A casual wardrobe fixture that’s been reinvented endlessly, denim is one of those outfit staples that can be overwhelming. To find out what new denim is worth buying, we talked to 22 women of all shapes and sizes about their favorite denim (at the moment) that suits their body type, wears well, and has range (so, you could just as easily wear it with a pair of heels or a white tee).
According to how they characterized each jean (whether cuffed, vintage, or cropped), we sorted them accordingly for easy reference — though some may occupy multiple categories — then added some context and variations here and there, to satisfy the budget shopper and curious reader. If you’re looking for white jeans, we went and found the best versions of those, too.
While quality denim often runs upwards of $100, Alysia Alex, artist relations manager at Ban.do, always keeps returning to this reliable, affordable pair of jeans from Everlane. These high-rise, Cheeky Straight jeans run ankle length on her five-four frame, and she says, “They’re so affordable, and fit true to size in all the right places (they’re called cheeky for a reason).”
Finding the right denim for someone with a shorter frame, hips, and a sizable butt is difficult, she adds, “but the fact that this pair fit on the first try felt life-changing. If you don’t believe me, I have a very active, dedicated Everlane-denim group text with a few girlfriends that will back me up.”
My favorite cheap denim (a staple since high school) are Gap’s consistently good jeans. And similarly to this Everlane group thread, all of my friends have a favorite style, too. The brand has a great range of petite sizes, and they boast a well-rounded selection of curvy, cropped, slimming, straight, and even novelty denim.
The unofficial jean of the early aughts were skinny jeans — preferably Seven for All Mankind — and they’re still going strong today. Vogue veteran Plum Sykes likes hers high-waisted and from Madewell for that “American casual beach chic with French Left Bank” look. And she says you can wear them with pretty much everything, since they’re “very, very high-waisted, very flattering, and much cheaper than J Brand.”
If you prefer an artful rip or two, you could also try this Madewell pair that came recommended by travel and food writer Kat Odell. She says, “For years I used to drop hundreds of dollars on designer jeans, including some Rag & Bone and J Brand, but these are absolutely my No. 1s now.” They have a tiny bit of stretch, and hit just above the ankle, and she says they pair perfectly with low boots. “I basically live in them.”
Marian Cheng, co-founder of Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings, favors mid-rise and high-rise skinny jeans, her favorite being this pair from sustainable denim brand DL1961 for its soft material and curve-hugging potential.
And if we might make another suggestion in this category, it would be these high-rise skinny jeans from the Reformation, which come with a little added stretch and sit comfortably under the belly button, but hug your hips in a very flattering way.
For a high-waisted fit, stylist Amanda Lee Shirreffs tells us that it’s taken her a lifetime to find the perfect pair that “fit well, look cool, and allow for me to move around comfortably,” but she finally discovered her ideal ’90s-style jean in this Whatta Man style by Canadian brand Iris Denim.
TyLynn Nguyen, the designer and creative director behind her own eponymous clothing label, says that, as a new mom, her favorite high-rise pair of denim right now is Everlane’s High-Rise Skinny for its style and comfort. “I had my third baby almost four months ago and really appreciate this chic and cozy fit. This jean is stretchy, comfortable, and perfect for my changing body. ”
The DIY cuffed style has a less structured feel that’s a favorite of wardrobe stylist Britt Layton, who directed me to these Marc Jacobs jeans. She describes them as “I’m cute but I’m not trying — something every woman, whether she knows it or not, is on a very real journey to find,” and adds that the flattering high waistline balances out the baggy silhouette, so it’s directional and feminine. There aren’t too many styles of this tomboyish jean left, so if they run out, we’d recommend a similar Marc Jacobs style here in a light wash.
We heard about a similar style from actress Casey Wilson, who says she always receives compliments on these Madewell Boyjean boyfriend jeans with a wide cuff. “They’re really comfortable, too. I wore them for a bunch of my pregnancy — but even nonpregnant, they look great.” It also happens to be a favorite of writer Maxine Builder, who says, “They’re loose without being baggy, which I really appreciate.”
For a pair of jeans that shows off your ankles, Strat editors generally prefer Levi’s for their price point and fit, while Abby Mills, product designer and blogger, likes her cropped denim from Zara competitor, Mango. She says it helps avoid tailoring on her five-two frame, and the style is right. She loves the ’90s contrast stitch and the fit, specifically: “The jeans have the perfect amount of stretch — enough to fit comfortably, but still feel supportive. The mid-rise is perfect for curvy gals, and the cut doesn’t feel too ‘retro’ like other high-waisted cuts.”
For a more stylized look, Kith visual manager Rachel Grant gravitates toward this cigarette fit from the Reformation. She says these jeans “make my body look great,” and the seam running down the front and back of the leg add a bit of character. “They’re a higher waist, but the rise is still perfect enough to tuck a T-shirt in.” She adds that their ethical approach to denim — little to no waste in production — plus the affordable price, only add to the charm.
My personal favorite pair of cropped jeans are from Parker Smith, though, because I like the raw edging on the bottom, and the tiny side vents in them are ideal for showing off a pair of short-heeled boots or sneakers. The straight cut is also not overly fitted, and feels very comfortable for a more casual look.
And should you want that non-tailored, slouchy boyfriend look, stylist and graphic designer Jie Zheng points us to these moto boyfriend jeans from Topshop. “They’re basically the sweatpants of jeans! They have the slouch and roominess of classic boyfriend jeans, but provide a more flattering shape.” She also notes that the high-waisted fit and slightly cinched waist create the illusion of longer, leaner legs.
There’s a certain art to finding the perfect pair of vintage jeans, which KPMG resource associate Shereen Mohammad explains when she tells us about her favorite vintage jeans, the Levi’s 512s. “I tend to buy vintage jeans from shops like Mirth Vintage and the Break. Once you find the most flattering pair, you’ll cherish them intensely, and wear them until the hunt starts again.”
They’re harder to come by, but when you do, the fit is incomparable. Mohammad says what she loves about these 512s is how they enhance curves. “They’re high-waisted, with tapered legs, and hemmed right at the ankle.” If this style happens to run out, we’d recommend checking here or here for more alternatives.
If you don’t actually want to hassle with finding the right vintage fit, the next best thing would be a vintage-y style and wash, like this pair of cropped boot-cut jeans. It came recommended by Breanna Warner — the head of brand marketing and creative for & Other Stories — who said, “I usually scour the vintage racks for the perfect fit, but have found that the Levi’s Orange Tab 517 Cropped Boot Jeans also do the trick, a sort of modern-day vintage.” She notes that they’re the perfect ankle-grazing length for pairing with cute shoes, and are “true denim without stretch, plus high-waisted without being right under your rib cage.”
Or, you could buy a pair of repurposed Levi’s by Los Angeles label Re/Done. Their high-rise jeans are a favorite of beauty writer Bianca Valle and New York fashion-editor-at-large, Amy Larocca. Larocca says the fit “is as close to perfect as I’d ever allow myself to imagine: a waistline that hits at a waistline-appropriate place, and is hemmed at exactly the right spot,” just shy of the ankle bone on her five-four frame. Another plus is the flattering back, which Valle says is never saggy or bulgy.
Denim for expecting mothers should of course have more give than your average pair, but you might not want one with an obvious control top. This one from DL1961 balances stretch and style, and according to former Strat editor Jessica Sylvester, it can be worn every day and still maintain its shape. “Their four-way stretch fabric is more comfortable than leggings. Their low-rise waist fits right under the belly and expands trimester to trimester. When wearing them, I’ve been told those magic words: ‘From the back you can’t even tell you’re pregnant!’”
A dearth of plus-size friendly options can make it difficult to find a comfy, flattering fit, but Annette Richmond – a fashion, lifestyle, and travel blogger who is a size 20 – says all of her problems are solved by these Lane Bryant skinny jeans. “I’ve had issues with jeans in the past that tear or rip in the thigh area because of the constant friction, but not with these Super Skinnies. They have just enough stretch to be comfortable and supportive without being restrictive, or so stretchy that they lose shape easily.”
There’s also this mid-rise pair from Levi’s that extends up to a size 26. Model Essie Golden, a size 22/24 or 3XL/4XL, says these “shape you out and hold you in place without creating rolls. After two or three months, I always get holes in my jeans in the thigh area, but these have lasted after two or three years without doing that at all.” She adds that they also fit well at the back and never cause any wardrobe malfunctions. “When I bend over, I never have to worry about hanging out and they’re mid-rise jeans. They move with me.”
Those ’90s button-fly jeans have long been edged out for zippers, but they are still prized among women who like a certain throwback, high-waisted look. Maxine Builder recently bought this buttoned-up pair from Madewell that has helped her feel less anxious about wearing skinny jeans. “They’re true to size with a super-high waist that doesn’t gap at the waist and goes all the way up to my belly button, just the way I like.” She adds that the modern details — some distressing and an undone drop-hem — have made this an everyday staple for her.
Up-and-coming New York denim brand Lorod kicked off a trend last year of “zip through” denim — essentially denim that zips all the way from the back to the front — which were a favorite of blogger Reese Blutstein for the zipper in question. “I really love the detail of the zipper because this basic straight-leg jean is a little more sexy. When I wear them, they automatically make me feel more confident.” Lorod’s jeans are selling out everywhere, but if you want to get in on the trend, we found a similar style from Topshop that has a more modern crop and wide-leg fit.
There’s a certain class of denim heads who are serious about raw denim exclusively, whether it’s one of the A.P.C. originals or a more recent take that’s a little less rigid. Lauren Schwartzberg tipped us off to this Levi’s reissue of their first pair of women’s jeans, the 701. It’s supposedly a great fit for anyone who wants that heritage-raw-denim feel, too.
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