Shopping for new denim can sometimes feel like an insurmountable task, especially when you slip on pair after pair and wonder, how should jeans fit? It turns out, there are a few key areas (including the waistband and the hem) that are most important to pay attention to—and once you know what to look for, it can make the process of finding jeans much easier. So we reached out to three denim experts—Sarah Ahmed, CCO at DL1961, Beatrice Purdy, founder and CEO of Measure & Made, and Alexandra Waldman, co-founder and chief creative officer of Universal Standard— to hear what advice they have for finding that perfect fit. Here are their top tips.
Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most important areas to pay attention to. “You want to make sure the waistband does not dig into your waist,” says Purdy, adding that for the most comfortable and flattering fit, it should lay flat against your skin. If the fabric of your jeans has some Lycra or spandex to them, it’s possible that the waistband may stretch out a little bit over time. However, all of our experts agree that you’re better off buying a pair that fits correctly from the moment you buy it and suggest being open to alterations if your pair stretches too much or your body shape changes. Ahmed explains, “if something fits you perfectly in the seat and thigh, but is a little big in the waist, a tailor can easily take that in.” That said, a waistband that’s too small is near impossible to have altered. “There are few things worse than spending all day second guessing how you look in a piece of clothing because the fit is constantly reminding you that you are restricted,” says Waldman.
Another thing that can’t be changed? The rise of your jeans. “Waist height would be pretty impossible to increase, so if the jeans sit too low down for comfort, I’m afraid you will be stuck with that dilemma,” warns Waldman. Similarly, if you’re annoyed that your jeans sit just one or two inches above where you’d like them to be, you’re pretty much stuck.
Ideally, your waistband should fit tightly enough that you don't need a belt, but not so tight that it feels constricting. For raw denim this means you can fit maybe two fingers into the waistband, but for stretchier styles that number goes up a bit to maybe four.
Butt and Thighs
A good pair of jeans can make your booty look bigger or smaller, smoother or perkier—it all comes down to good construction. “[Your jeans] should feel sculpting in the seat and supportive in the waist,” points out Ahmed. “Also, make sure there is enough room in the thigh to move around. If they’re not comfortable, you’re never going to wear them.” Waldman stresses you should always buy jeans that are as comfortable to sit in as they are to stand in, and Purdy agrees. Before you rip the tags off, be sure to take a seat (in chairs of a few different heights, if possible) and bend your legs “to make sure they move with you and that you feel good in them.” Purdy also recommends looking closely at the seams along the inside and outside of the legs. They should run straight up and down your leg, so if they’re pulling or twisting either toward the front or back it’s a good sign your jeans are too tight.
No one wants a denim camel toe, nor are we looking for excess amounts of fabric sagging in the crotch. You’re more likely to find yourself dealing with the former, but the latter can happen in ill-fitting boyfriend jeans, loose vintage cuts or if you find yourself shopping in the men’s section (sometimes an excellent way to score fabulous boyfriend-style jeans). Neither one can be easily fixed by a tailor, so be sure to double check the fit in this area before you buy. If you feel the inner seam of your jeans starting to invade your nether regions, it very likely means the jeans aren’t cut correctly for your body type. Do some squats and sit in a low chair to feel how the fabric behaves, and also be sure to get a good look at the seam in the seat; it should lay straight right down the middle of your bum. If your jeans are too tight, it will pull to one side. (Pro tip: Use the camera on your phone to snap a photo of your backside in the mirror rather than twisting and bending in an attempt to get a clear look.)
All three of our experts say fixing an inseam or hem length is probably among the easiest adjustments you can make. So, if you absolutely adore the top half of a new pair of jeans but the legs are far too long, don’t consider it a total deal breaker. (On the other hand, if they’re too short, you’re likely out of luck, although Universal Standard has started to include more leeway in the hem so those with longer legs might have more wiggle room with alterations.) The only caveat here is to think about the leg style and wash you’re working with. “If you are shortening the length, you may lose some of the intended look of that style,” warns Purdy. “For example, if you buy a flare jean and hem it, you wind up with a modified bootcut jean.” Similarly, if your jeans have detailing below the knee or fading that extends almost all the way down, you risk losing some of that effect once the hem has been chopped. If you do take them to be altered, ask your tailor to maintain the original hem, which will help mask the fact that you had them shortened.
“Fabrication is everything,” says Ahmed. By that, she means if your jeans are made from 100-percent cotton denim they are going to fit and wear out very differently from jeggings or jeans with some Lycra or spandex built in. Raw denim works decently well for loose, vintage styles, but has almost no stretch, so if you find a cute straight pair that fits perfectly everywhere but has a too-small waistband, it will probably continue to pinch your waist even after months of wear. “Because [100-percent rigid denim] has no stretch, expect it to be tight in your curvier parts and loose where you’re less curvy. It takes a while for it to really mold to your body and feel like the perfect fit.”
Almost all modern denim styles have at least some stretch to them. As Purdy explains, “This allows for a fitted jean that can move with you and recover well.” And often times that extra bit of stretch has been incorporated in innovative ways that help your body look its absolute best, whether that means giving your bum a little lift or smoothing along your hips. “Brands like NYDJ have patented Lift Tuck technology which shapes and supports your curves, while [Measure & Made] uses patented Fitlogic technology which uses both your unique shape and size to give you perfect fitting jeans, allowing you to look and feel your best.”
When in doubt, Ahmed says go with your gut. “Ninety-nine percent of the time what makes us feel our best is what also makes us look our best. If you love your waist, try an hourglass-hugging wide leg style. If you want to celebrate your long legs, try a high-waisted skinny. Or if you want to show off that butt, try a vintage-inspired straight leg.”