Shopping for jeans is painful. There are so many brands, so many styles, so many different ways to end up on my arse in the dressing room while struggling to wrench off a pair that makes me look like a turnip. Unlike the joy I take in shopping for a dress or new shoes, shopping for jeans—like shopping for bathing suits—is a chore. I shop alone (in the dark preferably), sustaining myself with the delusion that today might be the day I find the Holy Grail––that perfect pair of jeans. I also rely on an unnatural supply of lubricant eye drops, Lionel Richie, lip-gloss, and protein bars.
Deluded but nourished, I cart at least fourteen pairs of wishful thinking into the dressing room, banish the dressing-room attendants, and commence my athletic jean courtship dance complete with deep knee bends, leg-loosening lunges, and tip-toe poses. I give every pair a good workout in front of the mirror, and then crawl out of the dressing room sweaty and dragging a pair of just ok jeans to add to my pile of just ok jeans at home.
Rather than fight the jean—and end up feeling as low as a pair of teenage jeans—I recently decided to get to know the jean. Here’s what I know:
Know Your Flow-chart
In the same way that you should never shop for food when hungry, you should never shop for jeans when menstrual, pre-menstrual, or post-menstrual. Think minimum water-weight, maximum patience. That leaves you with a one-week window every month to make rational jean decisions.
Accept That You Are Not Miley Cyrus
Take your achey breaky heart out of the juniors department. The skinny neon pink low waist jeans made for fifteen-year-olds don’t look so hot on … well, anyone over fifteen.
Know the Difference Between Fitted and Too Tight
I was recently convinced to buy a pair of jeans that felt a little snug (okay I could barely button them) because the teenage store clerk said that jeans like always stretch a size. Well, a month later I have like dents on my hips and jeans that are not budging so they will have to join the other too-small jeans in my closet that are becoming vintage while they wait for me to lose that ten pounds that I will someday lose.
Tip: If your jeans are a little snug, try washing them, taking them out of the dryer when still wet and yucky hot, and sitting in them until dry––telling yourself you were caught in a tropical storm. The fibers are more willing to work with your shape while wet.
Don’t Be Wishy-Washy
Vintage washes are very popular right now but extreme fading or fraying of jeans can look tacky or dated on anyone who doesn’t communicate in acronymns. BFO—Blinding Flash of Obvious! Darker washes are typically more flattering and more versatile too.
I could write a book, or at least an ode to stretch; but what it basically comes down to is jeans come in all degrees of stretch but the stretch is only as good as the quality of denim it is stretching with. Cheap jeans stretch more, so you definitely want to size down. Good quality premium denim will hold its shape better so, sadly, you do indeed get what you pay for. If you want to have some stretch stats to toss at a sales assistant, know that 1 percent stretch combined with a good quality denim makes for a sexy snug jean that gives just enough to contour your body; two percent will still contour but it won’t feel quite as fitted; over two percent will be a very “comfortable” pair of jeans … and you already have enough of them.
Know Your Inseam
Know the seam on the inside of your pants leg. I often end up needing to have my jeans hemmed because I think I’m a 34 inseam and for some strange reason, I’m not. If you’re shopping for jeans to wear with heels, then bring a pair of heels with you so you can accurately gauge what length you need. You can also just measure the inseam of a pair of jeans that you already like to wear with heels.
Tip: If you need to get an expensive pair of jeans hemmed, ask your tailor to keep the original hem intact. It’ll cost you $30 at most, but it’s worth it.
Pay Attention to Pocket Shape and Angle
Most brands now have distinctive back pocket designs that will show the world how much you paid for your jeans (too much), but keep an eye on the pocket shape to be sure it shows off your bottom to its best advantage. Hexagonal-shaped pockets that angle in toward the center tend to work best to create a heart-shaped bottom for any body style. Pockets placed slightly higher on your tush tend to make a flat bottom look perkier. Flap, or cargo pockets, also add some oomph to a small tush, though if I had one, I don’t think I’d want to hide it behind pockets. Long pockets that pass the bottom of your bottom (quite a journey in my case), work wonders to shape and lift a full bottom.
Tip: Avoid excess pocket design and embellishment unless you really do want to draw all the attention to your rear end. Besides it’s kind of tacky.
Know What Suits You
Don’t immediately assume that you should be wearing yellow skinny leg jeans or vintage-wash 70’s jeans just because they are trendy. Just like with any other item of clothing, you should always go with what works for you and incorporate trends in other ways like with jewelry, bags, or shoes. Knowing what waist, thigh, length, inseam, and backside suits you can take hours of trying on, note-taking, and abuse from a too-honest girlfriend or too-brutal teenager, but future jean-shopping trips will be more focused as a result.
Tip: If you don’t have an honest friend (you have bigger problems), bring your camera and ask an assistant to take a picture of you in each pair. I swear, the camera never lies—unlike the mirror!
What I found:
- High-waist jeans make my generous butt look like it starts even higher than it does
- A lower waistline visually breaks down the behind, creating the illusion of less real estate, while a too-low waistline can create builder’s cleavage, also known as “muffin top.”
- A skinny-leg jean accentuates a fuller bottom and makes my legs look even stubbier, while a slightly flared leg elongates the leg and balances out a big old bottom. The bootcut or flare leg is also best for full thighs.
- If you’ve got a fine pair of legs, then it is your obligation to flaunt them with a slim cut jean. This style in a dark wash is always chic.
- The wide leg jean is called that because it flatters a wider range of bodytypes … okay, and because it has a wide leg too.
UK chain Selfridges has a Bodymetrics made-to-measure jean service that makes me want to hit my paddleboat. Basically, your body is “scanned” creating a “digital replica” of your size and shape. This is then used to produce jeans that are tailored to the exact lines of your body. From there you choose the fabric, wash, fit, rise, and cut. If you can’t quite paddle over the Atlantic, try online services like Zafu and TrueJeans to find jean selections customized to your unique measurements.
It’s Not You, It’s the Jeans
Remember, it’s never that you’re not made right, but rather that the jeans you’ve been associating with were not made right for you. The perfect pair is sitting on a shelf waiting for you to understand what you need. As Euripides, who lived from 480–406 BC and mostly wore a sheet, always said, “Know first who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.”