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Finding Jeans That Truly Fit

Updated: Dec 17, 2022

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The 4 Features That Make a Great Fit, Plus How to Find a Flattering Fit For Your Body Type

We’ve been wearing jeans for almost 150 years. They’ve become ubiquitous; everyone wears them! So how come it’s so difficult to find a pair that fits?

Small differences between sizes, fabrics, measurements, treatment and a host of other factors can make big differences in the way two pairs of jeans look on you. And that’s not even taking you and your body type into consideration.

In this third article the series about buying jeans, I look at why fit is the most important criteria for finding jeans you’ll love and wear. It’s not just my opinion, consumer research says so too! This free in-depth jeans fit guide for men will help you find jeans that actually fit you.

It’s More Than Your Waist Size and Height

The average European guy is about 178 cm tall and probably wears something like a waist size 31 or 32 in jeans. If that’s you then congratulations, most jeans will (probably) look great on you. That’s because jeans are usually designed based on the measurements of average guys.

But as someone who’s actually 178 cm tall and usually wears a size 31 (give or take), I know from first-hand experience that even us average-sized guys have issues finding jeans that fit. There’s so much more to it than the measurements of our waistline and our height.

Finding perfectly fitting jeans presents different challenges for the two sexes. Women usually want jeans to accentuate or hide their curves. That’s not (as much of) a problem for most men. In this free jeans fit guide, I look at it from a man’s perspective—but much of the advice works for women as well.

How Jeans Should Fit

Back in the good ol’ days, jeans were workwear: everyday apparel that had to be durable. How it looked was less important. That meant fits were generously cut, and jeans had to fit any body type. When blue jeans became big business and a fashion item, designers began improving the fits to get specific looks. These days, patternmakers are developing techniques and ways of sewing that create the perfect fit. Jeans are often described as a second skin. And because we wear our jeans virtually all the time, they see their fair share of wear and tear—and you usually have to shell out a good deal of cash to get into a quality pair.

That’s why you’ll want them to fit you well, and show off your good sides. There’s no definitive answer to how jeans should fit, but the goal is to find something that balances out your proportions and highlights your best attributes.

As a rule of thumb, you should always be able to answer “yes” to these two questions when you’re trying on jeans:

Do you feel comfortable?

Are you convinced you look good in them?

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the four tangible features you should consider when you’re shopping for jeans.

The 4 Features That Make or Break the Fit

All too often, we’re being dictated by trends, what your friends wear, or even a particular fabric or look when we shop for jeans. Instead, look for jeans that suit your body.

Many consumers buy the fit that is prescribed by fashion (probably a skinny). If you look at the matter from a tailor’s point of view, or from the technical side, a skinny would (almost) never be recommended,” says Giovanni Antinoro, who makes bespoke jeans.

To find a pair of jeans that makes you feel comfortable and look good, consider these four features of the fit: the shape of the leg; the rise; the length (also known as the ‘break’) and; the fabric.

The Shape of the Leg

The shape of the leg is what gives you the different types of fits. It’s determined by three measurements: the thigh, the knee and the leg opening. All are measured with the jeans laying flat, and the figures are then doubled.

The thigh is the top of the leg, and it’s measured at a right-side angle just under the crotch. To get the full width of the thigh, you need to include a bit of fabric from the back of the leg, and not merely the width of the front of the leg. The knee is measured 35 cm (or 14 inches) down the inseam from the crotch. The leg opening is the measurement across the hem.

Here’s something that would normally be defined as a loose fit.

The combination of these measurements gives you the shape of the leg. But there’s no standard for how brands and denim designers combine the measurements to create different fits. So in one brand, the leg shape of a loose fit might be similar to that of a regular fit from another brand. And, obviously, the actual measurements vary depending on the size of the jeans.

What this means is that, to find jeans that’re both comfortable and look good, you cannot simply shop for jeans based on what fit they’re labelled as. You need to try them on or carefully measure them against a pair of jeans you already own. The exception would be a fit you already know, but even then you can have discrepancies between production runs, fabrics and washes.

The most common fit categories include: super skinny, skinny, slim, regular and loose. And except for skinny fits, they can all have a straight or a tapered leg.

The Rise

The rise is the distance from the crotch joint to the top of the waistband. That means you’ve got both a front rise and a back rise. Unlike trousers and slacks, the back rise of jeans is curved. That means it wraps around to the front of the jeans. This is what gives jeans their figure-hugging fit.

The rise is important because it determines where the jeans sit on your body. To make sure you get a fit that’s comfortable and looks good on you, the rise should follow your contours.

Generally, there are four categories of rises: low rise, mid rise, high rise and drop crotch (where the length from the base of the fly to the crotch seam is extended). Like with the shape of the leg, brands have different definitions for what each rise category entails in actual measurements—and they vary from size to size. So you should use the rise as a guideline only.

The rise is part of what’s called the ‘top block’ of the jeans (in other words, the section from the waist to the crotch). In addition to the length of the rise, you should also consider the angle of the yoke as it determines the curve of the back rise.

The Length

When it comes to the length of your jeans, the golden rule is that you want the break (where the legs end) to be just where your feet begin. Worn without shoes, this means the front of the hem will rest on top of your instep, and the back will kiss the floor.

With trends like cropped legs, cuffing and stacking, the length of jeans has largely become a matter of personal preference. But the length of your jeans is important for how they look on you—and you can use it to your advantage to create optical illusions.

Some guides will tell you that cuffs make your legs look longer, but as this comparison goes to show I would argue the opposite.

The length is the measurement of the inseam, starting from the crotch and then all the way down to the leg opening. Compared to the shape of the leg and the rise, the inseam is a somewhat more universal standard. Still, play it safe and try on the jeans or compare it to a pair you already own. And don’t forget to factor in shrinkage; even sanforized denim shrinks a little bit.

A tip before your shop: get your inseam measured. You get a long way by measuring a pair of jeans you own with a perfect inseam. Otherwise, your girlfriend or your local tailor can help you get your actual inside measured.

The Fabric

Denim has traditionally been made from 100% cotton, in which case it’s known as ‘rigid denim.’ However, as fits have been slimming down over the past couple of decades, and as spinning technology has evolved, stretch denim is becoming the norm for many fashion denim makers.

The ‘elastomer’ (that is, the stretch material, usually some form of spandex) is spun into the core of the yarn. That’s why stretch yarn can only be ring-spun. Technically, the stretch yarn is ‘core-spun,’ meaning the cotton is wrapped around a strand of spandex. This way, you maintain the soft touch and fading capabilities of cotton while adding ‘stretchability.’

The key advantage of having stretch in denim is well-known to anyone who has tried it; the jeans become immensely more comfortable. Even with a few percentages of stretch material, you can get stretchability up to 30-40%, meaning the denim will stretch 1.3-1.4 times its actual size.

The problem with adding an elastomer to the fibre mix is that the fabric often loses (some of) its authentic denim look. Because stretch yarn makes the denim more compact, the characteristic twill lines become less pronounced.

Another common problem is that stretch denim gets saggy with wear. It lacks ‘recovery,’ as denim insiders call it. To combat that, yarn makers are adding a strand of polyester to the mix and spinning yarns with more than one core. This makes it dual core-spun. Or they mix the two synthetics together in top secret ways to create two-component fibres like Lycra T400 or Candiani’s Sling technology (which gives you as much as 75% stretchability).

Whether you like it or not, stretch denim is here to stay. While denim purists stubbornly argue that stretch denim is not as beautiful as rigid denim, the spinning industry is now making high-stretch denim that is visually more or less identical with rigids. If you can’t tell the difference, you might be willing to trade in a little authenticity for the increased comfort of having stretch. After all, a pair of skin-tight jeans made from rigid denim is practically unwearable. But the choice is yours.

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