I’m one of the Strategist’s de facto denim correspondents, so I’m always on the hunt for the very best jeans — from high-waisted to mom and every style in between. The best lesson I’ve learned is probably the simplest (from Virginia Sole-Smith, author of the newsletter Burnt Toast and book Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture, who started a series called Jeans Science and tried on more than 60 pairs of plus-size jeans): There’s no Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants–style pair that will work on all of us. The reality is that as ubiquitous as jeans are, shopping for them is sometimes a Herculean effort. Everyone has a wish list for their OTP — “one true pair,” to borrow from fandom-speak — and checking everything off can seem impossible. But collecting recommendations from stylish people you trust is a good place to start, and that’s the Strategist’s strong suit. So I turned to super-stylish women of all shapes and sizes and asked them about their favorite denim. To ensure we left no acid-washed stone unturned, I searched our archives for memorable endorsements (like a much raved-about butt-boosting pair). I considered more than 50 jeans in the writing of this guide but culled only the very best of the best — all of which you can read about below.
What we’re looking for
Sizes and lengths
It can seem like jeans are arbitrarily assigned numbers — some are sized according to waist measurements and others by even numbers (2, 4, 6). For some people, that might mean being forced to choose between a big waist gap or a pair that’s slightly too tight. I tried to prioritize options that come in the widest range of sizes. That goes for inseam lengths too. And of course, I asked denim enthusiasts to detail the fit of their favorites as much as they could.
An apology to low-rise revivalists, as the people we spoke to preferred high-waisted styles. I listed the rise measurement for each of the recommendations below (a few brands don’t include this information in their product descriptions, which is why you’ll see “no rise listed” on a couple of pairs). Jeans that have more than a ten-inch rise fall into the “high” category, according to stylist Jessica Cadmus.
Most jeans on the market today have some stretch to make them feel more comfortable — especially at the waist. I’ve catalogued the pairs here into three tiers: not stretchy, stretchy, and very stretchy. The first tier covers denim made completely from cotton (characterized as raw and rigid). The second tier is for pairs with up to 2 percent elastane or spandex, as Cadmus previously explained to me. If jeans have above that percentage, they’re considered “extra-stretchy” and fall into the third tier.
There are times when a cowboy-esque flare will do and times when you want the sleekness of skinny jeans. Some cuts were more popular (straight-leg) than others (wide-leg). But I went a step further to describe the shape of every pair — whether that’s more slim-fitting, tapered, or cropped.
Ask around, and you’ll hear about how someone splurged on their Rag & Bone or Paige jeans. Factoring in cost per wear, an investment can make sense, but the truth is that you can get a pair of great jeans for not that much. (Think of everyone currently scouring secondhand shops for Levi’s 501s.) That’s all to say that affordability was a top priority when thinking through which jeans made the cut. Each pair below is denoted as either $ (under $100), $$ ($100 to $200), or $$$ (over $200).
Best overall jeans
Sizes and lengths: 23–39 (plus sizes here) with 26-, 28-, and 30-inch inseams | Rise: 10.85 inches | Stretch: Stretchy | Cut: Tapered straight leg | Price: $
Long-time Strategist readers might’ve already observed that Levi’s Wedgies are (probably) the jeans we’ve written about most, as they appear all across our archives. These have a “natural rise that hits right at your belly button, so it’s high but not too high,” according to Bird founder Jennifer Mankin. Madewell creative director Joyce Lee is another notable, noted fan — she thinks they have a just-right, slight stretchiness to them. Dianna Cohen, founder of hair-care line Crown Affair, told us that hers “look as great on when they’re still tight and just out of the wash as they do once they’re more worn and loosen up.”
After putting on a pair of Wedgies — Levi’s sent me a pair for review — I get why the style has been recommended to us so often. These have a true straight-leg silhouette, skimming right along the thighs, without flaring at the knee. There’s a traditional button fly, as opposed to a zipper, which held me without making me feel constricted. The jeans don’t have much stretch (just 1 percent of elastane), but I could crouch down, jump up, and sit in them comfortably. Their biggest sell for me as a petite person, however, is that they are available in a 26-inch inseam, which hits at the end of my ankle, so I don’t have to roll the hem at all. (Taller folks should go for the 28- or 30-inch lengths.)
Best jeans for plus sizes
Sizes and lengths: 10–30 with 25-, 27-, 29-, 31-, and 33-inch inseams | Rise: No rise listed | Stretch: Stretchy | Cut: Skinny | Price: $
Petite-plus influencers Tinsaye Berhanu and Natalie Craig have both previously called out the Bombshell Skinny Jeans. Berhanu describes the high waist as “really comfortable without rolling down when you’re moving around.” The jeans are rated as a “maximum” on the company’s stretch scale. Craig points out that Torrid offers short and extra-short lengths for jeans — something many other plus-size brands don’t have. (You can also choose between tall and extra-tall options.) Torrids were popular in our guide to plus-size jeans, where they earned praise for how well they fit curves. Style influencer Nikki Apostolou appreciates the way they “hug my curves, cling where I need them to, and flatter my more apple-shape figure.”
Best jeans for petites
Sizes and lengths: 23–37, with 26.5-, 28.5-, 30.5-, and 32.5-inch inseams | Rise: No rise listed | Stretch: Stretchy | Cut: Straight-leg | Price: $
When we asked petite women about their favorite jeans, there wasn’t a consensus on a brand or a particular pair — more than a few referenced standard-size pants instead of petite-specific ones. But two people did refer us to Abercrombie, which has become a popular destination for #petitetok and among other stylish women we’ve talked to. These jeans were mentioned by both photographer Lizbeth Hernandez and content creator Amy Serrano. Hernandez calls them “perfect for my curvy body,” while Serrano says the pair “hugs every part of my butt perfectly.” But what made Abercrombie really earn this spot is its two types of petite sizes: “short” for those who are five feet to five-foot-three and “extra-short,” which is specifically designed for those under five feet (although this length is only available in sizes 25 to 30).
Best jeans for tall women
Sizes and lengths: 23–33 with 24-, 27-, 30-, and 33-inch inseams | Rise: 10 inches | Stretch: Stretchy | Cut: Cropped, kicked-out flare | Price: $$
Madewell’s jeans were crowned the best of the best in our guide to jeans for tall women — and this was the pair that took the title of “best overall.” Former Strategist writer Chloe Anello (who’s five-foot-nine-inches tall) has invested in several pairs of the brand’s denim. And former Strategist social-media editor Hannah Starke (five-ten) describes her now-sold-out pair as “the only jeans that fit my body correctly.” What makes the company’s jeans stand out is that they come in two tall-specific lengths: “tall” for anyone who’s five-eight to five-eleven and “taller” for those six feet and up. The only problem is that the denim sometimes sells out quickly. The Kick Out Crops are one of the few styles available in both “tall” and “taller” at the moment (often it’s a one-or-the-other situation). Note that Madewell recommends sizing down because the pair runs large. If you’re not on the tall side, you can still get the Kick Out Crops in a 24-inch petite inseam or a 27-inch standard inseam. And if you’re especially tall, Anello suggests trying a pair of jeans from Amalli Talli. The tall-women-founded company makes jeans with 34- and 36-inch inseams.
Best super-high-waisted jeans
Sizes and lengths: 23–42 (plus-sizes here) with 27- and 29-inch inseams | Rise: 12 inches | Stretch: Stretchy | Cut: Straight-leg | Price: $
The Ribcage — or the Goldilocks of Jeans, as we’ve dubbed them — was a given to include in this guide. Strategist editor Maxine Builder describes them as “deliriously high, easily clearing my belly button” (without actually cutting into her ribcage, as their name suggests). They’re a favorite among many folks we’ve talked to over the years, and New York deputy editor Alexis Swerdloff, for her part, calls them “stiff without being too constricting.” I had the chance to try the Ribcages alongside the Wedgies; out of the two, I prefer the latter for their more curve-hugging fit, but the Ribcages are a respectable second place. The super-high rise gives me longer-looking legs, with the cut of the leg a little wider than that of the Wedgies.
Best straight-leg jeans
Sizes and lengths: 23–34 with 30- and 32-inch inseams | Rise: 11.125 inches | Stretch: Not stretchy | Cut: Straight-leg | Price: $
The straight-leg was the most-cited cut. In the end, the classic Levi’s 501s took the top spot because of just how often they came up — musicians Aly and AJ Michalka and celebrity stylist Karla Welch specifically name-checked this pair, and several of our other panelists not only own vintage versions of the style but judge their current favorites against them. This isn’t surprising considering that the legendary 501s are the fit that literally started it all for the brand. “These are just classic: the fit, the semi-high waist, the color,” Aly Michalka says. “The more worn they are, the better they look and feel.” Her sister AJ agrees: “My booty looks so good in these. Levi’s never fails — they just get jeans and always have.” Gabrielle Arruda, a designer-slash-blogger, is a recent convert to the cult of the 501. “They are the jeans you can actually wear all day,” she says. Arruda mentions paying attention to the wash, as the darker shades seem to have “a slightly tighter weave, so they don’t naturally stretch out as well.” Welch (who has collaborated with the company in the past) offers this piece of advice to break them in just right: “Wearing them, and wearing them, and wearing them, and wearing them, until I’m like, ‘Ah, these are perfect!’”
Best mom jeans
Sizes and lengths: 24–34 with 26- and 28-inch inseams | Rise: 11.5 inches | Stretch: Not stretchy | Cut: Cropped straight-leg | Price: $$
The Rileys are another pair of jeans that’s earned multiple mentions in our archives. Strategist writer Lauren Ro says, “They more than fit the bill for ’90s-style denim.” Filmmaker and former New York photo editor Stella Blackmon, a mom-jean maven, feels they’re “like an ode to the jeans my mom loved when I was growing up.” They’re also a favorite among petite content creators like Serrano, who’s five feet tall and likes that the cropped cut hits at her ankle, making them full-length on her. Like the Wedgies, the jeans come in 26-inch and 28-inch inseams — I tried the 28-inch length, which had to be cuffed for my five-foot-two frame. The Rileys did feel a bit tight at first, loosening up on subsequent wears. But they gave me a welcome high-and-tight look in the back.
Best slim-leg jeans
Sizes and lengths: 00–15 (equivalent to 22- to 32-inch waists) with 30-, 32-, 34-, 36-, and 38-inch inseams | Rise: 11.75 inches | Stretch: Not stretchy | Cut: Tapered slim straight-leg | Price: $
Don’t let the “Cowboy Cut” name fool you — these Wranglers are nowhere near a full flare. Strategist senior editor Simone Kitchens did discover the pair in a cowboy store in Oklahoma City, but they look like “something fresh out of A.P.C.” and do “good things all around for my butt and waist.” The high-rise jeans fall into the middle ground between skinny and straight-leg. On the fit front, you can choose between 100 percent cotton without stretch (offered in the medium and bleach washes) or just a hint of spandex in the light wash. Kitchens went non-stretch, adding that after a few washes, the pair gets that “thrift-store-faded patina these jeans are known for. Or wash them a little less and prolong their A.P.C.-like stiffness.” If you need any more convincing, Kitchens’s ode to her Wranglers was so popular that four of her friends bought them right away.
Best paperbag-waist jeans
Sizes and lengths: 25–31 with a 36-inch inseam | Rise: 13.4 inches | Stretch: Not stretchy | Cut: Baggy, tapered | Price: $
Art handler Elizabeth Dimond had twins and a third baby within three years, and since her body has changed, these jeans from Zara have become a postpartum essential. (Dimond now has them in all four washes.) What makes the pair so comfortable comes down to the gathered paper-bag waistband and baggier fit through the hips, which then tapers through the leg. Though these are considered rigid denim, Dimond explains that they “loosen a bit with wear and then after a wash, they fit more snug.” And although she usually has to pull and tug at her jeans to keep them in place, these sit (and stay) up high.
Best skinny jeans
Sizes and lengths: 24–33 with 28-, 30-, and 32-inch inseams | Rise: 10.87 inches | Stretch: Very stretchy | Cut: Skinny | Price: $
For Strategist associate editor Jenna Milliner-Waddell, the true test of a good pair is a no-gap waist, and the Mile Highs exceeded those expectations: “Not only do they show no gaps, they stretch just enough to get over my hips without being a full-blown jegging while still giving me that rigid denim feel,” she says. They have a “high but not too high” rise — despite their name, the rise is about an inch lower than that of the Levi’s Ribcage jeans above — and the fit isn’t fleeting. Even after a couple of washes and much wear, the waist is still tight and the color just as saturated, Milliner-Waddell says. These are “probably the closest I’ll ever get to love at first sight,” she adds, and considering the price, it’s a win all around.
Best (splurge-worthy) skinny jeans
Sizes and lengths: 24–32 with a 28-inch inseam | Rise: No rise listed | Stretch: Stretchy | Cut: Skinny | Price: $$
Once Alisa Richter, vice-president of No. 29 Communications, tried on the High Standards at A.P.C.’s Soho store, she immediately loved the “vaguely Parisian” look. (It was at that moment she became a former Madewell devotee). The style is still a favorite more than five years later. “There’s a hint of stretch for comfort, but it’s almost undetectable, and that’s what makes them flattering,” Richter says of the jeans, which are made from Japanese denim. It’s sturdier and more structured than the “overly stretchy jeans from other brands that just fall apart.” (Her recommendation is to always wash them on cold and hang them to dry.) According to Richter, they “cinch you in” without any gaping at the waist; she recommends sizing up if you want a slightly looser fit. (And recently, she went back to A.P.C. to buy the brand’s wide-leg Seaside Jeans for this summer.)
Best super-skinny jeans
Sizes and lengths: 23–40 (plus sizes here) with 28-, 30-, and 32-inch inseams | Rise: 10.25 inches | Stretch: Very stretchy | Cut: Jegging-style skinny | Price: $
The 720s from Levi’s are what the company describes as “modern jeggings” with a super-skinny shape. These were featured in our guide to the greatest high-waisted pairs, and I thought they deserved commendation here as well. Although they are cut very slim through the leg, writer Diana McCorry praises the 720s for their stretch (which comes from to a combination of cotton, polyester, and elastane), so you don’t have to suffer through compressed insides to wear them. And comfort-wise, McCorry finds that the denim has enough give at the waist “but not quite enough to necessitate a belt.”
Best (splurge-worthy) super-skinny jeans
Sizes and lengths: 23–34 with a 29-inch inseam | Rise: 9.75 inches | Stretch: Stretchy | Cut: Skinny | Price: $$
Even as their merits are being contested by younger generations, skinny jeans are still worth having in your closet, and “the Le High are as skinny as they come,” Cadmus says. “They are so skinny, they look painted on.” But they’re not so second-skin that they’re uncomfortable, she assures us, as they have a hint of elastane that “flatters every curve” — especially accentuating the backside. Having tried a version of these once (and being a Frame fan already), I can confidently say the same. They even made my short legs look toned and longer.
Best wide-leg jeans
Sizes and lengths: 24–31 with a 28.5-inch inseam | Rise: 11.75 inches | Stretch: Stretchy | Cut: Wide-leg | Price: $$
While wide-leg jeans weren’t mentioned as much as other denim cuts, they are undeniably trendy at the moment, which is why I’m repeating a recommendation I heard from digital content creator Carrie Carrollo. Rolla’s is an Australian company that takes inspiration from secondhand styles. The Sailor, for instance, is a nod to Jane Birkin’s favorite patch-pocket pairs. Carrollo says the jeans do remind her of the bell-bottoms of the past: “Paired with a vintage T-shirt, I always feel like they look extra-’70s.” And though Carrollo is on the shorter side (five-two), the flare still suits her frame. “The waist-to-hip ratio for my body type really works,” she says.
Best flared jeans
Sizes and lengths: 23–34 with a 27.5-inch inseam | Rise: 11 inches | Stretch: Stretchy | Cut: Flare | Price: $$$
“The flare and frayed bottom are shockingly similar to my favorite pair from freshman year of college, but blessedly, they don’t have that Britney Spears low-rise,” says Catherine Smart, co-founder of sauce-and-salad-dressing-maker Not Just Co., of Mother’s Hustler jeans. She describes the cut as a “solid flare” (not a bell-bottom or a straight-leg in the least). “They’re a far cry from the skinny jeans I was clinging to as an elder millennial.” Smart says they run large — when a Anthropologie employee handed her a size 25 to try on, she literally laughed out loud, as she’s usually a 26 or 27. The jeans also have “enough stretch to be forgiving, but are sturdy enough to hold everything,” she says, declaring that even though their more-than-$200 price is probably the most she’s ever spent on jeans, they’re well worth it.
Best bootcut jeans
Sizes and lengths: 24–35 with 30-, 32-, 34-inch inseams | Rise: 11.25 inches | Stretch: Stretchy | Cut: Bootcut | Price: $
I couldn’t not go with Wrangler for our best bootcut pick — a favorite of model Georgia May Jagger. Even before Jagger was a face for the brand, the self-described “glamorous tomboy” wore Wranglers her whole life. The Westward, which she says features that “classic Wrangler look,” has a similar, tight (but not uncomfortable) and super-high-rise fit as the jeans that her mother and aunts wore back in the day.
Best distressed jeans
Sizes and lengths: 23–32 with a 32.25-inch inseam | Rise: 11 inches | Stretch: Not stretchy | Cut: Wider straight-leg | Price: $$$
With distressed denim, it’s almost too easy to end up in hacked-up territory. But Los Angeles label Re/Done is known for its tailoring (which includes upcycling Levi’s). Despite its high price tags, the company came up several times in my reporting for this story. Of a Kind co-founder Erica Cerulo relies on these for jeans with no waistband gaps or supertight calves, while Jenni Lee of sock company Comme Si likes that their crops, on her five-foot-six frame, actually allow her to show a little ankle. Former New York fashion editor-at-large Amy Larocca calls hers “as close to perfect as I’d ever allow myself to imagine.” That’s all to say that while these are expensive, we think they’re worth including here. Paige Port, talent and business development vice-president at Dear Media, relies on this pair for artfully done rips that aren’t too big and “hit at the perfect spot on your knees.” Anello counts the brand’s loose jeans as a favorite — though she was skeptical at first, she now calls these among the best jeans she has ever owned because of their high quality. “I know I will have these jeans longer than most denim, especially those on the fast-fashion side,” Anello says.
Best rigid denim jeans
Sizes and lengths: 24–38 with 28.5- and 32.5-inch inseams | Rise: 10.5 inches | Stretch: Not stretchy | Cut: Straight-leg | Price: $$$
Even if you like more rigidness in your jeans, raw denim can seem a little extreme. The Genuine Jean from the Feel Studio is a compromise — sans stretch, but doing the work of shaping to your body. It took just a few wears for Kitchens’s pair to do so. Kitchens compares them to vintage jeans in their lack of stretchiness but with enough softness to stop them from being unwearable. Dancer Eva Alt seconds this, saying they’re “like the pair you always hope to find at a vintage store — just without the work.” And there’s a reason for that: The Feel Studio was founded by stylist Stevie Dance, who’s a devout Levi’s wearer, according to Kitchens, and the fit of these is inspired by old 501s.
Best (less expensive) rigid jeans
Sizes and lengths: 23–31 with a 29-inch inseam | Rise: 12 inches | Stretch: Not stretchy | Cut: Slightly cropped straight-leg | Price: $$
Reformation’s Cynthia jeans come in at more than a third of the price of the Genuines but are similarly made so that they don’t stretch out too much over time. But Strategist managing editor Kelsie Schrader does compliment their unexpected comfort. “Normally, when people call jeans ‘comfortable,’ I want to ask them how much Levi’s is paying them to say that, but truly, these are comfortable.” She adds that they are the “first pair of jeans I have ever, ever, ever liked,” crediting their fit for being not too long on her five-foot-two frame, tight over her thighs, or loose at her waist. “Such a fit has never happened for me,” Schrader says. These have a decidedly leggier silhouette, according to Katie Schmidt, owner and designer of the label Passion Lilie, who says they make her look as if she has even longer legs.
Best (even less expensive) rigid jeans
Sizes and lengths: 24–34 with a 29-inch inseam | Rise: 12 inches | Stretch: Not stretchy | Cut: Straight-leg | Price: $
According to Arruda, these “make effortlessly cool actually effortless.” Even though the Cowboy Jeans aren’t considered stretchy, she says they are easy to move in, with a relaxed cut (meant to be reminiscent of ’90s denim) and a high waist that doesn’t “hug your hips closely,” only curving a little at the top of the thigh and falling straight from then on. Arruda is in the camp of not washing your jeans with every wear, and mentions that these never stretch out too much or get too snug when they’re thrown in the laundry — the “perfect fit” is still perfect afterward.
• Hallie Abrams, founder of the Wardrobe Consultant
• Eva Alt, dancer and choreographer
• Chloe Anello, Strategist writer
• Gabrielle Arruda, designer-slash-blogger
• Tinsaye Berhanu, petite-plus influencer
• Maxine Builder, Strategist editor
• Jessica Cadmus, stylist
• Carrie Carrollo, digital content creator
• Erica Cerulo, Of a Kind co-founder
• Dianna Cohen, founder of hair-care line Crown Affair
• Natalie Craig, petite-plus influencer
• Liza Curtiss, Le Whit co-founder
• Elizabeth Dimond, art handler
• Monica Heisey, U.K. Strategist contributor
• Lizbeth Hernandez, photographer
• Georgia May Jagger, model
• Simone Kitchens, Strategist senior editor
• Jenni Lee, founder of sock company Comme Si
• Joyce Lee, Madewell creative director
• Lauren Levy, former Strategist staffer
• Jennifer Mankins, Bird founder
• Diana McCorry, writer
• Aly and AJ Michalka, musicians
• Jenna Milliner-Waddell, Strategist writer
• Kat Odell, travel and food writer
• Paige Port, talent and business development vice-president of Dear Media
• Alisa Richter, vice-president of No. 29 Communications
• Hailey Rizzo, blogger behind Feeling Good as Hail
• Lauren Ro, Strategist writer
• Katie Schmidt, owner and designer of label Passion Lilie
• Kelsie Schrader, Strategist managing editor
• Catherine Smart, co-founder of sauce-and-salad-dressing-maker of Not Just Co.
• Alexis Swerdloff, deputy editor at New York
• Karla Welch, celebrity stylist
The Strategist is a site designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best notebook, black T-shirt, fashion-editor-approved jeans, toothbrush, and apartment décor. Note that all prices are subject to change.
If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.