A casual wardrobe fixture, denim is one of those outfit staples that can be overwhelming. To find out what new denim is worth buying, we talked to 25 women of all shapes and sizes about their favorite denim (at the moment) that suits their body, wears well, and has range (so you could wear it just as easily with a pair of heels as with a white tee).
We sorted them according to fit and style for easy reference — though some items may occupy multiple categories — then added some context and variations here and there, to satisfy the budget shopper and the curious reader. If you’re looking for white jeans, we went and found the best versions of those, too.
For people who don’t like the severe taper of a skinny-leg jean, or any sort of flare, the best middle-of-the-road option is a straight leg. Alysia Alex, art and design partnerships manager at Ban.do, always returns to these jeans from Everlane, which run ankle-length on her five-foot-four frame. “They’re so affordable, and fit true to size in all the right places (they’re called cheeky for a reason).” They’ve even earned a devoted following among Alex’s friends: “I have a dedicated Everlane denim group text with a few girlfriends that will back me up.”
Coveteur editor Hannah Baxter is a self-described denim-phile (“my dresser is overflowing with jeans”) and the pair she wears on repeat is from Anine Bing — “the ideal blend of a snug, high waist and a perfectly proportioned straight leg. It hugs your tush just right.” She pairs it with everything from vintage tees to oversize cashmere, and “inevitably” someone will ask her about them. “That’s all the validation I need.”
If you want an all-black wash, we recommend this pair of high-rise jeans from Levi’s. It has a hidden button-fly, a bottom that sits flush against your tush without sagging, and a relaxed fit that’s perfect for pairing with Doc Martens. (Both Bird owner Jennifer Mankins and Madewell design head Joyce Lee are fans, too.)
A hit for decades, the skinny jean is 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. She says they’re extremely versatile, since they’re “very, very high-waisted, very flattering, and much cheaper than J Brand.”
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.
TyLynn Nguyen, the designer and creative director behind her own eponymous clothing label, says that, as a new mom, her favorite high-rise jean right now is Everlane’s High-Rise Skinny, for its comfort and stretch. “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. ”
Lorna Burford, who has worked in the denim industry for over a decade and founded the Jeans Blog, lives in these Citizens of Humanity skinnies. “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.” They’re made with four-way stretch to move with you and flatter the body: “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.”
Cropped and petite jeans
“Whether you’re petite or just want a shorter hem that won’t creep past your ankles, cropped and distressed hems are all the rage these days. Two people recommended this pair from L.A.-based brand AGOLDE, which makes ethically sourced denim. Tyger Tyger copywriter Leah Sookoo calls out the “flattering, lengthening, slimming, beautifying fit” as something of a holy grail find for her petite, curvy frame, and Wiley Body co-founder Vanessa Wade is equally obsessed. “With the 11.5” rise they cover up a bit of my post baby tummy and accentuate my butt like no other.”
Michelle Wang, a product manager at Ssense, likes the elongating effect of the crop on these “classic, simple, and chic blue jeans” from Citizens of Humanity. “It is a light washed pale indigo color, which I personally love layering with coats in winter to add a bit of freshness. In warmer weather, the style could look great with just a basic T-shirt.”
There are times when tailoring is necessary. Petite clothing store Stature stocks exclusive petite jeans from brands like Rachel Comey. This custom wide-legged style is “a personal and customer favorite,” according to co-founder Camille Moroz, who says, “We worked with the brand to crop them just right to show some anklebone on a petite frame.” The Loup has a nautical, high-waisted ’70s silhouette crafted from “a soft, comfortable fabric that stretches to accommodate a booty or big meal.”
At five-foot-three, I also own and like the raw edging on this pair from Parker Smith, and the tiny side vents 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.
For petite women on a budget, Strategist writer Karen Iorio Adelson recommends Loft jeans. She points out the brand’s extensive petite options — and that, with their 26-and-a-half-inch inseam, these work well for the vertically challenged. “These jeans have become one of my favorite pairs over the past year. They hold their shape very well, which is great for me because I’ve definitely worn them a few too many times in between washes.”
Cropped, wide-leg pants are also becoming more and more popular (maybe in part due to the success of Jesse Kamm’s sailor pants). One favorite of Shannon Schafer’s — Nordstrom’s senior fashion director — is this 3x1 style with a paperbag waist, wide leg, and cropped hem — “three amazing trends in one.” It’s surprisingly versatile: “The paperbag waist gives the feeling of a fashion pant and can easily be dressed up for work. The relaxed, wide leg is both comfortable and stylish, and the cropped length looks great with anything from heeled boots to sandals.”
For something more casual that you could wear on weekends, painter, textile artist, and style blogger Mia Ghogho recommends these American Apparel jeans. The price point and quality are right, and she absolutely loves the cut: “They are just slim enough in the thigh area in comparison to the width of the leg opening, so they give me the perfect triangular silhouette I love.” She pairs them ankle or calf boots, but they would work with sneakers or sandals in spring, too.
And should you want a slightly slouchier look, stylist and graphic designer Jie Zheng recommends these boyfriend jeans from Topshop. “They’re basically the sweatpants of jeans. They have the slouch and roominess of classic boyfriend jeans, with a more flattering shape.” She also says the high-waisted fit and cinched waist create the illusion of longer, leaner legs. They’re a favorite of Strategist writer Liza Corsillo’s, too — she “likes that they have a normcore art-teacher vibe, especially paired with clogs or Blundstone boots.”
“My favorite cut of jean that can be easily styled normcore or non-normcore, are high-rise jeans with a solid straight leg or mom fit,” says stylist Lindsey Shores. She’s worn this pair of high-waisted mom jeans from Zara sister brand Bershka on repeat lately, and at just $35, they’re also very budget-friendly.
The vintage denim enthusiasts I spoke to for this story mentioned that they scour vintage stores and flea markets pretty much exclusively for Levi’s. Sustainable fashion vlogger Jenny Wellbourn favors buying oversize, relaxed-fit Levis 515s, which she said you can score on Etsy or at shops like the Break. Gabrielle Bassett of the blog Gabrielle Wears Denim mentioned that you can shop some versions of her favorite Levi’s 501s among Urban Outfitters’ selection of vintage Urban Renewal pieces: “The mid- to high-waist cut and the straight leg with the 100 percent cotton denim are my favorite, especially in summer with a white tee or a pair of kitten heels.”
If you don’t actually want to deal with the hassle of digging through piles of vintage denim, the next best thing is a vintage-y style and wash. “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,” says Breanna Warner — the head of brand marketing and creative for & Other Stories. 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 creeping right under your rib cage.”
Los Angeles label Re/Done also sells repurposed Levis (which have won over New York fashion-editor-at-large Amy Larocca), though Of a Kind founder Erica Cerulo says their new label jeans are just as good. “I discovered — after trying on approximately 17 pairs to land the vintage one that works well on me — that I like the jeans the brand makes from scratch even more.” She’s committed to their high-rise ankle crop, because “the fit and rise are just right for me (no waistband-gapping or super-tight calves), and the frayed edge is appropriately chill — but not skin-exposing.”
Ripped and distressed jeans
If you prefer an artful rip or two, you could also try this Madewell pair, which come recommended by travel and food writer Kat Odell. “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. 1’s now,” she says. 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.”
Mother Denim is a fashion-editor favorite, and one that Wang likes for peak comfort. “They truly make the most comfortable jeans. The type of denim they use is very soft and hugs my body perfectly.” She likes these for “just right amount of distress,” and says the chewed-up design on the back pockets are fun, too. “Definitely the kind of jeans that will draw tons of compliments from other people.”
Finding maternity jeans without the overly stretchy baby bump material — which, while effective, is sort of fugly — is tough for expecting mothers. Kat Braun finds the over-the-bump panels “too hot and itchy,” which is why she’s happy she stumbled upon Paige Verdugo’s jeans with subtle elasticized side paneling. “The side elastic stayed up and [they] were very comfy, plus the fit and sizing was truer to non-maternity jeans than other brands I tried.”
If you don’t mind that baby-bump stretch, many pregnant reviewers have deemed these, from Madewell, “the perfect maternity jeans.” Strategist writer Lauren Ro wore them while pregnant, and describes them as “pull-on skinnies with a trompe-l’oeil fly and an over-the-belly stretchy band that has enough room to expand as my stomach expands.” She notes that you can wear the band pulled over your belly in the final stages of pregnancy or folded over and tucked in when you don’t need it.
If you’re cutting costs pre-baby, you could also try this pair of Jessica Simpson jeans, which mother Arianne Mount swears by. “Jessica Simpson maternity jeans were my jam for both pregnancies,” she says, “because they were great quality (one pair lasted me a pregnancy and a half) and didn’t look like ‘mom jeans.’” She also loves the comfort level, and the price is right. “They weren’t too expensive, as some maternity clothes can get.”
Comfy, flattering plus-size jeans are hard to come by, too: Plus-size blogger Emily Bastedo could never find a pair that fit properly until she stumbled upon Wit & Wisdom. “Not only are they affordable, but also some of the most flattering jeans I’ve worn. With the stretch fabric, they are comfortable all day but never saggy.” She likes that they’re also lacking in any overt stretch paneling. “I am so grateful Wit & Wisdom has ‘hidden’ this feature. I have multiple pairs in all different washes and they still look brand-new.”
Plus-size style blogger Kristine Thompson of the blog Trendy Curvy considers Celebrity Pink the best-fitting, most budget-friendly plus-size denim on the market, with prices often at $30 and under. “They have a great blend of stretch and structure so they are the perfect everyday jean,” she says.
Thompson also likes NYDJ’s collection of plus-size denim, which she has called the most comfortable plus-size jeans she owns, due to their ample amount of stretch and the curve hugging material (you might need to size down on NYDJ’s denim). “They hold their stretch after a couple of washes,” she assures me, and come in a variety of styles and sizes, up to 28W.
Model Essie Golden, a size 22/24W (43–45-inch waist), says these Levis “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.”
There’s a certain class of denim heads who are serious about wearing raw denim exclusively, whether it’s A.P.C. originals or a more recent take that’s a little less rigid for women with curves. Lauren Levy tipped us off to one brand fitting these fabrics for a woman’s body: Imogene + Willie. “They do a really gorgeous high-rise that’s 100 percent cotton and a more traditional mid-rise that uses the same exact fabric the brand uses for their men’s raw denim.”
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