Step One: Understanding Jeans Sizes

Without a little note about jeans sizes and a womans size chart this site wouldn’t be complete.

This is generally not much of an issue for men, especially with traditional cuts and brands like Levis’s, Wrangler and Lee. It’s not unusual for a man to buy the same size jeans (inseam and waist) for years. My husband doesn’t even bother to try them on. Guy’s jeans generally have a looser fit. Now, if you’re into low risers or skinnies, jeans sizes become an isssue, so try them on and test them. You should be able to crouch and do some other routine movements in them without feeling too constrained. I don’t think I can teach guys much here, but as for women’s designer jeans sizes, that’s another story.

Consumer Reports conducted a study on jeans sizes and came up with what, to most of us, should not be totally unexpected conclusions. They tried on 24 women’s and men’s jeans priced between $11 and $50 and came up with the following observations on jeans sizes:

  • A difference of up to 2 inches in waist
  • A difference of up to 1 inch in length

And this is comparing the same style and size of different brands!

Jeans Sizes as a Psychotactic

They concluded that the fit guide of some makers is a little on the generous side so that we can “fit” into a pair one size smaller than our actual size. The psychological effect is obvious. Who wouldn’t swear that these are the best fitting jeans they have ever owned for their size 10 body, even though they are really size 12!

This creation of “vanity sizes” to flatter the buyer has made jeans sizing even more of a guessing game. No wonder there is an estimated 36% return on clothing due to fit.

There is, however, a method to this madness!

Some experts believe that women shop at fewer stores and buy less clothes than they would if sizing issues were cleared up. Retailers and manufacturers alike have their own reasons for not wanting a “uniform sizing code”, if such a thing were even possible. And that is to perpetuate the mystique of the perfect fit. They believe that a brand’s “sizing” is an integral part of its identity. It distinguishes one designer from the other in the eyes of the consumer. A Lucky Brand jeans fit is very different from a Rock & Republic. They each shoot for a segment of the market that will, when they find them, swear that they are the best jeans ever.

That is the way it should be, just think of how difficult it would be for one brand to satisfy all shapes and sizes, and how dull. That is also why, when we find a brand whose cut, fit and sizing fits us perfectly, we become loyal advocates for his label. The whole sizing mess is unavoidable, creates customer loyalty, and, to my taste anyway, makes searching so much more fun.

My attitude is, “if they fit, great, it doesn’t matter what the tag says”. ( I do, however, love the labels!) You simply cannot tell from the tag if the jeans will fit or not. This is why trying them on is so important, at least until you get to “know” how each designer defines his jeans sizes. If you’re shopping online and have a doubt, ask the retailer for details on how any specific brand is sized. Also make sure that their return policy is fair and hassle free.

We’ve included some sizing charts for specific labels on the following pages:Antik Jeans, FrankieB, Joe’s Jeans, Lucky Brand, Rock & Republic Jeans, 7 For All Mankind, and True Religion.

More will be coming soon.

Measuring Yourself

I’m including the women’s size chart below as a guide, mostly for conversions. As obvious as this may sound, I have to say it: to get the best fit, you have to measure yourself correctly:

  • Measure your hips and waist a bit loosely with a flexible measuring tape
  • It’s a lot easier if a friend helps you
  • To measure your hips, circle the tape around the fullest part of your body, between your waist and the top of your thighs
  • Some brands use your low-waist measurement, which is usually a couple of inches greater than your natural waist
  • The actual jeans sizes for most brands will typically be one size higher than what the tape says.
  • Measure your inseam from the crotch down. It’s easier to do this directly on a pair that fits you well.
  • They should fit perfectly where you are the largest. Other measurements can always modified.
  • Refer to the seller’s sizing chart to find the size that is best for you for each specific brand.

You can also save yourself a great deal of time by measuring the main parameters on a pair that fits you well. Do this on a flat surface, carefullly flattening out the pants along the direction that you are measuring.

Jeans Size Chart

Measuring Low Risers

Remember that the rise or crotch to waist measurement of a standard pair of jeans is 10 to 12 inches. The earlier versions of low rise jeans had a rise of about 7 inches, and the ultra-low risers have fallen to 3 or 4 inches in rise. Some Brazilian jeans manufacturers advertise 2 inch zippers (probably a 3 inch rise). Low rise jeans, in general, should always be much higher in the rear than in the front, for obvious “exposure” reasons. Every brand handles this differently, even from one model to another. A difference of up to 3″ or even 4″ from the front rise to the back rise should not surprise you, especially with the ultra low rise jeans with a 3″ or 4″ front rise.

Hem Mayhem

Shrinkage is usually not a problem as most jeans on the market today are preshrunk, but some may still occur. Just make sure that they have been preshrunk. I like buying my jeans an inch longer, they can always be taken in if needed.

With some brands, you may not have a choice. Some manufacturers, especially the smaller companies, are making them as long as 34 inches. They are going on the assumption that it’s always possible to have a tailor shorten a pair, and so they cover a wider market with less inventory.

Having the pants hemmed may not be as cheap or as easy as you may think. It could cost you anywhere from $6 to $20, and sometimes it’s impossible to match the original hem. If you ultimately have no way of avoiding this very delicate procedure, wash your jeans before hemming. Put the denim through it’s final shrinkage. It’s also always safer to take off a little bit less than you think is necessary, say one-quarter of an inch.

The best length will also depend on the shoes you plan to wear them with, but in general, your pants hem should rest comfortably on the top of your shoes.

Be aware that if you take off too much, the knee break will end up too low and just not look right, especially in flared pants. It may also be very difficult to reproduce the frayed edges of the original distressed pair that you paid so much for, but with our guidelines to distressing your own jeans, you can surely come close. I doubt any tailor will venture into these grounds.

What About Tight Jeans?

As you’ll learn in our discussion on cut and fit, “tight jeans” refers to a type of cut, and as such still must achieve the correct fit for your body (assuming you should even consider this cut at all). A tight jeans cut should still satisfy the criteria listed below, in spite of the snug fit. To say it another way, tight jeans should be the right size, they should fit, or they are “too tight”. Remember, one refers to the cut, the other to an unacceptable fit. This may be clearer if you refer to them as “skinnies” instead of tight cut. Ultimately, if the size is right, it’s the magic of stretch denim that makes “tight” and “comfortable” possible, so if you want to join this new trend, make stretch a priority.

There’s no doubt about it, skinny jeans are back, and with a vengeance! The trend is one that emphasizes long, lean, and narrow silhouettes (why doesn’t that surprise me?). The deep indigo and black washes seem to be the most popular. The new-look is smooth and clean, without fraying or rips. It seems like the straight leg is the preferred cut of the season, but you can make up your own mind. For the right body, skinnies are sexy and are great for showing off your boots. It’s kind of difficult to tuck in a bootcut leg, which is meant to be worn outside the boots.

How do you know if you’ve gotten the right size?

Your new jeans should:

  • Be just a little bit longer than you need
  • Be the right length for the shoes or boots that you plan to wear them with
  • Not wrinkle or fold excessively, which would indicate a problem area where they are too tight.
  • The zipper, or buttoned fly, should lie flat
  • You should be able to sit down or crouch in them comfortably, without your rear end peeking out.
  • Low risers don’t necessarily have to expose your rear. If they do, you need a higher cut in the back, or that pair is too small. Another brand may offer what you need.
  • Your waist button should snap easily (without having to lie down)
  • The pockets should also lie flat. If they don’t, they may not be the right cut for your body type.

Pull them up as high as they go, then crouch in them. How do they feel when you walk around? They should be snug but comfortable. This is how you should feel all day long. After all, what makes jeans so fabulous is their ability to let us look and feel great without sacrificing comfort.

Jeans Sizes and The Best Fitting Jeans

Remember, the first step in your quest for the perfect fitting jeans is to find the right fit, (this is a matter of jeans sizes, not style, cut, latest craze, or even the tag). With this info on hand, you can now focus on understanding your body type to find the most flattering styles for you.


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