Tips from the Trenches of Jean Shopping
I’ve never accompanied a man on a jeans shopping expedition, but I have this hazy idea in my head that they walk straight into their favorite shop or store, pull something off the rack that says, “relaxed fit, dark-wash, 31 x 32” walk up to the cash register, and… pay.
Then they go home and do something cool like build a table in their old jeans.
WHEN A WOMAN SHOPS FOR JEANS
First off, she spends about a month surfing the internet and Pinterest. What are the latest trends? Which trend am I possibly interested in buying? Do I want a classic pair of jeans? Should they be crop, ankle, frayed, distressed, black, skinny, flare, boot cut, straight, or able to fit all my friends as well (stretch)?
Then, after surveying endless photos of models who are 5’ 10” and size 00, we make a tentative foray to Nordstrom, American Eagle, or someplace like Kohls. Endless rows of jeans and clothing confuse the eye but take cheer, somewhere in the store is an important person you should really get to know:
A store assistant, employee.
Ply this poor sales girl with all your questions about her favorite jeans, and tell her what you’re looking for, and once she has her arms stacked high with possibilities take in a deep breath and suck in your stomach (because of course you forgot you were jeans shopping today and ate a massive breakfast).
The time has come.
THE DRESSING ROOM
If you like it in the dressing room, you’ll like it anywhere.
What is it about dressing rooms? They’re simply not a super place in which to try on new clothes because we all know that home is where we feel confidant. It’s happened to me many times - I leave the house feeling like a million bucks and walk into a destination and go, “WHAT was I thinking?”
Let me just step back inside my house and I like the outfit again.
Dressing rooms, not ideal. But perhaps if you like something in the florescent, dust-bunnied dressing room chances are you’ll like it anywhere.
BODY SHAPE AND HEIGHT
Why does it feel like nothing is made for curvy, straight, tall or short girls? No seriously. I have tall, willowy friends who complain about finding jeans that reach past their calves, and petite or athletic friends who have about 5” of denim fabric bunching around their ankles. That doesn’t even begin to cover the curvy girl struggle of properly-fitted jeans or the girl like myself who can’t find a pair of jeans that stay up without wearing them tight enough to keep biscuit dough preserved.
Tip 1: Find an employee with your shape or height and ask them what they like to wear from this particular brand or shop. 9 times out of 10 their suggestions cut out extra “try ons” and frustration.
Tip 2: some stores just have more options for certain shapes or heights. For myself I have more success buying from AE or Citizens of Humanity, or AG, brands I trust pretty far to make something that will have good pocket placement, design, and lengths that will fit me.
Know what you’re shopping to find.
I’m not here to hate on trends because I wear them if they strike my fancy. Here’s the thing, if you are perhaps shopping for a classic, foundation piece, the chances of pulling out a pair that haven’t been distressed, destroyed or otherwise flogged is slim (something has to be slim since my legs haven’t gone there). Just two days ago I thought I had found just the right thing, only to see that the hem of the jeans was by faith only, since it was no longer visible through the tearing, fray, and general weeping (ok, that would be me).
It was tempting to maybe try the trend, but what I really needed was something more classic so I stuck to my guns. Once again, shop girl to the rescue and she found something more on the classic side. Onwards!
DRESSING ROOM THOUGHTS
Let the process entertain you.
“Wow, I was counting on getting my little toe through this leg opening. Have jeans gotten that skinny?”
”Is there a second story window around here?”
“I should bake peach muffins tonight.”
“This fabric smells like a chemical and dog got mixed up.”
“These seriously cannot be size 6, my skinny 11-year-old niece could wear them.”
So on and forth.
Be happy with how you look, but remember it’s ok to look for designs that enhance your figure.
I’m convinced jeans are designed around the tall and skinny, leggy-chick look, though in recent years I’m happy to see that other body types and shapes are finally beginning to be considered worthy of having thoughtful designs. At any rate, when I pulled on a pair of higher-waisted (NOT mom jeans) jeans the other day I said, “this is what I’ve been missing.”
Dunno why it took me so long to discover that lifting the waist an inch or two elongates the legs. Now, don’t go crying confidence “love yourself just as you are” on me. There’s a place for that but the fact is I have a long back and short legs and will do what I can to bring those two in proportion to one another. Hence, high-waists.
Tip: Make jeans work for your proportions and not against them. Someone else could be exactly my height with legs an inch or so longer, making my little trick something they don’t even have to consider.
PUNCTUATION IN YOUR OUTFITS
Grammar and style meet.
Balance. I love this word as much as I like delicate silk blouses tucked into a well-fitted skirt or pair of jeans. The way I think of this is providing the necessary punctuation for your figure.
Fancy a sentence that just runs on and on and up and out billowing and curtaining and sailing in the breeze with no mainstay for boundaries and after awhile you just wish to goodness someone would use a comma or period to hem things in a bit and give it some structure but no those sails stay full.
Ok then. You’ve got the point.
Something that is said simply and clearly doesn’t need a pause. Example: a simple shift dress.
In other outfits, you may want to tuck a bit and interrupt the flow to create a necessary pause. Example: a billowy blouse tucked into tailored jeans.
Tip: when shopping for jeans I find it helpful to put them through the balance test: will they work if I want to tuck in a blouse. Will they look fine if I don’t want to tuck something in to the waistline? The best jeans pass both tests.
THE OTHER MIRROR
Take an honest friend.
I try to go jeans shopping with friends that have similar taste and style and don’t mind being honest. These types of people have given me the type of great feedback that has helped clear up my dressing room fog. If they say I look great, then yes on the jeans! If they tilt their head, purse their lips, and a sound very much like “ehhhhh...” escapes their mouths then the jeans are a no-go.
Tip: seriously, never go jean shopping alone. 10 pairs into trying them on, you will need their feedback.
After trying on about 12 pair on Tuesday, I found two that worked and will hopefully last for another 2-5 years. I won’t tell you why I had to buy more jeans, well actually I will because it’s funny.
They wore through by my thighs. So much for thigh gap, however in my defense, I bought them used about 4 years ago. That’s the beauty of jeans, they’re just about the most practical thing you can wear and will serve you for many years if you buy quality, plus with the availability out there you can get just about any style you want. I’ve defaulted to lots of black skinnies because I love them so much, but have also splurged on a pair of COH white flares that make me feel like I should be wearing a smock with paint on my nose and a watercolor taking shape in front of me.
At the end of the day I want something that looks like my style, fits with my lifestyle, and hopefully lets me do a few diddly-ay’s comfortably.
Because what is life with clothes that don’t allow you to live it? Eh, not worth doing it that way. I’ll put up with a day of jean shopping and terrible dressing rooms to gain the goal of a expansive life.
P.S. Last tip: (whispers) “buy stretchhhh.”
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My all-time favorite jeans:
Ingrid 002 Citizens of Humanity White Flare (very like these, though believe you me, I did not pay this price)
American Eagle low-rise skinny (the ones that wore through and have now been replaced by a higher rise).
Mid rise skinny jeans from Gap, in black.
Even though it doesn’t count in this article, this pair of Halle pants from Prana are some of the best I’ve owned. They convert to capris and I’ve put them through biking, hiking and sweaty summer ball games with great success and comfort. They’re amazing. Watch for sales or on Poshmark and you can get them for anywhere from $20-$50. Well worth the investment.
AG “Stilt Cigarette” jeans. Best fitting pair I ever found second-hand. Because I could turn a pretty penny on them I sold them, and regret it now.