Finding jeans that fit correctly, hide flaws and don't put your underwear on parade with every move remains one of life's great challenges. Women are constantly on the search for denim that slims, trims, lengthens and makes them look like they simply slipped the jeans on with ease, rather than getting greased up and stuffed in.
If you're wearing jeans that are a size or four too small, that's an easy fix. Please wear your size — not your daughter's or little sister's. But when it comes to nailing the fit so your jeans are as flattering as possible, it's the finer details of the pants — such as pocket placement, waistband, leg width and wash — that make a difference.
We asked two denim designers and fit experts to weigh in. Paige Adams-Geller, founder and designer of Paige Denim, and Bradley Bayou, who designs a denim-focused line called Bradley for QVC, share what to look for and what to avoid when searching for the most flattering jeans.
Slimming the waist
The last thing any woman wants from her jeans (or any pants, for that matter) is a muffin top or belly overhang. First make sure you're not wearing low-rise jeans. Most classic rises hit 8 to 81/2 inches from the top of the waist to the start of the inseam. And while many women think that encasing their tummy and torso under denim is the best way to compress the waist and flatten the stomach, wearing jeans that hit your waist is actually unflattering. "The waist of the jean should hit about 1 to 2 inches below the belly button," Bayou says. "The sides of the waist should swoop up higher and continue around the back so you get that ballerina waist. This cut slims and elongates." He adds that it's the slight drop at the center of the waist below the belly button that controls gapping in the back as well.
Adams-Geller agrees, saying that wearing jeans right at your waist can give you the look of (or accentuate) a tummy pooch. "You might feel better because you're covering yourself up," she says. "But it's really unattractive." Having a two-button closure (one sitting above the other) will also help the stomach area look flatter and hold down that flap of denim that tends to stick out after a heavy lunch or too many bagels in the office.
Color and Contour
It's no secret: Dark colors are more slimming. So if you're worried about how your thighs look in a pair of jeans, opting for a solid indigo or black denim will be your best bet. But if you find yourself shopping for jeans with a tad more character and personality (think lighter washes, distressing or abrasions), go for something that's Iighter on the front of the thigh and gradually gets darker on the sides and inner thigh. "This contours the leg and gives it a thinner look," Bayou says. "The attention is drawn to the lighter part and gives the illusion that the leg is longer and thinner."
Adams-Geller compares the effect to highlighting and contouring the face with makeup to add angles and thin certain features. "There should be some light hand-sanding in the center of the thigh," she says. "It's like putting makeup on the face, highlighting and low lighting, so light in the center of the leg against the darker outer thigh draws attention to the center, which makes legs looks skinnier."
Wear a style that suits your body
One of the most uncomfortable things to look at is someone who is struggling to find comfort in skinny jeans. Just because skinny jeans and their even-less-forgiving cousin, the jegging, are massive denim trends doesn't mean everybody needs to wear them.
Adams-Geller says the body type that works best in a skinny jean or jegging is what she calls "emerald-cut diamond," a straight body shape that could use the curves a skinny jean creates by hugging the body.
But she adds that any body type can wear slim-cut jeggings. The key is in what you wear with them. "Heels and a longer tunic show off the prettiest part of the leg — the lower thigh to ankle," she says. In this kind of outfit, hips are hidden and the leg looks long and thin. "You just have to balance it out."
The straight-leg silhouette is also a popular style for fall and can be more forgiving and sophisticated than a skinny. "The straight-leg jean is a classic," Bayou says. "It's wonderful for girls who have hips, because the leg of the jean drops straight from the hip and follows the line down. This is a little more of an older, conservative look."
But Adams-Geller warns that the leg on a straight style should have about a 14-inch circumference from the knee down to the ankle. "If the total width of the knee is 18 inches and the ankle is 18 inches, then they're too wide and it will look too old-school," she says. Since a straight leg can look a little preppy and conservative, Adams-Geller advises rolling up the bottom and pairing them with high heels for the look of a really long leg and tomboy sex appeal.
Both Bayou and Adams-Geller say that a boot-cut jean is the most universally flattering style, balancing out the hips and thighs with the narrower areas of a woman's body. "The boot cut is the most forgiving," Bayou says. "A slight flare really works for most body types."
The more modern and slinky version of a boot cut is a "skinny" or "slim" boot cut, with a leg opening a couple of inches narrower than that of a regular boot cut. The effect of a slim style (which has a knee circumference of 14 to 15 inches and a lower-leg opening of 16 to 18 inches) is a slightly sleeker version of a boot cut that's hardly in skinny-jean territory. "It's a great marriage between a skinny and a boot cut," Adams-Geller says. "You can wear them with flats or platforms and the leg still looks elongated."
Mind the behind
"I literally get asked about the butt more than anything," Adams-Geller says. She advises that someone with a flat behind should opt for jeans that have a flap pocket, because that extra material brings attention to the top part of the pocket, making the behind look perkier.
Pocket placement is key, whether you're trying to visually increase or decrease the size of your behind. "The universal law on all bodies is that the bottom of the pocket should sit just above the crease where the butt hits the thigh," she says. "If the pockets sit too low it will give you uni-butt — where the butt blends in with the thigh."
To minimize the look of your seat, pay attention to the size of your back pockets. The size of the pockets should be proportionate to the size of your jeans, and the pockets should be about the same length and width in shape. If pockets are too wide or too narrow, your behind will look wider. If they are too long, your behind will look droopy.
"The bottom point of the pocket should sit right above the back thigh, but not to where it's folding into the crease," Adams-Geller says. "If the pocket is too high, it will give you this long banana butt-looking thing, especially if the rise of the pant is high."
She says that the ideal width for pockets is when the top outer corner hits right below the belt loop at your back hip. If the pocket goes past the belt loop and comes too close to the side seam, then it's too wide and most likely your behind will look wider than it is.