Ask AB: Your Best Jeans + Wardrobe-Building 101

What are the best jeans to flatter over-40 figures? How do you build a stylish clothing wardrobe from scratch?’s "Wardrobe Wizard," image consultant Annie Brumbaugh, answers your fashion questions.

By Annie Brumbaugh

Jeans for Grown-Ups

Do you need help with your 40+ style? Send your questions to Annie at

Q. I just turned 50, and I am starting my own business. I have suits for work, but in my personal life I am most comfortable in a good pair of jeans. How can I dress them up so I look my age and not like a middle-aged woman who doesn’t want to grow up? — Ruth

A. Jeans are a staple of the American wardrobe. Done right, they can be comfortable, practical, and very hip. First, let’s make sure you have good jeans. Then, we’ll talk about how to wear them.

When it comes to jeans, it’s all about the fit and the fabric. You don’t want "mommy jeans" — those with a high waist (maybe elasticized!), roomy bottom, and tapered leg. I don’t care how comfortable they are. You also probably don’t want a super-low-rise, skin-tight pair that looks like it’s been through a war. Instead, look for a straight or boot-cut leg in an even color and a good-quality fabric.

When choosing a color, remember that black and dark blue are the basics: the darker, the dressier. A light color is great for summer. I especially love white jeans. If you are a jeans wearer, this is a great way to do white pants.

The fit depends on three things: the overall shape, the rise (crotch length and cut), and the length. If you have a pear-shaped figure, it is tougher to find the perfect fit in jeans. A little Lycra will help. J. Jill’s Tried and True boot-cut style might work for you. It comes in petite, regular, tall, and women’s sizes. For a straighter figure, I recommend their Authentic Fit, which comes in the same range of sizes. The Gap has boot-cut and classic fit styles, too (good for the same body types, respectively), but plain washes are currently harder to come by there. If your budget is a bit larger, Cambio has great fabrics at a higher price. And don’t forget Levi’s: They know how to make jeans and offer many style choices. When shopping, ask a salesperson for help and be willing to go through some frogs to find the prince.

Once you’ve found the perfect pair, think of your great new jeans as the ultimate basic. Dress them up or down. Paired with a well-chosen jacket, your jeans will find a new sophistication. A tailored wool or cotton jacket always looks great, as does a soft leather style in a trim shape. For underpinnings, a nice fitted T-shirt is a reliable stand-by. A white button-down shirt worn open at the neck can be another great idea. This piece is fresh, clean, and classy, and this year it is everywhere. Banana Republic has a lovely polished cotton button-down in both fitted and classic styles. Brooks Brothers offers a non-iron cotton version, and there are many good alternatives at Saks Fifth Avenue as well.

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