Decoding Denim

Cut, fit, wash, distressing, rise…. all these details can add up to massive confusion when shopping for the pair of jeans that’s right for you. So here’s to minimizing on stress and maximizing on style with this basic users guide to denim.

Men’s Fits

Straight: Rather self-explanatory, straight jeans are cut in a straight line from top to bottom. They are the ultimate denim classic and in them you simply can’t go wrong.

Relaxed: The relaxed fit is not nearly as rigid as the straight and hangs rather loosely on the body. Make sure that they are not loose to the point of bagginess though. There are reasons everyone laughs at pants-on-the-ground; don’t be one of those reasons.

Bootcut: Slightly flaring out from the knee down, the bootcut is the new classic that adds the faintest hint of dimension to the denim that the straight fit could never hope to achieve.

Skinny: Clinging to the leg all the way down, skinnys are for skaters, trend setters, and those who need some hardcore fashion intervention. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing as good looking as a pair of skinnys on a guy who can wear them well. But the fact is that the percentage of the population that can wear them well is far smaller than the percentage of those who actually do wear them. These are the jeans that demand a word of caution. If the skinny makes you look top heavy, like you’re having a midlife crisis, or if you can barely walk in them – leave them alone. If you’re not quite sure if you can pull it off or not, get an objective outsider’s opinion.


Women’s Fits

Boyfriend: Meant to look like you snatched these from your guy’s closet, the boyfriend fit is the loosest and most casual fit.

Flare: A softened version of the 70s bellbottom, the flare cut widens out from the knee down. Comfortable and easy to dress up, the flare helps to create a flattering silhouette on just about anyone.

Bootcut: An even more subtle variation of the flare, the bootcut also widens from the knee down, but just enough to add some character while not drawing attention to itself.

Straight: Just like with the guys, the straight fit is a simply line that anyone can pull off well.

Skinny: Tight from top to bottom, skinnys are not for the faint of heart. If you’re not in shape skinny jeans will shout out that fact to the world, and if you have super long legs this fit might push you across the line from slim to scrawny looking. But if you find that the skinny is truly flattering on you, by all means wear them with abandon! Just make sure that they really do work for you.



The wash is the color of the denim fabric itself, usually ranging from a pale blue to a deep indigo. The basic rule is this: the darker the wash the more formal a pair, and conversely the lighter the wash the more casual. Colored jeans ranging from classic black and white to vibrant neon shades have been taking the denim world by storm, so if you’re feeling bored with your blues feel free to shake things up with color. (Note: A wash that seems to still linger on the edges of fashion is the acid wash.  A bleach drenched look that reigned in the 80s, acid is for rockstars or wannabes unless a fashion upheaval comes our way. And I am sincerely hoping it doesn’t until after I am dead.)



Rise is where the top of the jeans sit on your waist and has gone up and down over the years. Mom jeans are notorious for reaching halfway up the ribcage, and there was a trend a ways back where the jeans sat so low the simple act of sitting was a rather risky maneuver. Pretty simple to figure out, you’ve got…

High rise: Slightly above or right at the natural waist line.

Mid rise: Right below the natural waist line or at the hips.

Low rise: Anywhere below the hips.

Super low rise: Don’t ask and don’t wear.


The Details

Distressing:  Used to break up the solid color of denim, distressing is often what makes or breaks a pair of jeans. Some of the most common forms of distressing are when the denim is “aged” so it looks like you’ve had them for years, holes and rips, and bleach spots. There are many variations of these and require an entire article in themselves. But whichever version of distressing you prefer, always use moderation. If there are so many holes you can’t find an intact square inch of denim or if there is so much bleach it looks like you just left the scene of a chemical factory accident, it’s time to scale things back to a less distressed look.

The right shoes: Now for you ladies, making sure your jeans are the right length can be a challenge since you switch between wearing high heels and flats. An easy way to avoid floods when wearing high heels is to get an extra long pair of jeans meant just to be worn with any shoes with lift. Another way to deal with this is to have all your jeans extra long, but then cuff them when wearing with fats.

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Nelson

    Super low rise…”Don’t ask and don’t wear.” LOL! Love it!

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