Your favourite jeans should fit like a you-know-what (rhymes with dove), but achieving that goal doesn’t always come easy. By knowing what to look for, you can trouble-shoot common fit issues and find that perfect pair. We enlisted denim experts for this trouble-shooting denim fit guide to finding your dream jeans, from skinnies to figure-flattering bootcut to flares, with expert tips and tricks.
1. Mind the gap
Jeans that hug your legs and booty but feel loose around the waist, are the number one fit issue. Paying attention to fabric content can help. “Look for stretch in denim that conforms to your body’s curves,” says Alex Gray, Gap VP, Denim Design. Choosing the right cut of jeans is another fix. “To avoid the dreaded waist gap, I recommend going with a high-rise style,” says Paige Adams-Geller, Co-Founder and Creative Director of PAIGE. “If all else fails, belts are the perfect solution. I also love tying a scarf around the waist and letting it hang down for a rock and roll vibe or tying it in a bow for a feminine touch.”
Finding the perfect fit remains a quest at any size, but a growing roster of retailers and labels are shifting to serve up jeans that are kind to all curves. Bookmark Levi’s and Good American, they both extend to size 24, while Universal Standard runs 00-40. And one go-to fix still holds up: if an uncooperative waistband is the only thing standing between you and a killer pair, a trip to the tailor is an easy way to achieve a bespoke fit.
2. Think about stretch
Have you been a victim of slacker jeans? You know, the ones that fit like a dream when you bought them a few months ago, but got lazy along the way and now sag around the backside and knees? You’re not alone! One remedy is label reading, and approaching stretch in a fabric as you would sugar in coffee: only a dash is needed. Higher amounts can compromise a long-lasting snug fit. And, while jeans made of 100% cotton have made a major style comeback (thank you, Re/Done) they too can shape shift. “Just remember, denim softens over time and wear, so it won’t always be as stiff as the first time you put it on,” says Gray. How you care for jeans plays a role here, too. Minimal washing is ideal as is choosing line drying over a hot dryer cycle, which can break down fibers and reduce their ability to bounce back.
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3. Consider the crop
When it comes to today’s hottest jeans all the action is down below—as in around the ankles. A flattering fit in cropped jeans (i.e. legs that look longest) rests in proportions. Test-drive and play with cuffs; this is where small adjustments in skin exposure can make a big difference. Footwear counts, too. “Cropped jeans work on everyone, it is just a matter of personal style and shoe preference,” says Adams-Geller. “When I’m wearing flat sandals or sneakers, I can wear a jean that’s more cropped than when I wear ankle boots. It is all about proportion. I typically think the most flattering crop hits right above the ankle.”
4. Try faded styles
Fact: some of the best new jeans don’t actually look that new. Rips, holes and other worn-in accents are part of denim’s coveted cool factor. But how those details on any given pair treat your shape can only end one way. It’s either a yaaasss kween or a hard pass. “Watch the placement of whiskering, distressing and fading as they place emphasis on the areas where they’re located,” cautions Gray. Translation: if you want to downplay a body part look for subtle accents rather than extreme ones. Adams-Geller is also a fan of less is more. “The most modern details should look natural and worn-in, not contrived. I think this is the most flattering on the body as well. I really like jeans that have distressing, grinding and fading around the waistband, front pockets and back pockets,” she says.
5. Remember that sizing varies wildly from brand to brand
Shopping for jeans can feel like watching Game of Thrones for the very first time: it’s anyone’s guess how it’s gonna end! A complete lack of universal sizing across fashion labels doesn’t help. “A regular fit frustration is the range of fit across brands,” says Ruth Basloe, Styling Director at Nordstrom, “it’s possible to wear a size 28 in one brand, but switch to a 30 in another.” If you’re shopping at a store that carries several denim lines, call on the expertise of a sale assistant for suggestions. Many sites also have live chat features that can be very helpful, too. And wherever you shop, don’t let a number on a tag ruin your relationship to your measurements. Your dream jeans are out there. Just tap into your inner Daenerys and use an open mind, determination and patience to find them.
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6. Test out different rises
Jeans may cover your entire bottom half but it’s the portion at the mid-line that deserves special attention. We’re talkin’ ‘bout that rise, people. “For all body types, higher-waisted jeans help accentuate natural curves, adds length to the legs and creates a great hourglass frame,” says Gray. Sounds good, right? It’s also the cut Basloe considers a must-have. “What feels most current is the high waist straight leg silhouette,” she says. Jeans in solid blue hues as well as black and white tones have a timeless appeal, while embellishments, like bleaching and tie-dye, are giving straight leg cuts a statement-making update.
7. Look for lines with specialty sizing for tall frames
Fashion pop quiz: if you’re 5’9” and your bestie is 5’4”, can you both swear by the same style of jeans? The answer depends on where you’re shopping. “Check to see if the denim comes in multiple lengths—even for cropped jeans,” says Gray. Retailers like Gap, J.Crew and Topshop offer specialty sizing, with inseams tailored to different heights from petite to tall. Similar options can be found within the Levi’s line, with lengths that range from 30 to 34 inches. Just know that you might not be able to share all the jeans, all the time. The fact remains that some lines simply suit different body frames better than others.
8. Think about cost per wear
To splurge or not to splurge is always a question when it comes to buying new jeans. With plenty of quality options to be found for around $100 or less, shelling out more can come down to personal preference, lifestyle and budget. If you’re swooning over an investment pair, the old cost-per-wear rule can be a wonderful retail enabler. With a $300 price tag, a pair that’s worn at least twice weekly for two years’ rings in at a mere $1.44 per wear. #worthit
Beyond the impact to your wallet, you might also be curious about the impact of your purchase on Mother Earth. Jeans haven’t had the best environmentally-friendly track record in the past, but that’s changing thanks to forward-thinking labels like Frank and Oak, Reformation, Everlane and Outland Denim, which is leading the industry with sustainable efforts that include utilizing vegan materials alongside innovative water and energy saving technologies. Eco-minded options are also popping up from mass brands: BetterMade jeans from Gap are made with a minimized impact on waterways and 100% recycled thread.
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9. Don’t get played by bad booty pockets
‘Hate to see you leave, but love to watch you go’ encompasses the sartorial goal of jeans. So, don’t get played by bad back pockets. “Finding properly sized and placed pockets are key to a flattering fit,” says Basloe, “If they’re too small or placed too close together, they can have the opposite effect on your figure.” On PAIGE jeans, back pockets are scaled according to each jeans size. “I have always thought the most flattering placement for back pockets is for the bottom of the pocket to hit right where your cheek and thigh meet,” says Adams-Geller, “Details that give a worn-in look along the back yoke of a jean are really flattering on the bum because they draw your eye upwards and give you an instant booty lift.”
10. Build your denim wardrobe
Given that they’re easily worn practically anywhere, super comfy and always look stylish, jeans have earned their superstar status. But to build an iconic denim wardrobe one must Mix. It. Up. All body shapes can benefit from a pair of skinnies that fit like a glove. Straight leg cuts continue to be the It Girl jean du jour, while there’s no arguing with the figure-flattering power of a bootcut or flare leg style. And wide leg silhouettes are also going strong. “Classics never go out of style but I am excited about our ever-black denim collection, playing with prints on denim, and raw hems,” says Gray. Hems are a big deal for Adams-Geller, too. “I’m loving all of the hem details—angled, heavy frayed, ruffled and many more,” she says. The lesson: stick to only one style of jeans, or forgo trying on the latest trend, and you’ll miss out.
Shop some of our favourite jeans here:
Gap, BetterMade Sky High Rise True Skinny Jeans, $138, gapcanada.ca
Universal Standard Meuse High Rise Resin Jeans 30 Inch Black, $144, universalstandard.com
Reformation Cowboy Jean, $182, thereformation.com
Good American Good Waist Released Chewed Hem, $260, goodamerican.com
Outland Denim Sierra Night Jeans, $245, shop.nordstrom.com