Let’s go jean shopping. To get you prepared, I’m going to update and refresh the popular denim guide we released a few years ago. Is there anything more essential to the modern wardrobe but more difficult to buy than denim? From fit & feel to wash & cut, there are so many options, making it challenging to navigate the blue jean sea. But I’m here to help—at least in part. Today, I’ve put together what I’m calling the definitive women’s denim jean guide for you.
Over the years, I’ve showcased almost every cut of jeans imaginable, paired with a variety of different tops, shoes, and bags. This post aggregates a large sampling of cuts and washes. For each cut, I’ve pulled together a list of three jeans of that cut at various price points: low, medium, and high. I’ve also put together a collection of tips and tricks for purchasing denim and maintaining it once you’ve integrated a particular piece into your wardrobe.
Nothing is more important than the fit and feel of a pair of jeans. And you’re never going to know how something fits or feels without a) trying it on and b) having several points of reference. I can’t recommend enough carving out an afternoon, physically going to a store like Gap or Nordstrom, and working with one of their stylists to try on a full range of jeans. They’re there to help! They’ll walk you through the full spectrum of what’s available to give you that reference point.
When you’re trying on jeans, focus on how they fit on your waist. Always ask yourself the question, “Does the jean sit on the waist where it’s supposed to sit?” Also, focus on the length of the jeans. Ask yourself the question, “Are these jeans going to drag given the shoes you currently have in your closet?” And remember this one crucial fact worth pointing out again and again: just because you’re a size 6 in brand X does not mean you’re a size 6 in brand Y.
All well and good. But what about those of us who are shopping exclusively online? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Below, I’ve linked to some of my favorite denim retailers, including their online denim guide.
Roughly speaking, the “wash” of a jean refers to the extent to which a pair of denim has undergone a washing and treatment process prior to sale. The washing and treatment process affects the color and softness of denim.
Below, I’ve put together a scale of various washes beginning with “raw denim” and ending with “bleach wash.” Raw denim is very stiff, dark and has not been washed to soften and remove dye, whereas bleach-washed denim is very soft and light, as most of the dye has been stripped away. Most of us are probably going to stick in the rinse-to-light wash region of the below scale, but some of us may deviate to either end of the spectrum.
raw denim < rinse wash < mid-wash < light wash < bleach wash
Jeans don’t exist in isolation. You’re going to pair them with what you currently have in your wardrobe. It’s pointless to buy a pair of jeans that don’t work with a single top or single pair of shoes you currently own. Always have a game plan. When you are looking to buy a pair of denim, a good rule of thumb is this: have at least two tops and two pairs of shoes that the jeans you’re eyeing actually go with. That will give you the flexibility and versatility to successfully integrate a new pair of denim into your closet.
If you have ten pairs of jeans, it usually doesn’t make sense for 8 of them to be white if you only wear white jeans one month out of the year. Are your go-to jeans boot cut, but of your five pairs of jeans, only 1 of them is actually boot cut? Seems obvious, but it’s worth pointing out: a) know what denim you love, b) know what denim you actually wear in practice, and c) base the proportionality of your denim on (a) and (b). a + b = c.
Brand loyalty is great. But not with denim, at least not in the following sense: you may love Talbots or Ann Taylor for everything but their jeans. That doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to buy their jeans. It may turn out that The Gap’s or Levi’s, or Madwell’s jeans fit best for you. And once you’ve found that perfect pair of jeans, don’t be afraid to buy 2 or 3 of the same wash and cut. Redundancy is good in any classic wardrobe. Remember, jeans don’t last forever, no matter how well you maintain them.
Skinny jeans are here to stay. Oh sure, Gen Z has declared them dead, but no other jean can tuck as beautifully inside a knee-high boot as a pair of skinny jeans. Outside of bootcut, they’re probably one of the more versatile cuts of denim out there. They go with virtually any top or shoe you have in your closet. And trust me, no matter what your body type is, if you find the right fit, you’ll be surprised that you, too, can pull off a pair of skinny jeans.
Wide-leg jeans are trendy this year, no doubt. You may or may not like trends. And you may or may not like wide-leg jeans. But one of the themes of my blog is open-mindedness, particularly when it comes to fashion.
My oldest son worked at The Gap in Chicago during his undergraduate years. And one of the things he always tells me—to this day—is how many women he encountered that made a decision—usually in their late 30s—to commit to a single cut and wash of denim.
There’s nothing wrong with favorites. Absolutely nothing wrong with go-to’s. But there’s also nothing wrong with breaking out of your fashion shell and trying something new.
Boyfriend/girlfriend jeans have made a real surge in popularity over the past 4-5 years. That’s because they’re just so darn comfortable and versatile. Wear them when you’re lounging around at home over a lazy weekend. Or roll them up and pair them with heels as I’ve done here. No matter how you wear them, you won’t regret adding a pair or two to your closet.
Much like skinny jeans, there are very few harder working pieces of denim than a good pair of bootcut jeans. They go with just about anything and everything. But it’s worth pointing out that not all bootcut jeans are cut the same. Flares vary dramatically in opening width. Some are extremely traditional and conservative, and some not.
There are as many different types of colored denim as there are colors in the rainbow. But your closet should include at least a pair of black and white jeans. They’re neutrals and serve as an excellent baseline for a myriad of possibilities. Outside of that, the sky is the limit.
Do you love red, yellow, or green? Are you as into animal print as I am? Colored denim provides an easy way to spice up your wardrobe. But remember to be sensible: no piece of colored denim will get the use that a classic pair of blue jeans will. Make sure that when you splurge on a pair of red jeans, you actually have a plan regarding what to pair them with.
Probably the most essential pair of jeans you can own, straight-leg jeans are a true classic. Timeless and not subject to trends, it’s the backbone of every woman’s denim collection.
Denim is not an investment piece like bags or coats are. They wear down. They go out of style. But you can make them last. Remember always to
That’s a wrap, gang! Hopefully, you find the definitive women’s denim jean guide useful.