If I received a dollar every time a client begged for help with finding the right pair of jeans I would be a wealthy woman. Finding the right pair of jeans is a bit like being stuck at sea and dying of thirst! There are jeans everywhere but sometimes it feels near impossible to find a pair that work. If this is you, read on…
You can find denim anywhere in the world. A study suggests that soon more than half of the world will be wearing this textile and the average American woman owns 8.3 items of denim. I’m sure Aussie women are not far off that.
I’m like every other woman: a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear. So I wear jeans.
Jeans are the perfect “go to” for off duty dressing, a night out and even for work (see my recent post on business casual outfits). They’re so versatile that you can wear them with practically anything. Style them up, style them down. The question is, “How can I find the right style of jeans?”
The answer depends largely on your body shape, your signature style and of course, your budget. Jean fashion trends come and go. What’s in style right now SHOULD NOT be the primary driver when choosing the right pair of jeans. The “mom jean” is big right now. A fit that is synonymous with 90’s style, the mom jean has a more relaxed and slightly tapered leg, with a high mid-rise and rigid denim construction. Mom jeans are not right for everybody though. Are they right for you? Read on…
Mom jeans image: Shopbop.com
Pick the Right Size
You want to not just be able to fit into a pair of jeans, but also find one that does the right things for your body shape and make you look fabulous. My advice is to try jeans on before buying them, or buy from an online retailer that allows full refunds if the fit is not right. Size charts vary significantly between brands, and unless you’ve purchased the same brand and style before, you can’t be sure it will fit you properly. Sizing can even vary between different styles from the same brand! If the jeans fit right everywhere but the waist (you can fit several fingers between the waist line and your back), you should look for a different option. You cannot fix this with a belt (something I rarely say!).
Denim tends to stretch with wear, so if a pair feels a bit tight when you first try them on, they might be the right size for you. An easy test to determine if a pair is the right fit is simply squatting or sitting down on a chair – you should not feel discomfort around your knees and the jeans shouldn’t ‘squish’ your bum. Skinny fit jeans usually have a higher degree of elasticity, so you can skip this test when trying those on. Just make sure the stretchy fabric doesn’t give you unwanted lumps and bumps. You’ll also want to see whether they ride too low (no one wants a builder’s crack or a t-bar!).
You’re never too old to play. You’re only too old for low-rise jeans.
Pick the Right Rise
When choosing jeans it helps to know your body shape. If you’re unsure of your body shape or want to validate your thinking, take the free in-app Style Consult in That Style Chick mobile app to find out your real body shape.
Most women should take the lead from Ellen and opt for mid or high rise jeans. There are exceptions though. It’s all about proportions. If you’re triangle (pear), inverted triangle (carrot) or hourglass, it’s likely that your waist is narrower than your hips and shoulders. As such, you want to look for a pair of jeans that sit as close to the narrowest part of your waist as possible. This is usually a high mid-rise or a high-rise.
Beware – if you have a bit of a tummy and you pick a cut too high, and/or you pick a thinner denim, it could accentuate your bulge. The catch is to find a rise that’s high enough to highlight your waist, yet smooths out a tummy rather than accentuating it. Sometimes a thicker denim is all it takes, other times you need to drop from a high-rise to a high mid-rise (or both).
For ovals (apples), you can follow this advice too. Opt for a high mid-rise that sits comfortably across your belly button area, without squeezing your stomach too much (no one wants a muffin top!)
If you have a rectangle (banana) shape, you could possibly benefit from a lower rise. Having jeans that sit closer to your hips than your waist can visually widen your hips and give you some feminine curves. You could also go for a mid-rise.
Regardless of your body shape, if your lower half is significantly longer than your upper half (hello those of your with super-model long legs), you might benefit from a low-rise. The lower rise will help balance out your upper and lower proportions. If you have a tummy however, it’s best to avoid a low-rise as you run the risk of a significant muffin top!
Pick the Right Style
Skinny, straight, slim, bootleg, wide, mom, boyfriend, carrot, flared… how do you know which style is right for you? What looks fab on your favourite Insta influencers might not be best for you. Skinny was the go-to for a long time and for the last year or two more relaxed styles have become a fashion staple. So here’s the deal – when it comes to jeans, choose fit over fashion trends.
As a rule, if you’re wider through the shoulders than you are through the hips you’re best to add more volume to the bottom half. This means that if you’re an inverted triangle (carrot), more relaxed styles like mom, boyfriend, wide leg and flares are great for you. If you wear skinny jeans, you may run the risk of looking a bit top-heavy.
If you’re wider through the hips than the shoulders (pear/triangle), you want a straight style rather than clinging or tapering fits to accentuate your hips. As such, you’re best to avoid skinny, carrot fit or tapered jeans as they could make your hips look wider. The best style for you is a straight leg.
Ovals/apples can go for skinny or slim straight jeans which look great with a longer-line top or jacket. Rectangles (bananas) and hourglass body types have a bit more flexibility. Slim straight is the ideal option for you, although any of the above styles can work. It really comes down to personal preference and the cut of the individual brand/style.
If your signature style is classic, elegant or feminine, you might gravitate to a skinny, slim or straight style. If you’re boho you might prefer flares, wide, boyfriend or mom style; something with a bit more movement. If you’re alluring you might prefer skinny.
Pick the Right Length
The ideal length depends on the proportions of your upper and lower body. If you’re longer through the legs (hips to heels) than you are through your torso (top of head to hips), then you can pull off a crop style. If you’re longer through your upper body, you’re better to opt for a longer leg, which finishes right on the foot. This will help balance you. The footwear you plan on wearing with your jeans can also play a role when choosing the right length. More about this in a moment.
What About Pockets?
Unless you’re a rectangle, avoid styles with pockets that sit too low – it won’t do good things for your bum. Ideally the bottom edge of the pocket should be exactly where the glute muscle ends.
Extra large or tab pockets, or a lower yoke makes things look larger, so if that’s the effect you’re looking for go for this style. If it’s not, go for clean and simple pockets on the back and a higher yoke (yoke is the V-shape stitching on the back of jeans above the pockets).
If you’re a triangle/pear you are best to avoid tab pockets on the front. Inverted triangles/carrots, you can have more detail on your front pockets.
Dark, Light, DistresseD?
The wash you choose depends on a few things. Firstly, darker denims such as black or dark indigo are more forgiving to larger thighs and butts (hello triangles). Lighter washes can be great for those with flat bottoms and slimmer thighs (hello inverted triangles).
Secondly, darker shades are dressier than lighter or distressed washes. Black or indigo are more work-appropriate than distressed or faded denim, which I would reserve for off-duty dressing.
If you’re a triangle/pear, you also need to take into account the placement of the distressing. You want to avoid the ‘whisker effect’ across the front of the hips as this can make your hips appear wider.
The wash you prefer will also be influenced by your signature style. If your style is classic, feminine or elegant you may prefer darker washes and less distressing or rips. If you’re boho, you might like your jeans looking a bit more earthy and roughed up. Alluring types might like to show some skin through rips.
What Shoes to Wear with Jeans?
As a professional personal stylist I get this question a lot. The answer to this question depends on your vertical proportions – are your legs longer or shorter than your torso? If your legs are longer, you can wear round or square toe shoes more easily. If your legs are shorter, you’re best to go for a point toe or a platform shoe/sneaker/wedge, all of which can give you more length.
Of course jeans can be dressed up or down and the shoes you wear will depend on the occasion. Here are some ideas:
- Cropped jeans are best worn with point toe heels/flats or a platform sneaker/wedge (unless you’re super tall – then you’ve got more flexibility). They can also work well with an ankle boot.
- Tapered or straight leg jeans are very versatile. They can be worn with stiletto heels or rounded-toe shoes with a chunky heel. They can also be worn with flats or sneakers.
- Boyfriend jeans look great with pointed-toe pumps, strappy sandals or a point-toe brogue.
- Skinny or slim jeans are best for tucking into long boots and also work with ankle boots.
- Bootcut jeans work well with yes, boots (worn underneath), and footwear with thick, heavy soles (eg a platform sneaker).
Jeans for Every Budget
For timeless jeans that can be worn year after year and won’t break the bank, my top pick is Levi’s. You can pick up a pair of Levi’s for $150 or less. If you prefer not to spend that much, Just Jeans have some great options for under $100. Kmart has many different styles starting at less than $10. Asos caters for every budget and offers full refunds on returns.
Agolde and Nobody are great mid-range options, available from The Iconic (who also offers full refunds on returns). Bardot and Country Road also offer a lot of variety and come in under the $150 mark.
If you’re prepared to invest a bit more AG is my top pick and Re/Done, M.I.H, Rag & Bone, Frame and J Brand are also great options. David Jones has a large selection of designer jeans, including many of these brands. Shopbop also stocks a good range of premium brands including the above, ships super-quickly from the US (a couple of days) and offers a full refund for returns.
My Top Pick
In my experience working as a stylist, there is one pair of jeans that works for the greatest number of people – the Levi’s 314 Shaping Straight jean. If you’re stumped as to where to find jeans that suit you, start by trying this pair. It comes in 5 different washes and works for most body shapes. Its cousins the 311 Shaping Skinny and 312 Shaping Slim are also pretty fab. You can thank me later 😉
Miller, D. and Woodward, S. (2007), Manifesto for a study of denim*. Social Anthropology, 15: 335-351. doi:10.1111/j.0964-0282.2007.00024.x