High-waisted jeans have many advantages: wearing them accentuates the waistline, elongates the leg and, while sitting, prevents visible butt-crack — the bane of my existence circa the mid 2000s. However, as flattering as high-waisted jeans can be, they do have side effects, especially when worn while sitting for long periods of time. On top of wedgies front and back, they can dig into your waist and put pressure on your bladder, causing monsters of stomach aches. I still remember the eight hours of dull hell caused by a pair I stubbornly wore at a desk job. The waistband hit me right on a vein above my hip bone area, cutting off the circulation to my left leg.
In a perfect world, we would all wear made-to-measure jeans, something cult denim designer Judi Rosen has done out of necessity since she was a preteen. “I was curvy at age 10, so either I had to make my own clothing or I would have to go naked,” says Rosen. Her high-waisted styles, inspired by an obsession with Fiorucci and glam rock, are designed “for curves and actual body parts.” To ensure a comfortable fit, Rosen asks customers to sit in her jeans before buying them. “[My] high-waisted straight leg is cut for a long waist and a curvier body. My stretch jeans are better for a short waist with less curves.” We talked to a bunch of experts, Rosen included, in search of the best and most comfortable high-waisted jeans for sitting in.
Lauren Boumaroun, who splits her time between pursuing a Ph.D. in Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA and teaching dance classes, spends the scholarly part of her life sitting in front of a computer. “As someone who is muscular but curvy, I have a hard time finding pants that accommodate my big thighs and wide hips but still fit well in the waist,” says Boumaroun. “Aside from my vintage Lee ’mom’ jeans, my favorite pair of high-waisted jeans are Everlane high-rise skinny jeans. They started making a stretch version recently, but I found that the waist on those didn’t fit as well as the original’s. Still, they’re probably the only pair of stretch jeans I’ve seen that actually look like denim instead of leggings. They have enough give to move with my body a little bit but don’t stretch out too much.”
“I’ve been wearing high-waisted pants since high school and they’re tricky things to shop for,” says Diana McCorry, a screenwriter and Head of Development for Cartuna, an independent studio in Bushwick. “Every brand seems to fit differently and some are truly heinous, so once I find a decent fit, I tend to buy in bulk. My current favorites are Levi’s 720s. There’s enough stretch to avoid that nasty tummy compression, but enough shape to create a great silhouette when you stand up. They’re also totally affordable. I have them in three colors.” McCorry often feels she has to bargain between comfort in the rear and looseness at the waist. “I’d rather wear a belt than feel like I’m in the trash compactor from Star Wars all day,” she says. “The 720s are a little loose in the waist, but not quite enough to necessitate a belt, which is nice.”
“I won’t go out without high-waisted jeans now, and I live in them every day,” says Lorna Buford, founder of The Jeans Blog, “I never have to worry about muffin top or builder’s butt and I find they elongate my legs, too, so that’s a bonus.” Buford, who has been in the denim industry for the past 12 years, works from her home office and, as a consequence, is familiar with the pains that can come from sitting in high-waisted jeans. “I look for a [lighter-weight] denim with super-stretch, so it’s a lot like wearing leggings, and you feel supported by them instead of suffocated.” She recommends the Citizens of Humanity Rocket model. “They’re made with four-way stretch which is lightweight and moves with every part of you without stretching out.” Buford says thinner fabrics are comfortable for another important reason: “They don’t have so much bulky stitching and seams around the crotch.”
For high-rise jeans that exude an Audrey Hepburn vibe, try the J.Crew 10-inch highest-rise toothpick jean in true black. Their composition — 88 percent cotton, 8 percent poly, 4 percent Lycra® spandex — makes them comfortable and ensures they’ll never look stretched out.
According to Buford, it’s worth investing in a premium pair of jeans with light, stretchy fabrics and a vintage wash. “I saw these the other day on Vanessa Hudgens and they’re made of 7FAM’s b(air) denim, which is made to feel like air on your skin, so I know they’re going to be comfortable.”
“Finding the right brand and style for your body is the key to comfort in almost anything, but especially with high-waisted jeans,” says Jennifer Mankins, owner of Bird, a Brooklyn (and now L.A.)-based boutique. “If they’re very tight in the waist then there is no room for jeans to move up and down with you, especially if you need to do a lot of sitting. You have to be careful that they are cut fully enough for your figure in the back and ‘saddle’ curve so they don’t flatten out your butt; I think the key to high-waisted jeans that are comfortable is [that they’re not] skin-tight and [you’re] not stuffing yourself into a cut that’s made for someone else. I love Chimala jeans — they are cut big and made of beautiful, perfectly washed Japanese selvedge denim.”
For the same style at a slightly more accessible price point, the AG Rhett jeans have a relatively comfortable high waist and, for women who find it more flattering, a leg that does not taper.
Mankins looks for jeans that combine the best qualities of both rigid and stretch fabric. AMO is one of her favorite brands “because they’ve managed to make jeans that look and feel like great, vintage, rigid denim, and hold you in as much as rigid denim, but they have 2-percent stretch so they move with the body more easily and are very comfortable.”
Despite favoring more lounge-like styles when it comes to working, author and lingerie expert Cora Harrington of The Lingerie Addict recommends Madewell High-Rise skinny jeans. “Your body changes as you get older (I’m in my mid-30s); places that were once firm grow softer. I feel contained and smoothed in these jeans, and the waist comes up high enough [so] I don’t get that annoying gapping at the back,” says Harrington, adding that the style fits her body type, which is an inverse triangle, with a 13-inch difference between her waist and her hips. “They hold up well through regular wash and wear, neither falling to pieces nor becoming entirely stretched out of shape. And they just look good. I feel stylish and put-together when I wear these, which matters a lot.”
Both Jennifer Mankins and Joyce Lee, who heads the design team at Madewell, recommend the Wedgie from Levi’s, because, despite its name … it doesn’t actually give you a wedgie (at least not in the bad way) “They’re popular because they fit you like you want old 501s to fit. So a perfect straight leg, but with a bit more of a generous/modern cut. And it has a bit of stretch and natural rise that hits right at your belly button, so it’s high, but not too high,” says Mankins. “High-waisted jeans have become super comfortable now that there is stretch in the fabric — it’s amazing how technology has enabled us to innovate with new denim fits without losing an authentic vintage look,” says Lee, who is partial to Madewell jeans first, of course.
When it comes to plus-size jeans, Christina Andrew, a size 14/16 model, recommends AYR’s deep indigo Onelove jeans. “The fit on these jeans is comfortable enough to enjoy a full range of activities and flattering enough to want to be photographed doing said activities. Simply put, I’d wear these on a plane.”
Samantha O’Brochta, a travel blogger and digital strategist, prefers a button-fly to a zipper. “As a curvy girl, some high-waisted jeans are barely high-waisted and don’t cinch in as much at the waist as they should in order to create a silhouette, but these do. Because these have a button-fly, there are no accidental zipper slips. I live for the black wash because they go with everything; they make your legs look long and sleek.”
The experts we talked to for the most part left wide-leg silhouettes out of the mix, but the freedom you get from ankle to hip with a pair of wide-leg jeans should not be discounted. Rag & Bone makes an ever-so-slightly stone-washed black pair that features an extra-long zip, which is ideal for longer waists and keeps camel-toe-related issues at bay.
This pair from Topshop walks the line between wide- and straight-legged and is a current favorite of Strategist writer/editor Liza Corsillo’s.
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