Your Handy Guide To Buying Designer Denim -- From Someone On The Inside

It really can be worth the money, but here's what you need to know.

Nov 8, 2013 at 9:00am | Leave a comment

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So you think you're ready to buy a pair of designer denim? Or maybe just add to your collection? Awesome.
 
I fondly remember my first pair: J Brand cigarette jeans in a classic blue wash. Of course, because I bought them online (nowhere to buy expensive jeans in rural North Dakota!) they didn’t fit right, but damned if I didn’t wear the hell out of them. Many more pairs followed: Tavernitis and Serfontaines (RIP), Hudson, True Religion (it was 2007, OK) -- the list goes on.
 
After college, I got a job working at a Minneapolis-based store called Len Druskin, which has long been considered THE place to get a perfect pair of jeans in the Twin Cities. I learned the ins and outs of denim while helping women of all ages, shapes and sizes find The One.
 
If you’re ready to spend a bit more than usual on a pair of jeans, I’m here to help you. There is nothing more babely on a chick than a great-fitting pair of jeans -- just ask all the people who’ve written songs about it.
 
But wait, you want to know why on Earth you should spend $150+ on one pair of jeans when you could get a whole wardrobe for that price at Forever21?
 
Designer denim is made of more durable fabric so it lasts longer and keeps it shape. Brands spend months, if not years, perfecting their fits. Some brands even make their jeans (at least partially) in the United States. If you wear jeans on a daily basis, it makes sense to spend a bit more money on something that will last.
 
I bought a pair of $30 cheapie jeans and after four wears, they completely lost their shape from waist to knees. I loathe the phrase “investment piece,” but it makes sense; if you wear your $180 jeans 18 times -- which you will, if you love them -- they’re $10/wear. 
 
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU SHOP
 
Decide what you’d like to spend. Premium denim ranges from about $150-$250. Raw denim (which hasn’t been processed and which you are supposed to wear constantly for a year to let them mold to your body) is often a bit more expensive, as is Japanese denim, which is widely regarded as the best. 
 
Though you can find designer denim at resale shops and overstock spots, I recommend going somewhere more personal at first. Smaller boutiques like where I work and customer-service-focused department stores like Nordstrom encourage one-on-one time with a sales associate who knows what he or she is doing. I can’t stress the importance of making friends with a sales associate who makes you feel comfortable and understands what you like.
 
At my store, we never pressure you to buy and we don’t lie -- we aren’t on commission, so there’s no point in pushing a purchase. If you happen upon someone you hit it off with, get his/her email. Stop by and say hi when you’re in the vicinity of the store. They’ll return the favor by letting you know about special offers or new pieces you might like. 
 
Nordstrom, in particular, has a flexible return policy. So if you take a pair home and decide after a week or two they’re just not “you,” it’s no problem to find something else. When you’re making a pricey purchase, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan in case it doesn’t work out.
 
Consider your personal style. Are you trendy? Super-simple? Do you wear a lot of a certain color? Do you like your jeans skinny, bootcut, flared, cigarette, relaxed, boyfriend? Even just the tiniest bit of direction will help your sales associate figure out what you want.
 
I think a classic blue denim is the best option for your first designer denim splurge. We sold $200 J Brand patterned denim when it was trendy, but if it’s your first pair, start simple and versatile.
 
WHILE YOU'RE SHOPPING
 
Keep an open mind. You might walk out with something completely different than you imagined. Don’t get hung up on a certain brand or style. Don’t be stubborn about your size, either. Different brands fit totally differently; I wear a 26 in some and a 28 in others. Many major retailers like Gap vanity size hardcore, so if you fit into a 25 there, you might not in a Paige or a Mother jean. Who cares? They’re just numbers. 
 
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
 
In general, designer denim is going to stretch about a half-size with wear. This is VERY IMPORTANT. Most pairs contain about 2% spandex so they’ll move with you and form to your body. I always tell customers their jeans should fit snugly upon first try. There’s a fine line between snug and tight, but you want them to be just tight enough so you don’t have dumpy diaper butt after a few wears.
 
Some helpful things I've learned from working in retail:
 
If you’re tall: Try Hudson’s Supermodel, which comes in a 36” inseam in bootcut and skinny styles.
 
If you’re short: Look for an “ankle” style. Most designer denim comes in a uniform length, which means you’ll probably have to have them hemmed. This is often complimentary; otherwise it’s about $10 for a regular hem. (Regular hem = seamstress cuts, then matches the existing thread. Original hem = existing hem is cut off and sewn back on; we recommend that when there’s something unique about the hem, like distressing or a wide hem.) A skinny jean is going to be least likely to shorten your silhouette.
 
If you hate muffin tops: I am so happy that high-rise and mid-rise jeans are trendy right now. They’re far more flattering and eliminate the muffin top we all had when we were wearing super-low jeans a few years back. My favorite pair is the Citizens of Humanity Rocket skinny, which I’m wearing in the photo. Watch out for too much whiskering or fading in the wash of your denim, which can create the illusion of fuller hips and/or thighs. 
 
If you have thighs: I hate when things are classified as for “curvy” women, but 7 for All Mankind Kimmie “Curvy” jeans are cut slightly looser in the hips and thighs. They’re a mid-rise too, which makes them extra flattering.
 
If you think you need little help in the butt department: Join the club. I like the Mother Looker skinny because it creates the illusion that I actually have a butt, which I totally don’t. The Looker oh-so-gently lifts up your butt. Denim with flap pockets can help boost it too.
 
If you’re plus-size: Most designer denim lines you’ll find in stores offer sizes 24-32, but brands like NYDJ offer extended sizing in cute, trendy and classic styles up to a 24W.
 
If you like boyfriend jeans: AG Adriano Goldschmied and Current/Elliott do good boyfriend jeans. Or try a relaxed skinny, like the Paige Jimmy Jimmy or AG Nikki
 
If you’re pregnant: Most designer denim lines have maternity jeans. DL1961 does a really good one called the Angel.
 
If you want a flare: J Brand’s Love Story flares are iconic and perfect. 
 
If you live in black leggings: Try the Rag & Bone Plush Legging jean. These are made out of super-soft twill and feel just like leggings, only a bit more polished. One of my coworkers loves these so much she has three pairs.
 
DENIM CARE
 
Once you’ve found a pair or two that you truly love, please please please refrain from washing them right away. When you can’t hold out any longer, turn them inside out and wash them with similar colors, because they might bleed. Don’t dry them! I know people say throwing things in the dryer will shrink them back up, but it’s hard on your jeans and I promise they’ll just stretch out again as you wear them. You’re spending your dollars on fancy, special denim; don’t toss them in the dryer.
 
Do you wear designer denim? What was your first pair? More questions about fit and styles? Ask away.