Denim shopping, like searching for the right swimsuit, can be daunting. Once the fit is nailed in the waist, backside and thighs, there's the issue of the inseam — which is often too long for women measuring in at less than supermodel stature.
And the answer isn't just hemming up jeans; that can destroy the shape of the flares and wider-leg styles that are popular now. So several premium denim brands are addressing the height of the average American woman (5 feet 5) with new styles with shorter inseams that require little to no tailoring, thus keeping the intended shape of the leg intact.
Pants with shorter inseams are different from what some brands label "petite," says Rian Buckley, founder of an online service called Fitcode that helps consumers find their best fit, style and brand of denim by answering a short survey on its website. "A shorter inseam is the exact same cut but with a shorter inseam, while petite is smaller all around. A truly petite woman should have a petite cut rather than just a shorter inseam."
For fall, premium denim label 7 For All Mankind launched a collection of flare and boot cut jeans called Tailorless Denim, made with shorter inseams specifically designed for the average-height woman.
"With the resurgence of the '70s trend, we wanted to expand our flare offerings to include women of shorter height," says Peggi Jewell, the brand's vice president of design and merchandising. "We realized that legions of women would have to tailor their jeans and thus lose the amazing shape. In short (no pun intended), the flare would be lost."
Tailorless styles have an inseam measuring 32 inches to 33 inches, compared with the industry standard inseam, which is generally 35 inches and designed for a woman who is around 5 feet 9.
"A normal flare has around a 34-inch to 35-inch inseam," says Tim Kaeding, co-founder and designer of Mother denim. "Not many people have that, unless maybe if you live in Scandinavia."
He adds that with the inseam of a flare or boot cut jean, the entire leg has to be moved up in proportion to a shorter height for the shape to remain true.
"Everything is moving up," he says. "The rise is moving up, the hem is moving up. It's a good thing for shorter women."
He explains, "If you took a ruler at the knee, it would measure around 171/2 inches on a taller girl. On a short girl, pants made with those proportions would put your knee at your calf. These new jeans are designed from the get-go so that everything is moved up, especially the knee and where it starts to bell out, so it's more proportional and doesn't look like something you just hacked off."
7 For All Mankind's Tailorless line has been created with a leg length and proportion for women around 5 feet 5, who should not have to tailor the pants at all, and also to suit those 5 feet 2 to 5 feet 4, who may still need to hem the jeans, but far less than they would with the typical 35-inch inseam, so the integrity of the shape remains intact. "They are designed for women of average height, which in the USA is 5 feet 4 inches [to] 5 feet 5 inches," says Jewell. "It was a no-brainer to make something for that demographic."
J Brand is also reconfiguring measurements of select styles so that shorter or average-height women can wear trendy flare and wide-leg jeans. The label recently launched the Sneaker Flare jean, a pant intended to be worn and styled with now-chic flat shoes like Adidas Stan Smith sneakers, Birkenstocks and mules. The Sneaker Flare measures in at an abbreviated 32-inch inseam, two inches shorter than the brand's traditional flare.
"We originally created the Sneaker Flare not just to address a shorter customer, but, to be honest, because flares are trending in the market and styling the flare with sneakers was a more modern way to wear the flare," says Mary Bruno, design director of J Brand.
Cropped is what's current across the board, whether brands are doing it for shorter women, or to follow where fashion is headed this fall.
Darcy Penick, chief merchandising officer of Shopbop.com, attributes the shift toward shorter lengths to a strong focus on pants. Cropped styles, she says, feel fresh for the season. "We've invested in key ready-to-wear trends for fall that range from minimalist to all things '70s, and the cropped denim silhouette folds nicely into each of these trends, making it a key fashion investment for the season."
Also, says Kaeding, "It's really just an interesting proportion to the body." He has created two cropped boot cut styles for Mother, the Insider Crop and the Hustler, which has a frayed ankle hem popular with customers since they can cut their own jeans to shorten them if necessary and retain the same look.
"The shorter-length proportion feels like a modern update and adds style to a classic fit, such as the boyfriend or the flare, especially the more masculine, boyish silhouettes," says Catherine Ryu, creative director of Citizens of Humanity.
Kaeding says that the decrease in inseam length is actually a sign of an increased creativity in denim design.
"Inseams are all over the board and it could not be a better time to be a denim designer, he says, "We hit all the different points with inseams and the reason for that is because each jean and each fit looks best at a certain point on the leg. Every style dictates its inseam. It's about what looks best with the overall silhouette."
Buckley echoes the sentiment: "It's a styling thing as much as it is an inseam and height thing."