On the Proper Fitting of Jeans.

UPDATED: A Plus Sized Sequel was published on October 12, 2012.  Click here to read that post.

Three years ago, I wrote a blog post that inadvertently defined my identity as a blogger. It was about Mom Jeans. I didn’t really write it to be a how-to post – I wrote it as a humor post. Which is a fact that I am constantly explaining to people as they back up against walls for fear of my judging their butts.

However, I do feel that I have learned a thing or two about jeans, and also that comparison photography is a really great way to illustrate how to find a flattering fit. So I set off to write a true how-to post, in my own anal-retentive fashion.

I had 12 volunteers, ranging in age from 27 to 60, in size from 2 to 10, and accompanied by 22 children.

(I apologize for those who have requested plus-sized tips, but I had no plus-sized models volunteer. However, many of the tips contained herein apply across the board. Also, a plus-sized sequel is available here.)

First, a few important points of note:

  • I have tried to match camera angles and lighting to the best of my ability in the comparison photos, and no photos have been doctored to look more or less flattering.
  • Just because a pair of jeans doesn’t look right on one person doesn’t mean it won’t be the perfect fit on another – it’s all about fitting your particular body.
  • High Quality (“designer”) jeans really make a difference. They fit better, look better, and last longer. However, the specific brand does not matter quite as much. I highly recommend being willing to try on jeans until you find the pair that looks perfect on you. Also, you never have to pay full-price for designer jeans – for instance, I get all of mine through HauteLook, and they’re usually over half off.

And the absolute most important point that I hope this post proves is this: If something doesn’t look attractive on you, don’t blame your body. Blame the clothes. The way your jeans fit can significantly swing your perceived weight by ten to twenty pounds. Hopefully you will be delightfully shocked at how drastically the fit of jeans can change the way a body looks.

So. Let’s get started.

1. Pockets.

I spent over 2,000 words talking about pocket placement on my Mom Jeans post, so I’m not going to reiterate all of that. However, there are some important notes worth illustrating.

A. The amount of space between your back pockets can greatly change your butt’s perceived size.

Meet Subject B, a 29 year old size five (who incidentally can be found blogging here).

Subject B Back

Is that difference not stunning?

Subject G, a 36 year old size 9:

Subject G Pockets copy

Subject J, a 31 year old size four, is another good example. Although the actual space between the pockets on these two pairs isn’t significantly different, the stitching down the middle drastically changes the perceived width:

Subject J Back

Please note that this is a very tricky tip, because you can’t completely see your butt when you look in the mirror. You can twist and rubberneck all you want, but the width of the middle section of your backside will be hard to judge. This is why it’s important to never go jeans shopping alone.

B. The height placement and size of your pockets changes the shape of your butt.

Meet Subject D. She is a 30 year old size six who says that she struggles to find jeans due to her hips to waist ratio.

Subject D Back

The pocket rule doesn’t change between bootcut and skinny jeans. Here is Subject E in skinny jeans – She is a 27 year old size 8.

Subject E Back

If you are older and are worried about looking too young, have your pockets only slightly higher to give a modern look without looking Cougaresque. Subject F is a 60 year old size 10:

Subject F Back

2. Tightness.

I personally like to wear my jeans snug. Not skin tight, but I do prefer the feeling that my jeans are somehow holding in some of my flab.

However, some people do not. And since tighter jeans are very much in style right now, many people are afraid that they can’t be in style if they aren’t willing to wear their jeans snug.

However, you can still achieve stylish curves without snugness.

Subject C is a 57 year old size 8 who did not want tight jeans. By combining proper pocket placement with a more modern color and leg flair, the following can be done:

Subject C Loose But Stylish copy

Notice that her jeans aren’t at all tight, but they still look like they fit her body appropriately.

Subject F (60 year old / size 10) – notice how the right pair of jeans doesn’t just offer a more of a modern look, but a significant perceived weight reduction:

Subject F Front copy

Age is not the only reason one might not want tight jeans. Subject A, a 32 year old size 4, has circulation issues. She can’t have her jeans binding on her legs without experiencing tingling and numbness.

To help her issues, we tried on extremely soft, high in spandex jeans. She achieved the modern look without the personal discomfort.

Subject A Fit

3. Flare

Jean flare is a highly controversial subject these days: to skinny jean or not to skinny jean? So I will preface this section with saying that this is simply my observation on what looks best, regardless of the current fads.

Your jean’s flare should be in direct proportion with your thigh size to be most flattering. Which means that if you have small thighs, wear skinny jeans. If you have normal to larger thighs, wear bootcut.

(Which also means that since we’re women, and therefore God blessed most of us with thighs, bootcut typically looks more flattering.)

There is one exception to this rule: if you have medium to large thighs and want to wear skinny jeans, you can offset this disproportion by wearing boots.


Subject D (30 year old size 6) has normal sized thighs. As such, a bootcut looks most flattering.

Subject D Flare

(Out of 22 kids running around, you knew one of them would manage to make it into a photo – right??)

The difference in perceived thigh size can also be seen from the front:

Subject D Front 2

Subject E (27 year old size 8 ) has small thighs. As such, skinny jeans are actually more flattering on her legs than bootcut.

Subject E Flare

Don’t let your thighs get lost in the flare, though. Subject H (32 year old size 8 ) shows how a cut in at the knees, then back out, produces the most flattering effect:

Subject H Flare Side
With regards to this rule, age does not necessarily matter. Subject C (57 year old size 8 ) was, I believe, surprised, at how flattering skinny jeans were on her body:

Subject C Skinny Jean Side

Although she wasn’t quite comfortable with the fit, the flattering look is quite undeniable.

Subject C Skinny Jean

The exception to the rule: Boots add width without taking away from the slimming effect, thereby offsetting thighs and actually making them look thinner:

Subject H Flare copy

4. Color / Feathering / Stitching

In general, just like all other clothing, the darker the color, the skinnier you will look. Subject A (32 year old size 4):

Subject A Color copy

Also, feathering (lighter lines designed to imitate wrinkle marks) and fading toward the middle of the jeans can help minimize the thigh area and add attractive shapeliness. Subject D:

Subject D Feathering 2

Subject G (36 year old size 9):

Subject G Feathering 2

By going a shade darker and having lighter feathering, you lose about one perceived size. Subject E (27 year old size 8 ):

Subject E Feathering 2

However, not all feathering is created equally. Make sure the feathering is natural looking and not “trying too hard”. Subject K (37 year old size 8 ) shows how one type of feathering makes her hips look wider, while the other type makes them look narrower.

Subject K Feathering 2

Also, as good as front feathering and fading can be, back feathering or fading can do the opposite if it goes overboard. Subject B (29 year old size 5):

Subject B Feathering

All butt fading is not evil. Slighter butt fading, as long as it is done naturally, can actually look nice. Subject I (36 year old size 2):

Subject I Fading copy

A lighter stitch color can add interest and minimize by breaking up the space. I’ve already shown you how that helped the pocket width illusion on Subject J:

Subject J Back

But you can see that the stitching also lends to a more attractive front view as well:

Subject J Stitching 2

Subject K has on the same style/brand of jeans, except that one pair has white stitching and the other doesn’t. See how the stitching helps minimize her thigh width:

Nikki Stitch Coloring

Please let me know if you have any questions! I hope to add sequels in the future, including plus-sized and men’s jeans.

And don’t ever forget – if it doesn’t look right, it’s not you, it’s the jeans!!!

Special Thanks to:

  • Subjects A through L for donating their bodies to denim science.
  • My Mom, for invaluably handling the service of child crowd control
  • Ali, who relished her role as children’s activity director. And also really enjoyed the backdrop and a certain pair of pink-stitched jeans.



For the rest of my denim posts:

If you’re afraid you might wear Mom Jeans and have Long Butt, click here.
If you’re over 50 years old, click here.
If you are wearing Gap or Old Navy jeans, click here.
If you are plus-sized and would like to find out how best to flatter your body, click here.
If you want a list of every post I’ve ever written about denim, click here.

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