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How to buy women’s jeans: pick a classic, avoid elastic and always try them on in store

Aug 14, 2023

Shopping for the best denim can be an ordeal because every brand and style fits differently. But the reward for all that time in the changing room is a pair that won’t need replacing

The promise of denim can be its biggest drawback. In our mind’s eye the right jeans could make us girl-next-door hot like Jennifer Aniston, a Tina Turner-esque rock star, a waif-like model-off-duty, or simply as happy (read effortless) as Jane Birkin when the late actor wore them to Cannes film festival in 2021.

But in many instances, when you try to match your dream jeans to reality, you end up trying pair after pair, suffering through bunching fabric and pulling in the wrong places before you find a pair that fits like Tina’s do – if you find them at all.

Anyone that remembers when skinny, low-rise jeans came into fashion in the 2000s is also likely haunted by time spent jumping up and down in changing rooms trying to contort into poured-on pairs, based on the incorrect advice that jeans should be bought in the smallest size possible.

At the moment my favourite jeans are vintage Hugo Boss. When I bought them I was looking for Levi’s from the 1980s. But the styles from that time were too small for me in the waist and far too generous at the hips. I tried on the Hugo Boss pair at the insistence of a very helpful salesperson and they fit flawlessly, even down to the leg length. Such is the mystery of shopping for jeans, every brand and style fits a little differently, so persistence is key.

Here, four fashion professionals provide advice on what to look for when seeking out the perfect women’s jeans.

When Candice September, makeup artist and founder of Peeper Keeper, is looking for jeans she prioritises fabric composition, weight and feel. “I’m from a streetwear background so something that will last is really important,” she says. Generally, she finds jeans made from thick 100% cotton are best because they will mould to your body shape and grow more comfortable over time.

September is always on the hunt for vintage Levi’s 501s made in the United Kingdom or 550s made in the United States, because they are the best cut for her body shape. They “taper at the waist and make my butt look perky”.

“If I’m buying vintage, it’s the thickness of the fabric that matters. They can feel soft from being worn for years but I still want the fabric to feel weighty, like it has substance,” she says. “I love seeing vintage jeans that have a trace of a wallet or phone ingrained into the denim from years of doing the same rituals.”

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When buying new jeans she looks for denim that feels crisp and favours Acne, Our Legacy and Toteme. If you are buying something with stretch, a thicker denim with a very small amount of elastane will last better, while stretchier fabrics are more likely to lose their shape over time.

“You want something that will have good retention and bounce back after wearing and washing them. If the fabric is too thin, you’ll find that it will sag in areas like the knees, crotch and waist,” September says.

“There’s so much denim in the world and so many extra pairs of jeans lying around,” says Tiffanie Darke. “I would definitely buy [jeans] that use recycled denim.”

The author of newsletter It’s Not Sustainable and co-founder of the sustainable boutique Agora recommends Anna Foster’s brand ELV Denim (who was interviewed for this piece before Darke). Darke says the brand takes vintage jeans and makes them into new styles that are “incredibly flattering”.

Alternatively, she suggests turning to brands championing regenerative cotton farming such as Citizen of Humanity’s Goldsign. Like September, she avoids anything made with a mix of Lycra or elastane due to their lower durability, but also because synthetic blends make jeans very hard to recycle. “The best thing you can do with jeans is buy a classic style that you can wear as many times as possible and that isn’t going to wear out,” she says.

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Ironically, given her no-stretch, classics-only policy, Darke’s favourite jeans are a pair of black J Brand skinny jeans – mixed with elastane and Lycrathat she’s had for almost 18 years. “They are everything that they shouldn’t be,” she says.

“But the truth is they’ve lasted. I keep going back to them time and again. I layer them underneath dresses and shirt dresses as if they were leggings. And actually, weirdly, after all this time, the elastane hasn’t bagged and they’re still good enough to wear.”

Anna Foster, designer and founder of ELV Denim, works exclusively with vintage jeans. Because her designs take two pairs of worn jeans and turn them into one new style, she is familiar with the way different fabric weights and compositions wear over time. She says rigid denim is an easy marker of quality because jeans made from thick, stiff fabric will hold their shape and support the curves of your body.

When she established the brand she decided to create jeans with seams that could be altered so the perfect fit could be maintained over time. “I think it’s the same for every person – I look for the perfect fit that makes me feel good,” she says. “Your jeans will be the hardest-working piece in your wardrobe, so choose … denim that is designed to last.

“I wanted to make sure that my jeans can conform to how a woman or man wants to feel, rather than the other way round.”

Gabriella Pereira, designer of Beare Park, says the best jeans she’s ever owned are the Goldin from The Row. “I’ve considered buying a second pair to have on rotation for when they are in the wash,” she says. “They are also the perfect length for my height – which comes down to luck with jeans, as I find them hard to alter or take up when compared to other trousers.”

Since she likes her jeans to be comfortable, she looks for a relaxed fit from brands such as Khaite, Bassike, Citizens of Humanity and Magda Butrym.

Pereira has never had success buying jeans online and although it might seem old-fashioned, she says you’ll never regret going into a physical store. “Finding the perfect jeans can be an arduous process but it’s always better to try them on before making a purchase.”

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