Jean shopping can be right up there with swimsuits and lingerie in terms of the less enjoyable things to try on. No wonder, then, so many of us get it wrong, with muffin tops and too-tight jeans, the wrong length or a fit that's just plain unflattering.
Let's face it, if you were to pick the areas of your body that you feel most fraught about, our midriff, bum and thighs would be in most people's top three, and jeans just happen to be all about those areas. We all want that one elusive result: to look and feel slimmer, while feeling comfortable.
Denim has evolved a lot in recent years too, in ways that can be both challenging and liberating. There's no longer one fixed "it shape"... which is great really when you think about it. This means that every woman, every body shape can pick the cut of jean that's most flattering for her silhouette, rather than having to squeeze herself into a shape that simply does her no favours. (We all remember the high-waisted Mom jeans of the '80's... I have a few fashion regrets but thankfully they're not among them!!)
And denim is no longer only about that classic indigo wash. This summer, we really saw a proliferation of bright hues and floral patterns in jeans. For fall, we saw paisley, embellished and leather accent jeans. So, although denim as that classic neutral is still an option, there are many more expressive choices a girl can make too.
The downside of all this choice is it can lead to confusion. What shape suits your body? Are bright jeans a no-no for curvier women? Are embellished jeans age appropriate? Throwing out the rulebook means we all get a lot more freedom, but... well... sometimes rules come in handy too! So here are some rules that offer reassuring guidance, rather than hard and fast don'ts:
(1) It's about cut, not about size
Don't get hung up on the number on the waist. The cut of a pair of jeans can make as much difference as the size and one brand's size 8 is another's size 6 (or 10). The rise of the jean really determines how comfortably the jean fits, whether you can sit down, bend over, wear a fitted top without feeling like you're spilling over (and yes, you should stretch and move when you try them on to see make sure they stay in place!) Pockets also make a huge difference to the appearance of your behind... the right shape and logo design can serve as an optical illusion that gives you a virtual "butt lift". Who doesn't want that!?
(2) Cover your basics
I'm a big advocate of building a wardrobe of no-fail staples that you can mix-and-match with the rest of your wardrobe. For me, a black skinny jean is my go-to pair. Maybe yours is a classic dark wash, or a distressed boyfriend style. Your "staple" pair will be versatile (you'll wear them with a blazer to work, or with a t-shirt on the weekend), will fit perfectly and wear lovingly. If you don't have a pair of jeans like this, this should be the top item on your shopping list. My favourite brands are JBrand and RW&Co's Natalie legging. One of my favourite fashion icons is Rachel Roy and I just found out that she's coming out with a new denim line... I can't wait to check it out! I love her style!
(3) Don't be afraid of adjustments
Few of us can buy jeans off the rack... most require hemming of some kind. So be sure to consider the heel height that you wear most often and to bring them with you when you're shopping. And if you flip between heels and flats, maybe get two pairs, one for each height. I love jeans hemmed just above the ankle so I can wear them with any shoe (though it doesn't stop me buying two pairs at a time when I find ones I love!) Yes, it can feel anticlimactic to buy something and not take it immediately home with you, but clothes that need alterations often sit at the back of our closets for months... So, take the time and get the adjustments done in-store. It's worth waiting an extra week!
(4) Shop in the right place
Different denim brands serve different kinds of women with different kinds of bodies. So the more brands a shop carries, the more they'll know about the brand and fit that's really going to suit you. I always find my favourites, as well as something new to try out at Mendocino in Toronto or the Denim Bar at Holts. You also have to trust the people who are sizing you up. Don't fixate on a brand or size before you see it actually on your body. Jeans can all look the same stacked up in a store, but those subtle differences in cut, wash and composition make a big difference when you put them on. Once I know my exact size and style, it's also easy to shop online, especially if you're looking for a size that normally sells out fast!
Yup, even our jeans are getting more technology. With stretchy fabrics and lifting, flattening and slimming properties, there's no need for those Spanx with some of the newest jeans. Jones New York just launched a new denim line and their collection is designed with "secret slimming features." This involves distinct stretch panel technology to smooth and support the waistline, and lengthen the leg line to provide all body types with a longer, leaner silhouette. In recent years, we've really seen the jean and the legging crossover and the technology of one has really benefited the other!
(6) Colour, pattern, texture
This is not my area of expertise (my denim closet is all-black!!) but I say go for it. Once you've determined the best shape jean for you, why not try pattern, texture or colour? There are no rules here other than adhering to your own personal style. If you love that primary-coloured style embodied by the likes of Kate Spade and J.Crew's Jenna Lyons' style, why not find some bold jeans. And if you're more into a rock n' roll look, check out this season's leather accented or waxed jeans. I really do believe it's every woman's prerogative to dress and express herself the way she feels.
Even if you feel like your legs aren't your best feature, there are ways of wearing colour, pattern and texture that won't overwhelm. Try a slim jean under a more voluminous sweater, tunic (I've recently become obsessed with tunics!) or even a dress. You won't show too much legs and it will keep you covered in areas you might feel insecure too. Or, if you feel like you're too short to wear something so bold, reach for those heels to make your legs seem longer and slimmer!
With so many options out there, there's no reason any of us should feel excluded from a trend we love. Finding the right brand and fit of denim may take a little perseverance. It may mean wriggling in and out of several wrong pairs before you find the right one. But once you find that right one, and you look over your shoulder to check out your own butt (don't pretend you don't!!), you'll realize it's all been worthwhile. :)