Due to the increased popularity of casual dress around the world, the leading brands in this instance are basically the same as those who excel in more formal dress. Thus Italian brands, design, and manufacturing continue to provide the best products in the world. For casual wear it doesn’t get any better than “made in Italy.” This is not to discount the U.S., the U.K., France, and other countries, but their high-end output has far less impact than that of Italy. However, as we’ll see, some of these venerable Italian brands have also gone downmarket, and here we want to distinguish the best from the rest.
It makes sense to start with jeans, given their ubiquitous presence. The main difference between an expensive pair of jeans and a cheaper variety, is, or should be the relative softness and pliability of the fabric even when new. That is basically what you are paying for, since it would otherwise take an endless cycle of washing to make an ordinary pair of jeans somewhat softer. If you find a pair of expensive jeans that are stiff, they are either a overpriced or fake. It is not primarily the designer label, but rather the quality of the fabric that makes a great pair of jeans. We are here referring to “dress jeans” that you would wear on social occasions. For dirty work and every day tasks a traditional pair of Levis or comparable brands will do. Given what the dressy kind can cost, you don’t want to expose them to being soiled.
Dress jeans must be fitted properly to be most flattering. They can almost be thought of as a pair of slacks in this respect, and should be tailored appropriately. There is little point in paying for and wearing a pair of jeans that don’t fit well. That means they should not be hanging off your butt, but instead should fit comfortably around the waist. They should not be bunched up on the bottom, but end neatly, either with a slight break, or no break, just at the edge of the shoe. If you’re going to spring for a pair of good dress jeans you should definitely spend a little more to get them shortened properly. They should also fit snugly, but not tightly, around the butt, and the drop should be sufficient enough to avoid having your private parts showing. Too tight is as bad as too loose. If your jeans are fitted as indicated you should have a very nice profile as a result. Finally, above everything else, the jeans should be comfortable. That means you shouldn’t buy something because of brand alone or because it looks nice on a rack. They have to fit well or you will wind up looking uncomfortable, which undermines the whole point here.
As far as care goes, there shouldn’t be a lot. They can be washed like ordinary jeans, preferably in cold water, and dried on a low setting. They will come out just as good as when new, but you shouldn’t wash them excessively unless there is a reason to. Don’t dry clean them just because they are a quality item. You’ll only get the chemicals and wear without any need for them.
The very best dress jeans are made in Italy by Brioni, (and the lesser known Kiton) but they are pricey to the point where they can cost up to twenty times what an ordinary pair of jeans cost. For this you get exquisite fabric and immaculate tailoring. Less costly, but still good are jeans from the likes of Ermenegildo Zegna, Versace, or Armani. However, with the last two you have to be careful because of the multiple lines these companies now sell. Gianni Versace is unfortunately dead, so you want to look for his designs, which now are usually labeled classic. Armani is more complicated, because he produces so many different lines apart from Armani Jeans. Along with those there is a line called Armani Exchange, which is mainly for teenagers, and definitely downmarket. On the other hand if they are Armani Collezioni they’re good. The best way to approach these is to look at the fabric for softness and pliability and fine tailoring for an elegant finish. If those qualities are lacking you definitely should not buy, no matter what the label. In the end you want to identify fabric that is fine and soft to the touch for the best quality.