Style & Senses’ DENIM BUYING GUIDE – 5 Steps
Step 1: Brainstorming
First, you’d need a pen and paper. Jot down denim-related keywords, your denim goals, and expectation, and don’t forget to include any concerns that you have when it comes to denim shopping.
Just like any brainstorming process, good ideas start within – start from what YOU want and like first. This will help to narrow down your list and filter out any unwanted things in your denim search. A
Secondly, try your best to answer these questions:
- BUDGET: How much money are you willing to spend on a pair of denim? Would you want to splurge on a pair of good denim? Or you don’t mind and just want something trendy and cheap?
- STYLE: Do you have a style preference? Have you seen them on somebody on the internet? Any pictures for reference? Style icons? Do you know the brand? Style name? Wash color? What other features or qualities that they have?
- COMFORT: Do you care about the comfort level or not much? Are you looking for jeans that look great to go out with or lounge around all day? How about jeans that feel as good as they look?
- DENIM PREFERENCE & YOUR CURRENT NEED: What is your lifestyle? Active? Office-dressy? Work from home? What are your current needs in terms of jeans? What is your wardrobe lacking, denim-wise? Something dressy? Something fun and trendy? Are you looking to upgrade your jeans or you’ve just not found any good ones yet?
At this point in my life, I’d rather spend $200 on a pair of denim that I’ll get more cost per wear out of four pairs of $50 denim. I used to pick up a few pairs every season, and they either got ripped or went out of style fairly quickly. So just to let you know, with denim, you will have to pay for what you get!
Third, know that there are a lot of options out there, and you will find something that works for YOU as long as you put in an effort to look.
Step 2: Know Your Sizing & Fit
It’s important to know your sizing and what you look and feel good in.
Sizing example – 25×30
25 refers to the waist size
30 refers to inseam length (which is measured from the crotch of the pants following the inside of the leg down to the floor)
The common fits are skinny, slim, regular, relaxed, and loose.
Slim fit: Slim fit jeans should hug the thighs, knees, calves while slightly tapered around the ankles. They are flattering, modern, and crisp. Guys should go for slim, not skinny!
Skinny fit: Skinny jeans are universally flattering on all body types. They are like a pair of leggings, should hug your bottoms nicely while giving you some stretch. Everyone should at least have a pair of black skinny jeans as they’re easy to tuck inside shoes and easy to dress up or down.
Relaxed fit: All this just means the jeans fit loosely all throughout, and there’s a fine line between ill-fitting vs. a good relaxed, loose, oversized fit! Some brands will market these jeans as mom or dad or straight-legged jeans. It depends!
Boyfriend: Looser fit at the waist and legs with a drop-crotch. This fit flatters athletic body type and used to be on-trend (not anymore in 2021). They unfortunately do not flatter my body type as they make my legs look super short.
Know that the above fits are for a typical ‘average’ body type (you know, measurements taken from some jeans models probably.) A lot of brands now have options for petite, tall, plus size, curvy, and maternity.
Step 3: Denim Terms Worth to Know
Cropped vs. ankled: Properly cropped jeans should hit just at the ankle otherwise they will make you look super short.
Straight leg: pretty trendy these recent years! But they truly flatter lots of body types! My two most favorites are straight-leg jeans, surprise surprise!
Flared, wide-leg vs. bootcut: This generally means the legs’ opening is
Kick crop: cropped length with a slight flared, usually a raw hem
Low-rise: fit lower on the waist about 2”
Mid-rise: fit just right below the waist, the most universally flattering classic rise, and tummy-friendly
High-rise: fit at the waist, covering the belly button – the most figure-hugging and giving an illusion of longer legs
Raw or cut-off hem: simply cut by a pair of scissors
Stepped hem: ripped distressed hem that looks like someone has stepped on them! 🙂
Regular vs. original & cuffed hem
Stitching: Same thread stitching that matches the color of the jeans or classic golden yellow which I’d prefer more on jeans.
Non-stretch: 100% cotton. The higher cotton content means better quality denim.
Elastane percentage is good for stretch. In my experience, 5% is maxed because it is the reason why your jeans will bag out and lose their shape over time.
Sculpting technology: just another branding term which brand will use to advertise for their stuff. It often is related to the way brands use the fabric weave, how they’re cut, sewn, or treated. Sometimes it’s the back pocket placement, too, and the end result is to help give an illusion of a lifted butt or slimmer legs.
Light: loosely woven, stretch out the most
Heavy: more common in men’s
Classic medium: blue inky jeans
Vintage: This is something you’d find at a thrift store if you’re lucky. A pair of vintage wash denim has a slightly faded look at the seams, a softer, effortless, and well-loved look. It’s a pre-distressed look that lots of brands do these days, so they’re not too hard to find!
Dark: darky inky wash with slight variegated shading on the thighs and knees
Raw/selvage: Untreated dry original virgin denim that is often rigid and rough to the touch. Raw jeans take forever to break in but once they do, they’re unique to the owner.
Black and white: black dyed or bleached white denim
Zipper: Clean lay but easily broken, especially on low-quality jeans.
Button fly: widely used before the zipper was invented. I personally prefer buttons over zipper just cause!
Step 4: Try On, Walk Around, and Sit down
You have to try your jeans on! I do not recommend buying jeans at the final sale price because you cannot return them. They might be cheap, yes, but there is no guarantee that they will fit you. Fit starts at the waist, and you should be able to wear your denim without the help of a belt.
The sit test: Try sitting up and down, make sure you can comfortably do so otherwise size up!
The walk test: Go down a size if they fall down as you walk around. If your waist is in the smaller size, make sure the jeans at least fit you at the biggest part (your hip, butt, or thighs), then take your jeans to a local tailor because they can easily take in the waist for you.
Step 5: Find a Local Tailor Shop
A good tailor can be able to tell and fit YOU in your jeans properly and comfortably. You might learn something or be surprised as to how good fitting jeans can make you look and feel.
Take in at the waist, fix a broken zipper, taper the legs, and patch up a hole.
Hem your jeans: regular hem (cheaper, the hem is cut off, folded, and sewn with flatter hem with obvious sign of being altered) vs. original hem (my preferred method, costs more but this will keep the original fading/ripped/textured hem)
Cuffing: some jeans are made with long leg length with decorated inseam stitching so that you could cuff them. I’d prefer to only fold the hem up once or twice to avoid excess fabric hanging. Your tailor can be able to put in a few stitches on the side seams to keep the cuff stay put permanently, too. You can certainly DIY this at home as well!
AGOLDE Riley in Zephyr (one of my most worn jeans in 2020 and 2021)
THE ICONIC LEVI’S 501
The straight-cut medium-rise 501s have a long history. The Levi’s 501s are probably the most sought after vintage pairs that any fashion lovers would have dreamed of owning a pair.
They were popular among the gold rush miners in the 1800’s. They’re 9-oz blue high-quality sturdy denim with the iconic two-horse patch, rivets, a cinched waist, brace buttons (aka button fly created before the invention of the zipper), and a single back pocket with Levi’s signature “Arcuate” stitching”
POPULAR WOMEN’S DENIM BRANDS
* denotes a good place to start with an affordable price tag, consistent quality, and lots of styles for you to try on in-person and online
- ASOS Design
- American Eagle*
- & Other Stories
- Old Navy
- Urban Outfitters*: BDG, Urban Renewal
- Ariza*: Denim Forum, Wilfred Free, Sunday Best
- RE/DONE – rework vintage Levi’s – $200+
- J Brand
- 7 of All Mankind
- Citizen of Humanity
- AG Adriano Goldschmied
- Anine Bing
RETAILERS THAT CARRY THESE JEANS
- Nordstrom: They carry Topshop, Reformation, and many designers’ jeans so go try them on in-store.
- Nordstrom Rack & Sak Off Fifth: where I shop for designer jeans on sale, commonly seen brands: Topshop, J Brand, Citizen of Humanity, AG Adriano Goldschmied, Paige, Frame, Current/Elliot, NYDJ, 7 for All Mankind
- Everlane (in a few stores & online): ethical clean affordable denim made in my hometown in Vietnam
- ASOS: carries Weekday, and ASOS Design is their house line.
- Aritzia: where I got my Agolde Riley
- Target: Their Adaptive denim line is designed and fits for people with special needs. They also carry Levi’s, Universal Thread, Wild Fable, and other affordable brands.
- Net-A-Porter, Revolve (owns GRLFRND), Shopbop, Farfetch, Matches Fashion are places I’d stay on the lookout for new designer denim brands and trendy styles.
- American Eagle, Madewell, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, Pacsun are great common brands with stores that people can easily go in and try jeans out.
- eBay, Poshmark, Depop, thrift stores: look for Levi’s jeans of various sizes and make sure to try them on! 501 jeans are rare to find these days, but you might get lucky!
MY FAVORITE DENIM STYLES
I am 5ft5 and wear 25 jeans with a 30” inseam. I have slightly wider hip bones and chunkier thighs than the rest of my body. So I think I look and feel good in high-waisted jeans. Again, watch me talk about my favorite high-waisted jeans HERE.
I personally prefer non-stretch denim made from 100% cotton in light or medium wash. I don’t mind if my jeans have zip or button fly and do not expect my jeans to be comfortable. Good jeans (traditionally) are rigid and aren’t supposed to be comfortable.
With my measurements and all denim info I needed to know, I can easily filter my denim search at any retailer online. I’d prefer trying on a few styles of jeans in-store unless there is a specific trend of denim that I am after. For example, these criss-cross Agolde pairs that I have seen all over the place on Instagram, but I won’t be purchasing them because they are trendy.
It’s taken me years of shopping, trying, and regretting my purchases to get to this point where I know what I like and look good on me. Up at this point, I’ve become weirdly picky when it comes to buying anything clothing-related and especially jeans. I can go on and recommend you get all of the denim that I have, but to be honest with you, the journey to the most perfect pair of denim is really PERSONAL. Don’t just spend your hard-earn money on something your favorite blogger recommends.
Sometimes even in photos, I can clearly tell that the jeans are very ill-fitting on someone, but they won’t stop talking about how good they are. Kinda annoying, but yeah, something to keep in mind because we don’t get to see it in person.
I hope this post is helpful to some of you! Definitely comment below with any questions you have! I’ve tried to include as much information as I can. Thanks for reading and good luck!