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A denim expert’s guide to finding the perfect pair of jeans

Writer, editor and all-round jean genius TILLY MACALISTER-SMITH knows her stuff when it comes to finding the ultimate addition to your denim arsenal…

Fashion
Tilly Macalister-Smith wearing white jeans by The Row

There is a paradox that exists with jeans: our oldest, most familiar pairs are often our favorite allies, yet, as the seasons change and our bodies and circumstances evolve (cue the new WFH climate), so too does our desire to find the perfect new pair. We may be wedded to our old faithfuls, but there’s nothing like a flirtation with a new style to rejuvenate your day-to-day look.

The shift towards a more considered ‘buy once, wear forever’ culture chimes well with the inherent endurance of denim. “We want to continue to provide wardrobe staples that transcend one season, or one wear,” agrees Frame co-founder Jens Grede. “To us, urging our customers to consume less, and to invest in high-quality pieces that they will want to wear over and over again, is a more sustainable way of shopping for fashion.” Shopping for jeans is a highly personal experience; it is less trend-led and more rooted in finding the perfect style to suit your shape and lifestyle all year round. So if you are on a mission to find the ultimate addition to your denim arsenal, read on…

Finding the perfect fit

Shopping for jeans IRL can be challenging enough, but when buying online, NET-A-PORTER’s resident denim buyer Flora Fellowes shares some handy tips. “Consider your own height versus the model’s, and check what kind of footwear they’re wearing. Then ask yourself if you’re more likely to wear your jeans with heels or flats,” she says. “No one is a cookie-cutter shape. I’m not far off 6ft, so I often find that jeans look like a cropped style on me. My denim buying assistant, Frankie Taylor, is very petite, so when we are in buying appointments, we cover both ends of the spectrum.” Fellowes often opts for Slvrlake’s longer length, while her assistant wears the brand’s short length.

“Defining the perfect-size jeans primarily depends on the personal preference of the person wearing them,” points out Re/Done CEO Sean Barron. “We always recommend taking measurements of one’s natural waist, hip, inseam and preferred rise to compare to that of the product. Depending on whether the buyer wants a loose or snug fit, they can choose the sizing that works best for them, based on those measurements.”

It’s also important to check the fabrication of your jeans. Does it have any stretch, for instance? Even rigid-denim jeans will give a little with wear, but some have more stretch than others. And make sure to check if the jeans you’re looking at fasten with a zipper or buttons, as you may have a preference for comfort. Finally, consider tailoring your jeans. Having your jeans personally fitted can make all the difference in getting the thigh-to-waist ratio just right.

Denim jacket, and jeans, both Slvrlake

Build your denim wardrobe

Denim has become a year-round style staple, with different weights, washes and cuts that work well for every season. Be tactical and curate a versatile denim wardrobe with longevity. Fellowes explains: “Your forever denim pieces need to fit your body shape and be trans-seasonal and easy to wear.” Her essential buys include: a timeless skinny or straight-leg jean; an elevated white jean (for winter months as well as summer); and an ecru casual jean. Re/Done’s Sean Barron concurs: “There will always be an occasion that calls for an iconic black or indigo pair of jeans. Trends expire, but these heritage washes have stood the test of time for a reason – they are the perfect canvases for constant reinterpretation and evolving cultural shifts.” Consider adding other denim pieces, too, such as a mannish denim workwear shirt or a versatile jumpsuit. “Look to the items in your wardrobe that you love most and lean in to denim silhouettes and washes that pair well with your existing wardrobe,” advises Slvrlake co-founder Louise Edgley. “And always opt for quality fabrics over passing trends.”

Just-right rigid denim

What’s not to love about rigid denim? It has a classic vintage appeal, is hard-wearing, and even holds you in. Rigid doesn’t need to mean stiff and uncomfortable – think sturdy and robust. Frame’s straight-leg, rigid-denim ‘Le Jane’ jean is a perfect example. “Our ‘Le Jane’ is easy to dress up or down and works for all body types. This style has an ultra-high-rise fit through the hips, and a relaxed fit at the thighs and through the legs, giving it a nostalgic, chic look,” says Frame co-founder Erik Torstensson. Slvrlake’s signature ‘London’ cut is another great example. “I wanted to create a jean that was versatile, comfortable and flattered women. I also wanted a jean that felt timeless, with vintage appeal, that would get better with age,” says the brand’s co-founder Louise Edgley.

During these times, when people are staying at home, they have naturally started looking for looser-fitting jeans, but still want them to look cool
Sean Barron, CEO Re/Done

Work-from-home denim

For many, working from home equates to sitting through hours of Zoom calls. So when it comes to perfecting your WFH look, comfort needs to be a priority. But this needn’t mean days on end of sweatpants. New technologies and the evolution of denim manufacturing has produced a ‘comfort stretch’, which cleverly has the look of vintage, rigid denim yet with the forgiveness and added benefit of stretch. “During these times, when people are staying at home, they have naturally started looking for looser-fitting jeans, but still want them to look cool. So we took our most popular rigid-jean fits and added comfort stretch. These new styles have become Re/done’s bestsellers,” says Barron.

Best brands for now

Denim’s elevated transformation continues at full force, thanks to some high-ranking fashionable friends. Valentino has teamed up with Levi’s for a collaboration that promises to be an instant cult hit when it lands this spring; the iconic Levi’s label has even been customised by the Italian house. Meanwhile, Khaite’s Cate Holstein has extended her unique Manhattan look into highly coveted, just-right jeans that pair perfectly with her contemporary bodysuits and knits. Loewe, The Row, Balenciaga and Gucci have all included denim in their offerings, too.

True-blue trends

As ever, clean lines and classic true-blue prevail. Dramatic distressing, acid washes and exaggerated bagginess have been shelved in place of timeless, transitional investment pieces. That said, one new silhouette is on the ascent – the barrel leg. Sitting high on the waist, with generous room in the leg, the cut is contemporary and comfortable in equal measure. Totême’s high-rise, tapered jeans, cast in raw Italian denim, sit high on the waist and work well styled with sneakers or heeled boots.

Double denim is the perfect match for a white blazer, as modeled in Frame’s SS21 Lookbook
Consumers are becoming more conscious of the sustainability and ethical standards of fashion brands
Flora Fellowes, NET-A-PORTER denim buyer
Jeans, Goldsign

Caring for your indigos

A little love goes a long way when extending the lifespan of your jeans. While some prefer minimal intervention (even putting jeans in the freezer to kill bacteria rather than washing), what do the experts say? “Rigid denim doesn’t need washing every week, although this will help break it in,” says Fellowes. “I wash mine inside out, on a cold gentle setting, although some people prefer to hand-wash.” Lying jeans flat to dry should eradicate creases and prevent the need for ironing, although some rigid denim may benefit from a quick press.

Sustainability

“Consumers are becoming more conscious of the sustainability and ethical standards of fashion brands,” concludes NET-A-PORTER’s Fellowes. “We are always trying to increase our brand remit of denim NET SUSTAIN brands: Citizens of Humanity, Agolde, E.L.V. Denim, Goldsign and Re/Done are all using more innovative ways to produce sustainable denim, such as reducing and recycling water, recycling materials, reducing waste and using more considered materials.”

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The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown