Experienced winter sportsmen may already be wondering about the use of “cold weather” and “jeans” in the same phrase.
Here's the harsh reality: denim is not the best fabric for cold, snowy, winter weather.
I wish it weren't true.
But there you have it.
Cotton denim isn't great at repelling wind or wetness, which are two major concerns in cold weather.
So why talk about jeans in winter specifically?
Because denim is the core of most men's wardrobes.
When you've got a closet full of jeans, you tend to wear them regardless of whether they're the best pants for the environment or not.
And that being the case, there are some ways that jeans-wearing guys can make their denim a more functional part of their winter wardrobe.
Here are my recommendations for wearing jeans in the winter.
For a video summary – click here to learn about cold weather denim.
1. Buy Jeans Made for Cold Weather
One simple approach is to get “winter” jeans.
The most common cold-weather improvement on basic denim jeans is the addition of a lining.
Flannel lined jeans are a classic (usually with a rustic plaid lining), and some companies use synthetic fleece materials like polar fleece or sherpa lining underneath denim as well.
That works nicely as an added layer of insulation and warmth, but it's still not particularly waterproof or windproofed.
Flannel-lined and other lined jeans do best on calm, sunny days or in cold but protected situations — working in a garage or shop that's frequently open to the cold but doesn't get a lot of snow or wind blowing through, for example.
Unfortunately, for men who like to dress their denim up a little, I have bad news: I've never seen a “stylish” pair of flannel lined jeans.
Most are straight-legged and cut fairly wide, with high rises and no tapering. They may be warm, but they're not exactly flattering.
Which makes sense – as they are built for work!
2. Buy Heavier Denim Weight
An alternative for men who want more warmth but also want to keep things stylish is to go with a heavier weight of denim instead.
Bolts of denim cloth are measured in ounces of weight per yard. Most big-brand retailers don't post a weight, but the “average” among basic blue jeans for men tends to be somewhere between 12 and 16 ounces.
The heavier the denim is, the thicker and stiffer the fabric is. That doesn't just add insulation; it also adds water resistance. Cotton still isn't a great material for wet conditions, but heavier denim will hold snow off for at least a little longer.
And in happy news for stylish dressers, a lot of small, boutique jeans manufacturers work with varying denim weights, including heavy weights.
Look around for raw denim and independent manufacturers — those are often your best bet for finding jeans that have a stylish, shaped cut and a fabric weight in the high teens or even the low twenties.
They take a little longer to break in, but heavy jeans make a real difference in the winter.
3. Wear Thermals Underneath Your Jeans
If you can't find jeans you like with a built-in liner, wear a liner underneath instead.
Thermal underwear and classic long johns are an obvious option here, and readily available everywhere from big box stores like Target to outdoors and sporting goods stores.
Don't be shy about keeping other options open, either — everything from running pants to stretch yoga pants can work as an insulated layer under your jeans, so long as they're slim enough (and the jeans are loose enough) that you don't get bunched-up fabrics making wrinkles in the denim.
Synthetic, water-wicking materials make good underlayers.
Polyethylene and polypropylene derivatives like Malden Mills's polar fleece are common, cheap, and effective.
4. Wear Jeans as an Inner Layer
Another option (and a good one for men who have to travel in snow but then look good when they get where they're going) is to throw a weatherproof outer layer on top of the jeans, and then take it off along with your coat.
Insulated bib-style overalls with waterproof exteriors aren't going to win any style points, but they're warm, effective, and easy to unstrap and shed once you get inside.
You can also use basic rain pants without insulation as a way to waterproof your jeans for the duration of a walk outside in the winter.
Most people don't think about layering multiple kinds of pants, but even a soft pair of pajama pants and a pair of plastic rain pants over them will make a sort of poor man's snow suit.
Make the calls you need to based on budget and available resources, but never be shy about layering things over your jeans in the winter.
It's easy enough to take layers of pants off once you get where you're going, and you'll look a lot better for having kept your jeans dry.