How to find the perfect pair on jeans while shopping online

Abigail Southan
Photo credit: Edward Berthelot

From Harper's BAZAAR

Ask any fashion editor, and they'll tell you the skinny jean has been over since 2016. The demise of this spray-on style was declared by every luxury title at the time and it soon disappeared completely from designer campaigns and street style shots.

But if you dismiss catwalk theory and look through the lens of civilian reality, you might question whether the death of skinny jeans ever happened at all. Or if it merely exists in a bubble. Because, while they've been avoided by the fashion pack for the best part of four years, skinnies are still clinging with to most of the world’s legs – and dominating denim sales.

Despite Topshop releasing eight new sturdier, Nineties-inspired cuts in 2020, skinny jeans are still its best-selling design. But that doesn’t change the fact when the brand dropped its straight, non-stretch Editor jeans in February 2019, it literally couldn't keep them in stock. It seems those catwalk trends do always trickle down eventually.

So if you haven't made the switch, now is the time. At first, you'll lament the loss of your skinny jeans – the unobtrusive silhouette is easy to style and they are surprisingly comfortable – but once you loosen up, you can't go back.

The good news is, there's no official womenswear denim staple now. Fashion is more fluid than ever, and you'll look just as chic in flares, floor-sweeping wide jeans or a vintage-inspired slim cut. Buy one of each, or find your go-to pair in our helpful guide to each cut below.

A brief history of modern skinny jeans

It was Kate Moss who convinced us of the skinny jeans’ cool. In 2004, when the rest of us were living in low-rise bootcut jeans, the model wore a pair to London Fashion Week with a waistcoat, wedges and a scarf belt.

Or, perhaps it was Sienna Miller, who wore hers to a premiere with then-boyfriend Jude Law, tucked into knee-high boots, layered with a boho blouse and topped with a felt fedora.

Photo credit: Dave Hogan

In the era of Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent, Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty, Skins, Sofia Copolla's Marie Antoinette and an all-round cultural indie fascination, the skinny jean felt deliciously nonchalant – even a bit rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, a gaping waistband, a few wrinkles at the knee and that slight pooling around the ankles only added to its unpolished appeal.

Photo credit: Paul Underhill

Fast forward ten years and we’d perfected skinnies a bit too much. Naturally, it correlated with the rise of Instagram, filters and Face-tune, and helped mark the end of a charming British disheveledness. The skinny jean had all of its cool engineered right out it, with a hefty dose of elasticity creating that spray-on silhouette now associated with Love Island contestants and reality stars.

Photo credit: Neil Mockford

The best denim to buy in 2020

A bit like most 2020 trends, there’s no set rules for what’s ‘in’ or 'out' – which is why you’ll see women wearing all sorts of denim right now. This makes for more varied street style shots, yes, but also makes the already difficult task of denim shopping harder.

It’s normally recommended that you try on several pairs of jeans to find the perfect cut, but the current situation makes that near impossible. Look at every model image on e-tailers' product pages and check out the flat shots too, as they can highlight any sneaky (and misleading) stylist pinning. Check if the size runs small or big, and read reviews too.

But, as a general rule, boyish figures will suit most cuts – however, a flare or wide-leg can create a more shapely silhouette. Curvy figures might struggle with straight-leg designs as they highlight the widest part of the thigh then hang loose through the leg. In this case, go for something with a hint of stretch or stick to slim-legs for a similar effect.

Checking these factors before immediately adding to basket will hopefully prevent you from doing a mass order-and-run. The more shipments and returns you generate, the more you add to your carbon footprint. If this is a big consideration for you, then scroll straight to the sustainable jeans in this edit – there are so many great denim brands out there, doing their bit for the planet right now.

Best slim-leg jeans

Photo credit: Gotham

The style set has long swapped its skinnies for slim-leg jeans, which are just as versatile. Not to be confused with straight-leg (as it so often is), this design still showcases the contours of your legs but without clinging, to create a sleek but not skin-tight silhouette. Think of them as what drainpipes would have been in the '80s and '90s, before denim got tighter and stretchier.

Slim-leg jeans work well with everything from blazers, boots and heels, to trainers and slouchy knits. If you need inspiration, just look to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley – the model can't get enough of hers.

Best straight-leg jeans

Photo credit: Team GT

Straight-leg jeans are slightly looser than slim styles, falling from the waistband into a column shape. The sheer amount of denim on show can feel a little overwhelming (unless grounded with heels, in which case it's leg-lengthening), so temper this with a cropped or cuffed hem.

Can't decide which colourway to go for? Indigo rinses have an elegant, ladylike feel (like the styles Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor wore in the Fifties), dark washes feel early Nineties (think Brooke Shields), while lighter hues have a streetwear edge.

This simple shape goes really shines when paired with basics like a Breton top or white T-shirt.

Best flared jeans

Photo credit: Edward Berthelot

While bootcut jeans are yet to be revived from their Noughties grave, flares have been a staple since the Seventies renaissance a few years back. They're a little less versatile than straighter styles, but even more flattering thanks to their floor-grazing hems and A-line fit that skims the leg.

These jeans were made for a chunky platform sole or heels, but Farah Fawcett proved they look just as good with flats when she paired hers with Nike Cortez trainers during that famous 1974 Charlie's Angels skateboard scene.

Still, if you find this cut too retro to slot into your everyday wardrobe, just go for a cropped hemline – it's slim at the thigh and kicks out subtly just below the knee.

Best stretch denim

There's a reason Topshop's skinny jeans sales have skyrocketed during this period: people want something comfortable to wear when they're working from home. Selvedge denim may look chic but, in reality, its sturdiness is a a little impractical and uncomfortable.

Pure cotton denim ages gracefully (which is why vintage Levi's get even better with age), but it will take a while to stretch, soften and move with your body. If you need a little flexibility day-to-day, consider buying a pair woven with just a hint of stretch. So long as you avoid anything resembling jeggings, and look for a one to two per cent elastane content, no one will know the difference.

Best sustainable denim

Finally, a category that's become increasingly important to the industry over the past few years. The production of cotton is a huge water waster, and when you add high-pigment dyes (often dumped illegally) and the world's insatiable desire for denim into the mix, you've get serious environmental impact.

Luckily, we've come a long way in the last decade, with denim production being targeted long before the term 'sustainable' became a marketing buzzword. Smaller business' like Everlane and Reformation led the way with lower water and carbon dioxide usage, as well as optimising deadstock denim, then household names like Levi's and Lee followed suit with sustainable collections.

Denim is notoriously hard to recycle, so the encouragement from the likes of Vestiaire Collective, Depop and By Rotation to swap clothes or shop vintage, driving a desire for second-hand denim, has been a real saviour. Then, there are the brands like Re/Done and E.L.V Denim that re-use denim – chopping, unpicking and moulding old jeans into something new.

The best label to shop for a pair of truly sustainable jeans? Without a doubt, Boyish. The Californian brand uses two thirds less water than typical denim manufacturers, dips jeans minimally using low-sulphate dyes, makes use of deadstock fabric, as well as fastenings made from recycled metal and plastic water bottles. What's more, it donates a portion of its annual profits to environmental organisations with help from 1% For The Planet.

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