, just make sure the cuff is folded to reveal the distinctive dark green and red web in each side seam.


Swedish brand Nudie Jeans Co offers a more affordable price point for jeans, starting at $199 and going up to $499 for the selvage jeans, using Japanese looms that are as 'rare as hen's teeth'. With 10 different styles offered by Nudie, the deal also comes with a free repair service over the jeans' lifetime.

"We're not into fast fashion. Our goal is to produce a sustainable product that has a long shelf life," says Alyssa Crawford from Nudie. Part of the cost for a pair of Nudie jeans can also be attributed to the 15-year-old company's modus operandi of paying fair trade to all staff that work on their jeans. "We often compare the experience of wearing our jeans to going to the market to buy fresh healthy fruit and vegetables. It's about how you feel at the end of each day," adds Crawford, who prefers Nudie jeans to end up in a recycle store rather than adding to landfill.

Mass market

Levis and Lee (priced at just over the $100 mark) provide a different price point for guys who wear virtually nothing else but jeans. There are also the Calvin Klein jeans at around $130, worn for their comfort as much as for their history (think of the actress Brooke Shields' commercial from the 1980s).

While the straight-leg five-pocket design forms an important part of the jeans' 'repertoire' at this price point, manufacturers sometimes experiment, as is the case with Wrangler 'Smith' jeans, priced at $160. Tight at the ankles, with rips across the knees, they somehow seem at odds with their usual traditional styling. The low waistline certainly doesn't help!

If you're keen to support the Australian flag, you might find something that tempts you at Industrie. While the 'Drapers' style jeans, with cuff-style edges might suggest comfort, I prefer jeans to be jeans, not trackies. However, the new season's 'Konrad', a slim fit black jean with panels and rips around the knees, and priced at $130, beckon to be tried on.

Choices, choices

Those spending a few hundred dollars on a pair of jeans might not look at cheaper options. But those who feel more comfortable south of this figure should visit the Japanese department stores Muji or Uniqlo. Sixty dollars will buy you a pair of slim-fitting blue jeans, either faded or dark. Grey jeans are also an option.

And at Uniqlo, the same price will land you a similar pair of standard five-pocket jeans. If you spend over $30 for a pair of jeans, Uniqlo will even offer free alterations that can be picked up the same day.

Those who buy $60 jeans might say there's no difference to a pair of jeans that retails in excess of $2000. Each has two legs and many have five pockets. But having been a collector of jeans since my adolescence, I would argue that you can find great jeans somewhere in the middle ground.

And if you are fortunate to wear a pair of Pierre Balmain jeans, you're stride will become just that little bit faster.

Scroll through the gallery at the top of the page to see 20 denim brands you need to know.