Are your jeans the right length? Probably not

9 years ago
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I like to people watch, because when they're not getting on my last nerve, I find people fascinating; recently, I have been spending a LOT of time in some prime people-watching locations, like airports and carpool line and the grocery.  And what I am noticing, Women of America, is that you're all wearing your pants too short.  

Let's do something about that, shall we?  Okay then!  

In my day-to-day, I see lots of women in jeans that don't fit right.  I think there are two reasons for this; one is that we don't really know how they're supposed to fit, and the other is that if we're going to pay for tailoring, it's not going to be for a pair of JEANS.  But if jeans are a staple of your wardrobe, they need to fit right.  Otherwise, you look ... like a Mom.  And I don't mean that in a good way.

I swear jeans are the HARDEST piece of clothing to buy.  First of all, not all jeans are created equally (as we know, some are assembled by drunk monkeys with steak knives) (if you have ten minutes to kill, click that link and read the comments -- I LOVE FLICKR).  If you are shopping in the low-to-mid price points (which really is anything Banana Republic and down), you will need to take multiple pairs of the same size jeans into the dressing room with you.  I am entirely serious -- grab all the size whatever jeans in the style you think you want, plus a few pairs that are one size up and a few more that are one size down, and haul the whole load into the dressing room.  Because not all size 8 or 12 or 16 jeans are made the same way, and there can be substantial discrepancies from one pair to the next.

Are you tired yet?  You know, since I just suggested that you will need to try on 68 pairs of jeans to find ONE that fits?  Sorry about that.

Let's talk specifically about length, which is almost as tricky as overall fit.  We tend to worry, in the dressing room, about the waist and hips part of the jeans, and we often wind up not really looking at the length.  But you really do need to look, because jeans that fit your ass but don't quite meet the top of your shoe will still make you look hippy.

When you shop for jeans, take the right shoes, the ones you are planning to wear with these jeans.  I will often toss two or three pairs of shoes in my bag when I'm looking for jeans, because then, while I'm in the dressing room with my 74 pairs of jeans, I can try EVERY POSSIBLE COMBINATION of footwear. 

Because the only thing I hate more than shopping for jeans is having to return them.  Ugh.


Photo courtesy of J. Crew

What kind of length are we talking about?  Let's start with flats: the jeans that you are going to wear with flat shoes should break SLIGHTLY over the front of your foot.  I prefer a more dramatic break than is pictured here for my own jeans, but that means a longer hemline, which is really a matter of preference.  The length in the photo -- long enough to cover the back of the shoe but not so long as to drag on the ground or trip you up -- is perfect for every day.


Photo courtesy of J. Crew

With a heel, of course, you want a longer hem, ideally one that will hang to within about a quarter of an inch (or less) of the floor.  The idea is NOT for people to see your entire shoe, but only the toe.  Jeans that are cut to wear with heels need to be worn with heels, not with flats.  The end.

Here's the biggest mistake women make: the is NO one-size-fits-all hem length for jeans.  If you are planning to wear flats some of the time and heels some of the time, you will need TWO pairs of jeans, each with a proper length hem.  I can't tell you how many women I see with jeans that are too short for their shoes; clearly they've decided that today they would like to trade their loafers for a pretty pump or boot, but because the jeans are hemmed for their loafers, they look like they are waiting for a flood.  In really nice shoes.

How do you get that perfect hemline?  You have two options: tailoring, or persistence (and sheer dumb luck, honestly).  I have to admit that I typically opt for the persistence approach, which can involve trying on what feels like hundreds of pairs of jeans to come away with one, or maybe two if I'm lucky, that fit right.  I tend to save tailoring for pants that are NOT jeans, because it can be difficult to get jeans hemmed in such a way that they don't LOOK hemmed.  But it comes down to this: if you are cutting corners with your jeans -- either buying a pair that only sort of fits, or wearing them with the wrong heel height, you will look out of proportion and frumpy.

Okay, now it's your turn: dish about your FAVORITE jeans.  What brand, where you buy them, what the hemline is like.  Spill it. 

Over 40?  More magazine picks the 30 best jeans for grown-up women.

The Pregnancy Guide has the scoop on plus size maternity jeans.

And Denimology keeps you up-to-date on what's hot in jeans.

Susan Wagner writes about style at ParentDish and everything else at Friday Playdate.  She currently owns three pairs of jeans, all from Old Navy, which she washes inside out and hangs to dry.