Demystifying Denim

If you’ve looked at a few pages of my website, you already know I am a big fan of denim. Jackets, blazers, shirts, and jeans in black or white, as well as many shades of blue, are in my closet. I look for a high percentage of cotton and buy the smallest size of jeans I can comfortably fit into since the fabric will soften and stretch some with wear. Denim holds you in and smooths your shape if there isn’t too much stretch to the material. The key (as always!) is finding the correct item for you and your lifestyle.

The jeans I am wearing in this photo are here. The shirt is here.

There are myriad shapes and styles of denim, so everyone might be able to find a pair or two. All that variety can be confusing, so let’s discuss a few shapes.

Generally, the pockets should sit in the middle of your bottom. The rear view should be balanced, with pockets that are not too high or low and centered on the cheeks. If the pockets are too far apart, the bottom looks wide; too low will make the bottom look saggy.

The width of the leg opening determines the best length. Narrow-leg jeans and pants look best when they stop at the ankle bone so they don’t bunch unattractively on the top of your shoes. Wider-leg jeans and pants look best when they nearly touch the floor.

Straight Leg

When straight-leg jeans stop at the ankle bone, you can wear them with any shoe or short boot. This classic style looks good on most people with nearly any type of top or jacket. If you have curves rather than straight and flat like me, look for a curvy fit. If you have a small waist and larger hips, you may need to buy a larger size and get them tailored at the waist.

I’ll share a few links for each of the jeans I describe. Straight-leg jeans are hereherehere and here.

Flare Leg

Flare-leg (not bellbottom) jeans are much loved since they are so easy to dress up or down. They look great with pointed toes or a shoe with a slender profile to keep them from feeling too bottom-heavy. Bring some definition to your waistline to create balance. If you have thick calves, these jeans are golden!

Flare legs start slim and flare out from the thigh area. Bell bottoms fit slim to the knee and can look too much like a costume.

The following links are for Flare-leg jeans I own and wear often. Herehereherehere.

Wide Leg

Wear these with a structured jacket with sharp shoulders and tuck your shirt in. The fuller shape on the bottom half means the top half needs to be more fitted. Wear a belt and add pointed-toe slim silhouette shoes to avoid being overwhelmed with fabric.

These links are for wide-leg jeans. Herehereherehere and here.


Skinny jeans fit slim to the ankle. Wear them with longer, bulky sweaters, oversized jackets, and knee-high or chunky boots to keep the look balanced and more modern.

Skinny Jeans are hereherehere and here.

Boot Cut

Boot-cut jeans fit slim over most of the leg and then flare out near the ankle to accommodate the tops of boots. Wear them with any top or jacket, but add a belt and show your waistline at least part way. Light washes are more comfortable in hot weather, but darker washes look more polished.

These links are for boot-cut jeans. Hereherehere and here.

The rise is the length of the pants from the waistline to the crotch and is also an essential fit feature to consider. High-rise jeans can smooth the tummy area. Mid-rises can look great if they sit just below the natural waist. Low-rises bring all the attention to the tummy and can cause muffin-top if they are too snug.

You may have to try on a lot of jeans before you find your perfect ones. I hope this post and all my others help you find the right items for you. Thank you for your kindness and loyalty. The shopping links I share may allow me to earn a small commission without cost to you.

  1. Thank you! This is great information. I went jean shopping this week and was so overwhelmed. In two stores there were a combination of 20 styles, ranging from high,high waist to barely boot cut, with a boyfriend jean thrown in. And don’t get me started on the ones with distressing and holes. Do you go to the stores and try on jeans?

  2. This was really helpful!! I just ordered a pair of wide leg jeans from White House Black Market and I hope they fit well. I usually wear the boot cut or flare. The information on the back pockets was especially helpful. Thank you for all the great tips you provide in your posts.

  3. Hugely helpful, Susan. Great information. This one will be bookmarked and added to my Pinterest files. Thank you for all your work linking selections of each type.

  4. Who wears high rise? I have a short rise and it is so difficult to find what fits and I don’t like the low rise.
    Great suggestions, thank you!

  5. This is an area I am still struggling with! The pocket placement is super helpful to me, but then so is this complete post! I will definitely refer to it before I buy new jeans. Thanks Susan

  6. Thank you for this information Susan – I have had good luck with NYDJ in the past but the last pair I bought had too much stretch and looked terrible by the end of the day. I’m curious as to the brand you are wearing in the photo – they have really cute patch pockets in front!

  7. The pocket placement is genius! I need to check my backside in the mirror. This is a fabulous post and one I will probably refer to again.

  8. Thank you for this post. Jeans/pants are so difficult for me, which is why I always buy more tops than pants 🙂 I am glad you included notes on styling the wide-leg jeans, which seem to be back in a big way this year. I do like the ankle-length, wide-leg drop styles on models, but they are so tricky to pull off in real life without looking frumpy. I managed to find a pair of the ankle-length wide crop jeans by Habitat — they are a bit slimmer in the thigh/hip and fall wider (gracefully) below the knee without looking silly. They were so flattering on that I bought a pair in black denim as well as blue denim.

  9. Needless to say, there are so many jean/denim options out there it’s hard to know where to begin. This is a much needed, appreciated and helpful post for me. Thank you!!

  10. I have finally, after a few years of searching, found the perfect denim jacket and vest which are just right for me. I have been tempted over this time to make a compromise purchase but, keeping in mind the disgusting landfill statics of used clothing in my country, Australia, I am trying to avoid waste. Yes, I give poor choice purchases to charity if I find a better choice but even the charities are getting over subscribed with donations. I really admire your encouragement to be discerning when buying. Thank you.

  11. Hi Susan! As always, I appreciate and enjoy your posts. I usually pin them so I can find them again easily but the past few times I’ve tried to add your posts to Pinterest, I’ve been unable to do it. It tells me to create a Pin when I hit the link on your site. Any ideas or help you can offer to make it easier to pin? I’ve never had trouble in the past. Thanks so much!

  12. Please do a post on how to determine the waist size ( 26, 27, 28, etc.) versus the traditional size 2, 4, 6. It seems as if there’s a big variation between brands. I’m a size 4, and I just can’t get the waist size right. They’re either too big or too small

  13. I find that since I am petite and wear 2P in jeans that I do well with Chico’s pull on petite ankle jeggings 00P and Talbots slim ankle jeans 2P. I do nothave them Chicos as longas it is specified “ankle”. Talbots about an 1″ or 1 1/2″. My legs are skinny, 4’11”, 103. So thes jeansdo not fit tight in the legs on me.

  14. Great post, once again! I love jeans also. My main concern is the rise of the jeans: I am very short waisted so the rise has to be long enough that it doesn’t cut into me, I find the high rise/stretch Jean works best for me. And you are so spot on about having a great tailor to go to to make sure that whatever you have in your closet, it fits your profile.
    Look forward to your posts, Susan and enjoy everyone.

  15. Thank you taking the time and energy to create such a helpful post! It’s not an easy task to demystify and present a vast amount of information. Once again, you have given us a handy tool we can refer to over and over. I appreciate you for helping us all put our best derrières forward!

  16. I’m actually looking for a pair of regular denim jeans right now and this was very helpful. I’ll have to do what you suggested and look closely at the description and measurements before I buy online. Thank you.

  17. Hi Susan,

    Last Spring, after seeing them on you here, I bought this same pair of flare-leg blue jeans. I hesitated to wear them because I’ve gotten so comfortable (complacent?) about wearing straight-leg jeans and pants.

    But I wore them for the first time last week with a great pair of pointed-toe Botticelli boots with a 3″ heel, tucked in shirt, pretty belt, neutral blazer. Two comments from the friends I met for lunch: “Wow, you look so tall!” “Gee, you look so thin!” Nice things to hear, right?

    Maybe straight-leg jeans and flats are good for me for most reasons and seasons, but it felt good to have a different style going on, thanks to your suggestions here!

  18. Hello. I cannot to seem to get to the links for the shirt and jeans you are wearing in the photo as it shows the connection is not private.
    Can you please advise where I can purchase both items please?
    Thank you!!

  19. Oh my, this was such a great informative narrative on jeans. Very helpful at least to me and most appreciated. So many styles to choose from and at least now I can choose wisely when purchasing jeans and what to wear with them as well.
    Thank you for all the time and effort you put into this blog as well as all the others you share.
    Clara from Iowa

  20. Susan, oh thank you so much. I never know how to determine the right jean. Theses are great guidelines. Thanks again.

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I share tips and inspiration for using what you already have in contemporary ways. Defining words include effortless, classic, refined, discreet, and elegant. My style is chic, minimal, and timeless with a bit of edge.