With so many denim options, it's easy to understand why fashionable men are struggling to find the right fit for their jeans.

Too tight and our gent may be mistaken for a not-to-be-taken-seriously artist. Too baggy and he'll look like a '90s rap star, which, near the dawn of 2010, is sooo passé.

Sartorial perfection, fashion experts say, is somewhere in the middle: a mid-rise jean that is relaxed through the thigh and narrower at the ankle. The wash must be on the darker side. In other words, those sky-blue pants that looked fantastic 10 years ago with your smooth-as-butter Timberland boots are a definite no-no.

And when it comes to the tush, pockets should sit squarely on the backside. There should be a little room, but absolutely no sag in the booty. (Ladies, take note as you finish your Christmas shopping.)

"We want to encourage men to do a little more in the way of updating - projecting a cleaner image that will shift them to a silhouette that is more contemporary," said Tom Julian, trend-spotter and author of The Nordstrom Guide to Men's Style (Chronicle Books, 2008). "That way a man, no matter what his age, will be seen as in the know, on the cutting edge. He will look as if fashion matters."

A tailored silhouette has been around for quite some time. Those of us in the fashion know give credit to Thom Browne - the Pennsylvania-born designer - who stylishly shrank suits.

But these days, said Jon Segal, owner of Bryn Mawr's Pants, the slimmer silhouette has crossed over into casual wear. That means pleated khakis are totally out. And as in women's wear, corduroys are appropriate for more than just football games and duck hunting.

Yet getting men to slim down their casual look is no easy task. That's largely because of the once not-so-masculine connotations of men in tight pants or tights.

So guys - especially those who fancy themselves as macho - stick with baggy, even if they look like they are stuck in 1992.

Men also are more concerned than women with how clothes feel, rather than how they look.

All I care about is whether I can get my Sevens, Joes, or CJs by Cookie Johnson over my hips. If I have trouble breathing, so be it. I've achieved the look I'm going for.

Guys, on the other hand, can get their jeans zipped and buttoned and have enough room for the family jewels, but if the clothing feels different, they will not buy into the new trend, let alone buy the pants.

"My pants have to offer a full range of motion, including for me to be able to kick over my head," said Zachary M.C. Harris, a 39-year-old wine entrepreneur who wears a size 50 jacket. Harris laments that Old Navy changed the cut of its extra-loose jeans.

"If a contemporary silhouette doesn't fit my shape, then I'm not wearing it."

So what's a guy to do if he wants to be in style, but is finicky about fit and doesn't want to feel exposed?

We start him off slow, Segal said.

"He needs to be in something that feels as close to his Levi's as possible with a darker wash that is definitely more fitted though the calves."

Basically, Segal said, there are three types of fit when it comes to men's contemporary jeans.

Relaxed fit: Still tailored, but designed for a more athletic body, these jeans are wider in the leg and thigh and through the calf. Best brands for men: AG Adriano Goldschmied, Lucky Brand, Agave, and Seven relaxed.

Straight leg: Fits closer to the leg and tapers even more from the knee to the ankle. These jeans aren't tight, Segal said, but they are a step up if you want to achieve a more contoured, tailored fit. Best brands for men: AG Adriano Goldschmied, Diesel, and Lucky.

Skinny fit: This is tighter in the thigh and gets gradually smaller toward the ankle. Real hipsters keep them long and bunch them. These look best when dressed up with a blazer. Best brands for men: Simon Miller and AG.

The most important thing to remember, Segal said: "If you have to lie down to put them on, these are not what you are looking for."

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-8654-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com.