It's tricky enough searching for the best women's jeans without taking the ever-changing denim trends into consideration.
Ask any fashion editor, and they'll tell you the skinny jean has been over since 2016. The demise of this spray-on style was declared by every luxury title at the time and it soon disappeared completely from designer campaigns and street style shots.
So if you haven't made the switch, now is the time. At first, you'll lament the loss of your skinny jeans – the unobtrusive silhouette is easy to style and they are surprisingly comfortable – but once you loosen up, you can't go back.
The good news is, there's no official womenswear denim staple now. Fashion is more fluid than ever, and you'll look just as chic in flares, floor-sweeping wide jeans or a vintage-inspired slim cut. Buy one of each, or find your go-to pair in our helpful guide to each cut below.
A brief history of modern skinny jeans
It was Kate Moss who convinced us of the skinny jeans’ cool. In 2004, when the rest of us were living in low-rise bootcut jeans, the model wore a pair to London Fashion Week with a waistcoat, wedges and a scarf belt.
Or, perhaps it was Sienna Miller, who wore hers to a premiere with then-boyfriend Jude Law, tucked into knee-high boots, layered with a boho blouse and topped with a felt fedora.
In the era of Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent, Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty, Skins, Sofia Copolla's Marie Antoinette and an all-round cultural indie fascination, the skinny jean felt deliciously nonchalant – even a bit rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, a gaping waistband, a few wrinkles at the knee and that slight pooling around the ankles only added to its unpolished appeal.
Fast forward ten years and we’d perfected skinnies a bit too much. Naturally, it correlated with the rise of Instagram, filters and Face-tune, and helped mark the end of a charming British disheveledness. The skinny jean had all of its cool engineered right out it, with a hefty dose of elasticity creating that spray-on silhouette now associated with Love Island contestants and reality stars.
How to buy women's jeans in 2023
A bit like most 2023 trends, there’s no set rules for what’s ‘in’ or 'out' – which is exciting, but also makes the already difficult task of denim shopping harder.
It’s normally recommended that you try on several pairs of jeans to find the perfect cut, but sometimes shopping for denim in-store can be overwhelming. When browsing online, look at every model image on e-tailers' product pages; and check out the flat shots too, as they can highlight any sneaky (and misleading) stylist pinning. Check if the size runs small or big, and read as many reviews as you can.
Checking these factors before immediately adding to basket will hopefully prevent you from doing a mass order-and-run. The more shipments and returns you generate, the more you add to your carbon footprint. If this is a big consideration for you, then scroll straight to the sustainable jeans in this edit – there are so many great denim brands out there, doing their bit for the planet right now.
Best slim-leg jeans
The style set has long swapped its skinnies for slim-leg jeans, which are just as versatile. Not to be confused with straight-leg (as it so often is), this design still showcases the contours of your legs but without clinging, to create a sleek but not skin-tight silhouette. Think of them as what drainpipes would have been in the Eighties and Nineties, before denim got tighter and stretchier.
Slim-leg jeans work well with everything from blazers, boots and heels, to trainers and slouchy knits. If you need inspiration, just look to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley who's stayed true to this cut for years.
Best stretch jeans
There's a reason #OldTopshop's skinny jean sales skyrocketed when the pandemic hit: people wanted something comfortable to wear when working from home. Selvedge denim may look chic but, in reality, its sturdiness is a a little impractical and uncomfortable.
Pure cotton denim ages gracefully (Levi 501s famously get even better with every wear), but it will take a while to stretch, soften and move with your body. If you need a little flexibility day-to-day, consider buying a pair woven with just a hint of stretch. So long as you avoid anything resembling jeggings, and look for a one to two per cent elastane content, no one will know the difference.
Best flared jeans
While bootcut jeans are yet to be truly revived, despite the Noughties renaissance, flares have been a staple for years now. They're a little less versatile than straighter styles, but even more flattering thanks to their floor-grazing hems and A-line fit that skims the leg.
These jeans were made for a chunky platform sole or heels, but Farah Fawcett proved they look just as good with flats when she paired hers with Nike Cortez trainers during that famous 1974 Charlie's Angels skateboard scene. Still, if you find this cut too retro to slot into your everyday wardrobe, just go for a cropped hemline – it's slim at the thigh and kicks out subtly just below the knee.
Best sustainable jeans
Finally, a category that's become increasingly important to the industry over the past few years. The production of cotton is a huge water waster, and when you add high-pigment dyes (often dumped illegally) and the world's insatiable desire for denim into the mix, you've get serious environmental impact.
Luckily, we've come a long way in the last decade, with denim production being targeted long before the term 'sustainable' became a marketing buzzword. Smaller business' like ASKET, Everlane and Reformation led the way with lower water and carbon dioxide usage, as well as optimising deadstock denim, then household names like Levi's and Lee followed suit with sustainable collections.
Denim is notoriously hard to recycle, so the encouragement from the likes of Vestiaire Collective, Depop and By Rotation to swap clothes or shop vintage, driving a desire for second-hand denim, has been a real saviour. Then, there are the brands like Re/Done and Fanfare Label that re-use denim – chopping, unpicking and moulding old jeans into something new.
How to care for jeans
Of course, the best way to live sustainably is by shopping the wardrobe you already own. The best way to ensure your jeans get more than their #30wears is to care for them properly. This means swapping weekly washes for a spritz of odour-fighting spray and refreshing steam cleans – it'll prolong their colour and shape, not to mention save water.
Well-loved denim will inevitably encounter a bit of wear and tear during its lifetime, so instead of throwing your ripped jeans out, send them off for repairs. We've tried, tested and trust The Seam, who've now teamed up with Net-a-Porter to bring you an easy luxury repairs-and-alterations service.
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