The 3% Rule of Buying Jeans Will Help You Extend the Life of Your Favorite Wardrobe Staple

And the exceptions that let you break it

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3 percent rule for buying denim UNI
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We’ve all been there—you try on a pair of jeans that hug you in all the right places, are super comfortable and right on trend. But just four or five wears later, you find the knees are bagging, the waistband has stretched out a full size and you’ve already started to notice the material thinning out where your thighs rub together. Rather than simply resign yourself to the pain of having to replace your jeans on the regular, we’ve found a handy little trick to finding denim that both fits well and lasts longer, no special care instructions required. Introducing the 3 Percent Rule to buying denim.

Basically, the 3 Percent Rule dictates that you shouldn’t buy denim with more than three percent elastane, spandex or other stretchy fibers to ensure a better fit that will last longer. But, of course, like all fashion “rules,” there are exceptions to be made. Here’s what denim experts have to say about buying stretch denim.

Meet the Experts

  • Sarah Ahmed is the CEO and co-founder of DL1961 and Warp + Weft. She is passionate about how innovation, transparency, accountability and traceability in the denim industry can positively impact communities and provide tangible solutions in the fight against climate change.
  • Jill Guenza is the Global VP of Women’s Designs at Levi’s, and has more than 20 years of experience working in the denim industry.

Raw denim, with no stretch fibers added, is incredibly durable—after all, it originally became popular as a cheap, comfortable option for workers in the mid 19th century—but generally takes quite a long time to “break in” and have it conform to your curves. By adding elastane or spandex, denim designers are able to make jeans that fit a wider range of body types and that are more comfortable right off the shelf. “Stretch denim often feels more comfortable and can allow for a greater range of movement, making it ideal especially for those on the go,” says Guenza. “It also molds easily to users’ bodies, resulting in a custom fit as soon as the first wear.” But there’s a limit to that added comfort and improved fit.

“When low-quality stretch denim is utilized, there is the potential for the jeans to stretch out and not retain their shape,” explains Ahmed. It can also affect the durability and longevity of your denim pieces. Jeans with a significant percentage of stretch or non-cotton fibers mixed in tend to wear out much faster than those made with close to 100 percent cotton. “Higher-quality stretch denim and proper care can help mitigate some of these concerns,” says Ahmed, but how can we tell what’s high quality and what isn’t?

Unfortunately, in general, you get what you pay for when it comes to denim. The cheaper the jeans the more likely it is that the manufacturer used cheap materials to make them, meaning they’re going to wear out much faster. However, that doesn’t mean you’re required to spend three digits or more on denim. Heritage brands like Levi’s and innovative newcomers like Warp + Weft have put time and effort into crafting new stretch denim that combines comfort and durability without breaking the bank. Check out a brand’s website to see what details they can provide about how they design their jeans. Much like sustainability, the more a brand is willing to share, the more likely it is that they’re the real deal, making denim worth investing in. Can’t find exactly what you’re looking for? It’s time to employ the 3 Percent Rule. If the jeans you’re lusting after have more than three percent non-cotton materials, you’re likely better off looking for a different pair that will be more worth your money.

Beyond brands that use innovative, high-quality materials to add stretch to their denim, there are two other major exceptions to this rule: skinny jeans and curve cuts. If you want a super-slim fit jean, the only way to really achieve the look is with a significant dose of stretch. Curve cuts (those specifically made for folks with a greater difference between their waist and hip measurements) also benefit from an added dose of spandex or elastane to achieve a better overall fit. In both instances, we suggest following Ahmed and Guenza’s advice and looking for denim that uses high-quality materials over cheaper ones, so you can have the best of both worlds—a fabulous fit and long-lasting jeans.

Here, our favorite stretch jeans that follow the 3 Percent Rule and have earned the PureWow Editor seal of approval.

We Found 17 Pairs of Jeans for Big Butts That Eliminate the Dreaded Waist Gap

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