I hesitate to even start this piece with a soliloquy about how jeans don’t fit me correctly, because I know everyone has a similar type of story. As a woman, I know that (almost) everyone has tales of being made to feel inadequate or ugly by the expectations and standards of beauty fostered upon us by the fashion industry. And that’s seriously not okay. For me personally, it’s always been that my short short waist, big hips, and long legs — as well as the fact that I’m 5’9” but not a waif — has meant that shopping for specifically jeans has always really sucked.
I was a gangly teenager in the early aughts, and was therefore coming of age (and wanting to look good in jeans) right around the time that super low-waisted jean and Britney Spears’s taut midriff were all the rage. I was a 14-year-old girl who grew almost seven inches in less than two years — seriously, I have stretch marks on my knees and my hips from this freakish growth spurt — and when I tried on juniors' jeans at Target or Kohl’s with my mom, I would struggle to fit the biggest sizes over my hips, and have inches of ankle showing the second I found a pair that fit.
To add insult to injury, the low-waisted jeans that were oh-so-popular always hit me in exactly the wrong place, leading to my whole stomach hanging out over jeans in a way that was profoundly upsetting for a teenager (seriously though, do low-waisted jeans look good on ANYONE? Why were they a thing for so long? Why didn’t someone stop us as a country from being okay with this travesty?).
In short, jeans always had a way of making me feel really bad about myself.
Thus, once I graduated high school and escaped the restrictive dress code of my school — because God forbid I wear anything that showed any skin above my knees — and the hilarious suburban fashion of Upper Arlington, Ohio, I was excited to begin to wear clothes that actually made me feel confident in my own body.
I started wearing leggings and yoga pants whenever it was societally appropriate (and in college, that’s to class, whenever you want), and I wore dresses, skirts, and tights, almost every single day. I eschewed jeans from my wardrobe because — dammit! — They had only caused me suffering and pain.
I still occasionally wore pants, but only awesome wide-legged silk pants or high-waisted slacks that were appropriate for more business-casual events. Unless the temperature was in the single digits outside, I pretty much always wore skirts, tunics, and dresses and kept warm with leggings or tights underneath.
And let me tell you, I was happy all the time.
After I graduated college and entered the working world, I still steadfastly maintained my avoidance of jeans in most (if not all) instances. I had a few pairs of jeggings as they became more popular (Target Mossimo Jeggings fer lyfeee) but I was still often too worried about how normal jeans would make me feel to enter into a store and try them on.
Would I end up crying in a dressing room like I was 14 again? It was a risk I wasn’t willing to take. And to be honest, it still isn’t!
I wish I could say I had one, huge, cathartic moment where I forgave jeans, and they forgave me, but the reality is that two things happened slowly that led to my eventual re-acceptance of those frustrating denim interlopers. One, was that denim trends gradually started to turn towards cuts that were fundamentally more flattering to my— and I think overall women’s — bodies. High-waisted jeans were en vogue, they were skinny or tapered or even boot cut (and now flared too because why not am I right?), boyfriend jeans were a thing, and there was a way to style any of these cuts with looks that worked on my body personally. Second, I slowly began to accept my body the way it was and not worry that it didn’t look perfect in whatever the pop star of the month was wearing.
Once I began to look at jeans again in social, real-life, and advertising iterations with the classic “wait-I-think-that-might-look-good-on-me” eyes, I made a commitment to avoid hurting my self-image by being strategic about what I liked and what I would buy. This meant a couple of things; first, I know that designer jeans are more expensive, but to mitigate any issues with vanity sizing (and so that I never find myself feeling badly for being unable to get a pair of jeans ostensibly “in my size” over my knees again) it’s nice to wear jeans that come in waist sizes as opposed to women’s numbered sizes.
Second, I asked my friends who had similar body types what jeans they loved, and where they bought them. Third, through gradual trial and error, once I finally found the brands and sizes that worked for me, I stocked up. My personal jeans closet is now fully stocked with all of my favorites, and I can actually say that this summer and fall, I wore jeans more than I wore skirts. Check out my favorite brands, in order from splurge-y to save-ish, in the slideshow below.