Denim, how we love thee. Yet like a perpetually new crush, we are also routinely confused by thee. Why has though wrought such travesties as muffin-tops, saggy knees and mortifying mom butt? To help us answer these questions, buy better denim, make it last longer and just generally revive our love affair with this most wonderful of fabrics, we turned to the capable stylists at San Francisco-based Beyond Black.
Beyond Black’s owner-founder Jennifer Held-Axcell and associate stylist Amanda Castro regularly help Bay Area shoppers improve their style sense and wardrobe wearability through personal shopping, closet consultations and special event style services (including hair, makeup and bridal packages). So we were all ears when they weighed in on the dos and don’ts of denim.
Read on for their take on the best ways to avoid downfalls such as plumber butt and prematurely saggy jeans, learn the best brands for jeans under $100 and tried-and-true tips for buying the right denim and making it last through all your globe-trotting, bar-hopping, desk-jockeying and (in some of our cases) kid-chasing adventures.
Skinny jeans are part of our every day wardrobe, but flashing muffin tops and bum cracks are a serious style hazards that come with the territory. Are there any brands or styles you can recommend for those of us who like skinnies, but want to avoid those downfalls?
• Amanda: As my friends and I always say, just say no to crack! And muffin tops belong on pastries, not on your body. The easiest way to avoid both fashion faux pas is to look for a pair of skinnies with a high rise and a good amount of stretch. (The usual 2 percemt stretch in all denim should work, but you can find brands with higher amounts, as much as 13 percent!) I like Levi’s Curve ID for the one-on-one fitting you get and Seven For All Mankind, particularly the Gwenivere because they’re clearly labeled and often come with a note about their fit.
• Jennifer: The close cousin to skinny jeans are denim leggings, or “jeggings” if you will. Like Amanda said, you can find pairs with upwards of 13 percent lycra/elstane in them. That super-dose of stretch is also what separates the skinny jean from the jegging. Both styles fit close to the body, but jeggings tend to be super stretchy and fit more like leggings than jeans. For those of us with a little extra cushion through the hips and thighs, we need that stretch. Both Seven For All Mankind and Not Your Daughter Jeans make high-waisted jeggings.
A new pair of jeans can look great with heels for a night out, but after months of wear, the same pair can easily start to look schlumpy. Do you have any tips for keeping denim looking its best?
• Jennifer: Air dry, air dry, air dry. Think of the stretch in your jeans like a rubber band that is meant to expand and contract back to its original shape and size. The more you subject that delicate stretch fiber to heat, the more brittle it becomes. People don’t know this, continue to dry their jeans in the dryer, then are surprised to find their favorite pair now give them baggy butt and saggy knees.
• Amanda: I agree with Jennifer, the number one worst thing you can do to your jeans is wash them in warm water and dry them with heat. Drying any of your clothes is a bad idea in the first place. Heat is the perpetrator to clothing disasters: it breaks down the fibers in your clothes faster than everyday wear, it sets stains and shrinks fabrics. Heavy fabrics like sweatshirts and thick socks can withstand the heat, but your delicates and stretch jeans cannot. Always wash your jeans inside out and in cold water. The cold water prevents the color from bleeding, so does being inside out. Take them out quickly, reshape if you have to, and hang dry. Make sure they have plenty of access to free flowing air so the water doesn’t collect and hold in the fabric, causing a sour/mildew smell later on, especially in the crotch. Nobody wants that!
Thoughts on pocket adornments and decorations? Yay or nay?
• Amanda: Depends on your taste. For comfort reasons, I shy away from bedazzled butt-pockets. Also, sparkly or heavily embroidered pockets tend to have a juvenile look, and, if you’re a lady of a particular age, they won’t come across in your favor. Plus, butt-pockets and what’s on them have a HUGE effect on the way your butt looks once in them. Too much adornment can make your rump look bigger than it is because it adds a visual weight to that area. On the flip side, no pockets are also not your friend, as they will only call attention to what you have, or don’t have, back there.
• Jennifer: Amanda makes a good point. Even more important than what’s on the pockets is whether or not there are pockets at all and how they’re positioned. The dreaded “mom-butt” is a result of poor pocket placement and size.
Denim shopping can be an overwhelming experience. There are so many pairs and so many different fits. For those of us with limited time to shop on our hands, do you have any tips or suggestions for streamlining the denim shopping experience?
• Amanda: First, know that finding a great pair of jeans takes time. Expect to try on a lot of jeans, that’s just the sad truth of it. However, once you find a brand that flatters you in a way you like, stick with that brand. In a rush, skip browsing and go straight to your brand and look for something that’ll satisfy your needs. Also, I don’t want to sound like I’m endorsing anyone, but I still hold that Levi’s Curve ID are the one brand where you have the highest percent chance of finding a perfect pair of jeans the first time around because they take your measurements right on the spot. Read my article here about my experience there and also here (this one has pictures too!).
• Jennifer: I like to shop online for my jeans. Once I’ve established which brands I like, I can easily go online and search for them. Websites like Piperlime.com will offer fiber content and rise information. I know I need at least a 7-1/2” rise to feel comfortable, and that anything in my size with less than 2 percent stretch won’t fit over my thighs. There’s no sales tax, and they get shipped to me for free. And since I am purchasing a brand I already know I like, I can pretty accurately judge the size I should buy. And to top it all off, I get to try them on in the comfort of my own home and don’t have to circle or pay for parking.
Are “premium” denim jeans really better than their lower-cost counterparts?
• Amanda: Many factors go into the retail price of a garment, including denim.Where it’s made, where the fabric came from, how many hours it took to assemble that one pair, etc. Higher-end jeans are produced from better fabric and stronger threads and many are made in the USA, making the price go up even more.That’s not to say you can’t find good, lower-end denim, but just don’t expect them to last nearly as long, even with the same TLC you give your expensive pairs.
• Jennifer: To the detriment of your pocketbook, yes, they are. And not just because they slapped a designer label on the back. Above all, you get what you pay for: quality fabric and construction. If you plan to wear your jeans all the time and want them to last, then you had better pony up the cash for premium denim. The lower-cost counterparts are cheaper initially, but you end up spending just as much money replacing them more often as you would just buying a premium brand to begin with.
What would you recommend to someone seeking a great pair of versatile jeans for under $50?
• Amanda: Celebrity Pink, Just USA, and Vigoss (typically carried at Kohl’s, JC Penny, Dillards, etc). Expect them to be in Junior sizes, run small/narrow and with a low rise. Otherwise you’re looking at a minimum of $75 for any other pair. Or you can always shop the sale racks!
• Jennifer: The best selection of quality denim I’ve found under $100 is at Express. They’ve got a variety of washes and styles like curvy, low-rise, staright leg, etc. Gap/Banana Republic has a lot of options as well, but tend to be a bit more expensive and never seem to fit my large ass-ets just right. A woman with a more average proportions than mine would do well there. Just remember, you get what you pay for when it comes to denim. If there was ever one place not to skimp, it would be here.
When it comes to buying, selecting or wearing denim, are there any “rules to live by” that you find yourself mentioning to clients again and again?
• Amanda: My rule is simple: find a dark wash, slim cut jean. Every closet needs at least one pair of those. They look the sharpest, thin you out because of the color, can be dressed up or down and will go with everything else in your wardrobe. Preferably you should buy two pairs, one to wear with heels, another to wear with flats. The difference is in the length of the hem. Also, watch what’s going on in the butt department. Make sure your pockets are not much larger than your hand and are centered as much as they can be on the roundest part of your backside. This will have the most flattering effect and we all want our butt to look good in jeans. That’s the whole point!
• Jennifer: Number one rule is to actually take a look at your butt in your jeans. So many people neglect that area. I can’t stress enough the importance of good pockets. The most common problem I see are women buying jeans that are too large for them with pockets that sit way too high in the back. Even someone with the perkiest of cheeks will fall victim to saggy butt if the jeans are too loose and the pockets aren’t right.
Photos: top, Levi’s Curve ID; bottom, courtesy Beyond Black.