It’s jeans season! Well, isn’t every season jeans season? Denim jeans are the single most important staple in everyone’s closet. A good pair of jeans can take you just about anywhere in life—from workwear to date night, work from home to shopping downtown, apple picking to vacation, and so much more. But shopping for jeans can feel so overwhelming. There are so many rises, lengths, cuts, washes, and styles out there—how do you choose the right one? I’ve created the ultimate guide to all things women’s denim with all the terms and info you need to know to find the perfect jeans for your style, body type, and wardrobe.
Here’s what the guide includes:
- Denim jean rises
- Length of jeans
- Denim jeans cuts
- Denim washes
- How to care for denim
- Denim tips
Curious about the history of jeans? Check out Vogue’s encyclopedia of the history of jeans here.
Denim jean rises
The jean “rise” is how far the jeans come up on your torso. The rise is the measurement between the top of the inseam and the top of the waistband of the jeans.
- Low-rise jeans are typically a 5” to 8” rise, usually falling a few inches below the belly button. Low rise jeans look best on women with shorter torsos since there is less fabric covering the midsection. These jeans were popular in the early 2000s, but they’ve since lost a lot of popularity because they’re hard to wear and not very comfortable. If you don’t like low rise jeans, skip them and go for a rise you prefer.
- Mid-rise jeans have about an 8” to 9” rise and sit at the hips. Mid-rise jeans will always be in style because they’re not too high and not too low. If you’re looking for a pair of jeans that can go with just about any top, try mid-rise.
- High-rise jeans measure about 9.5” to 10.5” and come up to your belly button (or just below). High rise jeans add definition to the waist while giving the appearance of longer legs. These became popular during the ‘80s and ‘90s, which is why they’re now referred to as “mom jeans.” They’ve come back in style, though, because they’re super flattering and look beautiful with crop tops and tucked-in tees or blouses. Plus, retro is the new modern!
- Ultra high-rise jeans are a bit higher, between 11” and 12” rise. They hit above the belly button for even more length. These draw the eye towards the bust and chest and are typically used to make a statement.
Length of jeans
To determine the right length of jeans, you’ll need to figure out the inseam. This is the measurement from the crotch of the pants to the leg opening. To find your ideal inseam, you’ll need to consider your height and where you’d like the jeans to fall. For example, an inseam of 26” may be cropped jeans on taller women but might be ankle length on shorter ones.
To find your ideal inseam, measure the inseam of your favorite pair of pants. Notice where the pants crop. For example, if your favorite pair of jeans have a 27” inseam and they are almost cropped, you know that regular-length jeans might be closer to 31” than 30” for you.
Cropped jeans (usually an inseam of 26” or less) typically stop one to two inches above the ankle. Similar to the Capri style, cropped jeans are great for showing off the ankle, particularly when worn with lengthening heels or booties.
Ankle jeans (inseam 27”- 29”) end at the ankle. They cover most of the leg but none of the shoe, and they’re one of the most universally flattering and versatile jean lengths.
Regular-length jeans (inseam 30”-31”) usually fall between the ankle and the ground. Depending on the cut, skinny jeans can be tucked into boots or paired with flats. They will slightly cover the shoe and ankle.
Tall jeans (32” or longer inseam) are those for women with longer legs. Petite jeans are for women with shorter legs.
Denim jeans cuts
Now that you have your rise and length, it’s time to figure out the cut of jeans. This is how the jeans sit on your leg from top to bottom. The most common types of jeans cuts are straight leg, skinny, boot-cut, and flare.
Straight-leg denim is a classic, timeless style that looks beautiful on pretty much every woman. This cut falls straight from the waist to the ankle without tightening or flaring out. Straight-leg jeans can have a more casual and baggy fit, like boyfriend jeans or “relaxed fit” jeans, or they might be more fitted like slim-fit jeans. If you’re looking to invest in a pair of jeans that will always be fashionable, flattering, and easy to pair with most tops in your closet, you’ll probably want to opt for straight-leg jeans.
Skinny jeans, as the name suggests, are tight to the leg. They’re skin-tight, similar to leggings, and made of a stretchy material like spandex so they’re easy to get off and on. Skinny jeans went through a trendy period and have transitioned into becoming an essential piece in every woman’s wardrobe thanks to their versatility.
Skinny jeans can easily go from the office to happy hour to a day in the park, and they create a slimming effect that looks beautiful on lots of body types. Skinny jeans create a gorgeous silhouette when paired with oversized tees, flowy blouses, and blazers. In dark washes, skinny jeans are also the best option for smart casual or business casual situations. In general, skinny jeans look best in mid-rise and high-rise; low-rise skinny jeans tend to feel too constricting for most women.
Boot-cut jeans flare out slightly at the bottom. That’s because they were originally made to wear with boots (hence the name). These jeans look great with ankle booties, cowboy boots, and heeled boots. They look best with some sort of heel or chunkier shoe (like sneakers) because they can sometimes appear to shorten the legs when worn with flats. I love wearing boot-cut jeans with flannels or graphic tees to lean into that ‘90s-inspired, retro vibe.
There are two main types of flare jeans, both of which “flare out” as they go down from the waist to the ankle. Bell-bottom jeans have an hourglass shape, tight around the thighs and knees and then flaring out wide at the calf and ankle. Wide-leg jeans flare out around the mid-thigh and continue to flare outwards, creating a triangle shape with a large opening at the bottom. Flare jeans look particularly beautiful on tall women, accentuating their length, or on shorter women when paired with tucked-in tops and heels.
The “wash” is the color of the denim. It’s called a “wash” because the indigo-dyed denim goes through a “washing process” that essentially breaks down the denim dye to create lighter colors and different effects. Curious about this process? Check out this interesting denim washing flow chart to learn about each step to get your ideal denim wash.
Raw and dark wash denim
Jeans that don’t go through a washing process will retain their dark, indigo color. This is called raw denim or dark-wash denim because of its deep, rich color. What’s so special about raw denim is that it starts to mold itself uniquely to you. It will conform to your figure, and it will wash, crease, and re-color based on your unique movement and lifestyle
I also love dark denim because it can be just as beautiful for nighttime and formal events as it is for casual, daytime ones. Dark jeans are super versatile: pair them with a white tee, leather jacket, and white sneakers for a casual day on the town, or add a sparkly top with a blazer for a chic holiday look.
Raw denim tip: Try not to over-wash your raw jeans. This will help keep their color, and they’ll form to your body more.
Medium wash denim
Medium wash denim is washed and dried a few more times than dark wash, so it’s a little lighter. When you think of jeans, you probably think of that signature blue jeans look, which is usually a medium wash. This is a more casual color of jeans, and you can really make these your own based on how you create your outfit. Classic blue jeans are a must-have.
Light wash denim
Light wash denim is halfway between a medium wash and bleached denim. Light wash denim has a hip, trendy feel that’s casual and freeing. This lighter color looks particularly beautiful in the spring and summer or when paired with deep fall colors for a nice contrast.
Acid wash denim
Acid wash denim is made by including chlorine in the washing process. This partially bleaches the denim creating a tie-dye, vintage feel to the denim. This is not a go-to kind of denim, but it can work beautifully as a statement piece. I particularly love acid wash denim jackets when paired with black jeans and a graphic tee for a subtle rebel star aesthetic.
Black and grey denim are a great option because they have an elevated and formal look, but they’ve got the comfortable and relaxed look of jeans. Pair black denim with an all-black ensemble and leather pieces for a bold city aesthetic, or match black jeans with a lighter top, floral pattern, or animal print for something fun and feminine. You can even use black denim for a business casual outfit with blouses and blazers.
White denim is bleached completely white, creating a crisp look. Although we love winter white, white denim is usually best for the summertime. However, don’t sleep on white jeans paired with red, green, and black for a unique holiday look! Pair with colored shoes and tops for a bold outfit or keep your look neutral with beiges and whites for a sophisticated wardrobe palette that’s always classy.
You can also find different colors and prints of denim. If you’re looking for a bold statement, you might want to try out colored denim. It’s usually best to use colored denim as an accent paired with a neutral outfit to avoid too much color unless you’re opting for a color-block or monochrome look.
How to care for denim
Don’t wash your jeans too often.
You really should only wash your jeans once every 10 wears unless they get really dirty or stinky. If you need to get rid of small stains, use a damp cloth with mild soap to wash certain areas of the jeans without throwing your jeans in the washer. Not over-washing your jeans will prevent them from losing their color and structure, while also saving water and helping the environment.
Wash in cold water.
Wash your jeans in cold water, which helps protect against fading and shrinking. (Cold water is better for most clothes. I only use hot water for underwear and dirty clothes that need a little boost of sanitization.) Turning your jeans inside out also help prevent color fading.
Check out these other 10 hacks to make your clothes last longer.
Don’t throw your jeans in the dryer.
You know how when you take your jeans out of the dryer your lint collector is filled with gunk? Those lint pieces are actually fibers from your jeans. The dryer eats away at jeans, causing them to lose their shape, integrity, and even their material. Instead of drying your jeans, line-dry your pants or lay them flat on a water-proof surface. If drying outside, hang in the shade if possible; if not, turn your jeans inside out to prevent fading in the sun and to make sure your pockets dry too.
Distressed jeans have frays and rips. This creates a more casual vibe that’s trendy and fun. Learn how to make your own unique distressed jeans here.
When in doubt, choose a high rise. This is the most flattering and comfortable rise, and it will hide the belly while accentuating the waist and hips.
Find jeans that you feel good in. Stretchy jeans are a girl’s best friend.
When shopping for jeans, narrow down the size search by “sizing” the waistband around your neck. Hold either end of the waistband in either hand, then reach around your neck. If your hands are just touching, the jeans should fit and you can bring them into the dressing room with you to try them on. If your hands overlap, the jeans will likely be too big; if your fingers don’t touch, the jeans will be too small. Learn more of these kinds of fashion hacks here.
Denim jeans are an easy outfit go-to for every style. Now it’s easier than ever to find your perfect pair of jeans!
Regular length fit jeans: https://www.whowhatwear.com/fall-wide-leg-jeans-outfits
Straight leg: https://www.whowhatwear.com/best-straight-jeans
Bootcut jeans: https://stylishlyme.com/style/wear-with-bootcut-jeans/
Flare/bell bottoms: https://anindigoday.com/how-to-style-bell-bottoms/
Medium wash: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/385761524341714298/
Light wash: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/81135230773767383/