It is a truth universally acknowledged that for most women, shopping for jeans is a trauma equaled only by undergoing root-canal surgery. There are so many ways for it to turn bad. And yet we keep doing it to ourselves. And that’s because nothing is as versatile as a decent pair of jeans.
What else can you wear to work, and for a night out, and for a Sunday visiting relatives, and also for an evening meal — and look completely different for each event, having changed only your top and shoes? What other piece of clothing always looks the perfect mix of smart, casual, and cool, whether you’re seventeen or seventy?
Your denim choice can make all the difference to your general vibe. Basically, the right pair of jeans is the most useful garment you’ll own. Please note, though, that I said the right pair. You’re not 21 anymore.
It’s time to stop bulk buying the same jeans you’ve always worn, even though doing so is what keeps the shopping process tolerable. (Unless the jeans you’ve always worn are vintage Levi’s, in which case you’re probably too cool to bother reading any further).
There are a host of new factors to consider when jeans shopping over the age of 30. For a start, waistbands. They’ve come a long way, baby. In the right direction. If you’re still channeling Christina Aguilera at the 2001 VMAs and wearing jeans designed to show off your underwear, this decade’s offerings will blow your mind.
Wide vs narrow
First up, we have the whole shape issue. The shape is important because having the right shape of jean (ooh, the fashion singular, see what I did there?) is an instant and easy way to show you’re still perfectly fashionable, in touch and down with the kids.
Unfortunately, the ability of denim to demonstrate how in touch you are means that there’s an element of having actually to stay in touch if you want to buy roughly the right jeans shape in any given season. And this staying in touch is extremely tiresome. It’s bad enough when it happens in our teens by osmosis and watching what the cool kids wear. It’s a whole other chore when it requires research outside of the middle-aged marketing being pushed our way.
My tip is to plug the hashtag #newjeans into Instagram or Pinterest and then sort your search results so that the most recent posts appear first. You’ll easily see the sort of shapes you think you’d like to try. (Actually, I recommend this search method for many things. It’s how I found my new sofa, and that sofa makes me happy every single day).
Loose vs tight
The second point of jeans-shopping-based trauma is the fact that they are a garment that will lie and mislead and undergo malicious shape changes. The pair that feels comfortable and looks great in the shop will inevitably be too loose and fall down within three days of normal wear.
Trying to dodge this problem by purchasing the too-tight-to-breathe pair will backfire, however, because THOSE ones will turn out to be completely rigid and incapable of acquiring any flexibility at all.
And of course, there’s the inconsistency. Even from the same shop, two pairs of the same-named style of jeans can be a wildly different fit depending on the color you choose or the day of the week you buy them.
The best way to buy is online, but you basically need to order eleven or twelve pairs to have a hope of one suitable pair — and then you must remember to send the others back before it’s too late and you’ve accidentally paid for all twelve. (But, honestly, it’s still really worth doing that to find The Pair).
Hitting on “The Pair”
For more years than I’d ever have believed possible, skinny jeans were one hundred percent where it was at. They made us lazy because they were the only real shape to bother with. They stuck around so long that after many years of fearing skinnies, I gave in and finally learned to enjoy them — so easy to tuck into boots! — but alas this level of personal development occurred for me at the precise moment they became the sole preserve of pensioners and Karens.
I blame this fall from grace on the invention of jeggings, which look like skinny jeans but are actually just leggings. Game changer, yes, but they also turned out to be the end of the game: because we all know that jeans are only worth having if they occasionally hurt.
No. These days the only shapes to be seen in are, apparently, as follows: the flare, the kick flare, the boyfriend, or the mom jean. Allow me to explain the difference.
Flares suck rainwater from the pavement with horrible efficiency and make your calves and knees sad and cold whenever the weather isn’t perfect. Also, if they’re the right length to look good with boots you can step on the backs of them and trip over, thus risking a break to your age-raddled fragile bones.
Then again, in good dark stretch denim, they are very flattering, especially if you’re pear-shaped (oh hi!) and, let’s face it, no other jeans look quite so good with a warm roll-necked jumper and an Annie Hall-type hat.
Kick flares are flares that have for some inexplicable reason just been made a bit shorter and narrower. So yes, they avoid being a trip hazard or a water conductor, but the problem is that by becoming shorter, they have evolved to look ridiculous. They look sort of too-short and also a bit like you bought a pair of jeans just because they looked great on your bum but you were too excited by your own rearview to bother looking at your ankles. (Shut up, it was a long time ago).
But on the other hand, they’re a sure-fire shortcut to Very Fashionable, so they’ve got that going for them. It’s about the only thing in their favour and will probably be short-lived.
Boyfriend jeans are just…baggy jeans. Sexist nomenclature aside, they often look like you should be up a ladder with a paintbrush and they flatter not one part of you. They hang in strange structural configurations around the crotch because the fabric is invariably entirely non-stretch denim, and because they hang so low, someone will see your underwear at least once a day. They also look strange when you sit down because they refuse to bend correctly along with the angles of one’s knees.
They’re comfortable, though. I once wore a pair for 6 hours of driving and didn’t lose sensation in either of my legs. Win.
Mom jeans are oh-so-hilariously named because in truth, they’re really made for people who are not old enough to be moms. Quite honestly there’s almost too much irony for comfort when they’re worn by someone who can remember their own mother wearing similar garments in the 1990s. They even tend to come in that weird 80s white stonewash colorway.
In their definite favor, however, is the fact that they sit nice and high on the waist, so there’s no issue with visible knickers; and also the fact they're delightfully roomy on the hips (I refer again here to my above-mentioned pear shape).
After much deliberation and experimentation, my personal research has finally concluded that for anyone over 30 in the autumn/winter of 2020, the jeans shape to buy in order to remain comfortable whilst looking reasonably fashionable (but staying on the right side of cringe-worthily “fashion slavish”) is the Mom jean, in a slim cut and mid- to dark-blue denim wash. Something like this:
They’re a structured shape and as I said, they come up high on the waist, so you can tuck your thermal vest in tightly under your statement jumper (or, you know, just tuck in your “Strong Girls’ Club” T-shirt if you don’t feel the cold as badly as me). You can also add a belt easily, which doesn’t work so well on lower-waisted jeans. Or on Xtina’s jeans, which don’t even have belt loops.
They’re roomy on the hips and thighs, so they’re comfortable to sit down in. They finish in just the right place to look good either with trainers or with boots, and you can turn them up to give a slightly different look. They’re not uncomfortably tight but they don’t feel like leggings, either.
And finally, but importantly, they look great on your bum. It’s something about the weight of the denim. Which makes them a clear winner all round. (Although a heavyweight stretch dark denim flare isn’t a bad runner-up).
At the very least, steer clear of the patchwork hipsters.