One of the most difficult fashion staples to shop for is good denim. It’s almost a miracle to find the perfect pair of jeans, a feat that many have yet to achieve, including myself. It’s even more challenging when you’re trying to find jeans that won’t stray from your budget. Compound ever-changing jean trends with aspects including rise, wash, cut, inseam, and overall fit, and shopping for jeans is the Fashion Olympics.
But jeans are such an essential piece in your closet because they’re so versatile and easy to wear. They can be styled with a blazer and heels for a night out or with a T-shirt and sneakers for an effortlessly cool look. You can also wear them every season, and they only feel better with age and more wear.
Understandably, shopping for jeans in the retail landscape can be overwhelming, so we tapped Niani Harris, a fashion marketer and former retail employee, for advice. After working for brands like Bebe, Diane von Furstenberg, and Louis Vuitton, Harris is a pro at helping customers shop for what makes them feel their best, and she has some great tips for buying affordable jeans.
Meet the Expert
Niani Harris is a digital media associate at Kate Spade New York and a former retail worker and store manager.
One tip is to not write off fast fashion brands or big box stores, especially if that’s what you can afford. Harris has even found jeans at those retailers and has been pleasantly surprised by the experience. “I started wearing Target’s Universal Thread brand because they were the best jeans that fit my waist,” she tells Byrdie. “Most recently, I found a pair of H&M jeans that fit me pretty well; I may explore more of their jeans.”
Another factor is to think of how you’ll want to style your jeans. “I think a white tee and jeans can work for any season,” she says. “Different seasons bring different weather, but I don’t like to pigeonhole myself into only wearing certain looks in certain seasons.” You should find what works for you, even if it’s not what you see others wearing at that specific point in time.
To help relieve some of the jean-buying pressure, we researched the best jeans on the market, all under $100. Keep reading for Byrdie's recommendations.
Old Navy Extra High-Waisted Button-Fly Sky-Hi Straight Non-Stretch Cropped Jeans
Old Navy reigns supreme and tops this list because of its quality fabrications and constant affordability. The brand also follows trends and is a reliable retailer for staying up to date with current denim trends while staying on a budget. These jeans contour your body with the high waist and have a lived-in feel with the light, vintage-esque denim wash.
Price at time of publish: $50
Material: 100% cotton | Colors: Dakota | Inseam: 28 inches | Size Range: 00-30 (including regular, tall, and petite)
Best Low Rise
Cotton:On Low Rise Straight Jean
If you’re ready to embrace the Y2K styles that are creeping back into fashion, then the Cotton:On Low Rise Straight Jean makes the trend affordable. Available in fun colors such as Bubble Pink and Green Swirl, in addition to traditional washes, these jeans provide a modern twist of levity and fun to a now-vintage silhouette.
Price at time of publish: $60
Material: 100% cotton | Colors: Bubble Pink, Green Swirl, Graphite Black, Foam Blue Rip, Offshore Blue, Chocolate | Inseam: 31.5 inches | Size Range: 0-14
Best Straight Leg
Good American Good Straight Jean
One of my favorite cuts of denim is a straight-leg jean, and Good American has proved that it knows what makes up a great pair. The Good Straight is a great compromise if you love the fit of a high-waist with the nonrestrictive straight-leg silhouette for a chic yet uncomplicated look.
Price at time of publish: $129
Material: 94.8% organic cotton, 3.7% Elasterell-p, 1.5% elastane | Colors: Blue524, Blue449, Black184 +more | Inseam: 27.5 inches | Size Range: 00-26
Best High Rise
Everlane The Way-High Jean
Everlane has mastered the art of being a brand that’s both environmentally friendly and fashionable. And its jeans are no exception. The Way-High Jean is one of its highest-rated styles with over 1,400 reviews—and you may feel less guilt while jeans-shopping when you buy them, thanks to the brand's sustainability efforts.
Price at time of publish: $98
Material: 98% organic cotton, 2% elastane | Colors: Vintage Indigo, Light Indigo, Folsom Blue, Distressed, Coal, Washed Black, Ecru, Cali Blue | Inseam: 27.5 inches, 29.5 inches | Size Range: 23-35W
Warp + Weft JFK - Skinny 28-inch
If you still reach for a classic pair of skinny jeans, this pair is perfect to hold on to the trend while supporting another sustainable brand. Warp + Weft oversees the entire manufacturing process, even down to the plant fibers, all while making its products affordable to consumers.
The JFK Skinny jeans are also available in plus sizes.
Price at time of publish: $88
Material: 77% cotton, 21% polyester, 2% lycra | Colors: Avalon, Icicle, White, Olympia +more | Inseam: 28 inches | Size Range: 00-14
Best Ankle Length
Levi's Wedgie Fit Ankle Jeans
It wouldn’t be a jeans roundup without mentioning Levi’s and one of the brand’s most storied styles at that. The Wedgie Fit Ankle Jeans are a denim staple, and the cropped inseam makes them a great pair to wear in the warmer months—or cooler temps with ankle booties.
Price at time of publish: $98
Material: 99% cotton, 1% elastane | Colors: Wild Bunch Black, Athens Asleep, Samba Gap, Life's Work +more | Inseam: 28 inches | Size Range: 23-33W
American Eagle Ripped Highest Waist '90s Boyfriend Jean
These jeans are distressed but also have some edge to them with the ‘90s boyfriend jean silhouette. And you’re not sacrificing denim classics, these feature a high-rise waist and are available in traditional denim washes.
Material: 95% cotton, 5% recycled cotton | Colors: Lakeside, Blown Out Blue | Inseam: 28 inches | Size Range: 000-20 (in short, X-short, long, regular, X-long)
We The Free Just Float On Flare Jeans
These are simply a ‘70s dream—a big bell bottom flare and a high waist style in the Float On Flare Jeans by We The Free. These jeans are the ultimate choice if you're wanting that true flare jeans look. Style with a colorful halter top, big hair, and platform shoes to go full-on retro.
Price at time of publish: $78
Material: 53% cotton, 22% polyester, 2% spandex, 23% rayon | Colors: Love Letters, Jericho Blue, Rich Blue, Blackout, Sultry, Heavenly White, Sea Mist, '70s Blue +more | Size Range: 24-33
Best Wide Leg
Banana Republic Factory Curvy Wide-Leg Jean
If you’re a fan of the wide-leg pants trend, then the Curvy Wide-Leg Jean from Banana Republic is one of the more affordable quality options on the market. For the feel of baggy jeans with the tailoring and sophistication of straight denim, this is a good style to add to your shopping cart.
Price at time of publish: $80
Material: 55% cotton, 45% Tencel | Colors: Dark Wash | Inseam: 31 inches | Size Range: 00-24 (in regular and tall)
Universal Thread High-Rise Raw Hem Taper Denim Cropped Overalls
If you spend any time scrolling on TikTok, then you’ve most likely seen these somewhat viral overalls. This pair from Target’s Universal Thread brand is a fan favorite because of its quality fabric and wide size range that appeals to nearly everyone.
Price at time of publish: $40
Material: 99% cotton, 1% spandex | Colors: Medium Wash | Size Range: 00-26
What to Look for When Buying Jeans
Style and feel
There are so many details that you can factor into jean-shopping, such as cut, wash, rigidity, and stretch, to name a few. One of the best ways to realize what you want in your jeans is to visualize how you want to feel. If you want more of a fitted look that snatches your body, then you might consider high-waisted mom or skinny jeans. If you want to be relaxed and slouchy, then wide-leg or baggy jeans may be best for you instead.
Harris also suggested that shoppers pay attention to how brands advertise to consumers. “I urge people to consider who the brand’s target consumer is,” she wrote. “I can usually tell if a brand doesn’t make jeans for my body type by their marketing. Research brands that cater to your body; you’ll save yourself the time wasted in the fitting room.”
It’s also good to analyze your current wardrobe and think about which washes will complement your current clothing, including tops, sweaters, footwear, and accessories. One good tip is that you should be able to mix and match your go-to pair of jeans with a plethora of pieces and still make a great outfit.
How do you make cheaper jeans look more expensive?
If you’re on a budget but want to give off rich-girl vibes, there are some ways to achieve that look. Harris suggests you pair them with higher-quality pieces to balance the overall look (if you have them—they include accessories like leather belts). Harris suggests finding a great tailor who can make your jeans look custom-made for your body. But if you don’t have pricier items to style with and can’t access a tailor, then it’s best to shop at retailers that curate their product selection, such as Zara, Mango, and H&M.
What's the difference between cheap and expensive jeans?
If you look at the product info and details on denim at different prices, you’ll find that there usually isn’t a difference in the quality, Harris points out. But if there is a difference, it’s most likely because of the brand name and fabric choices like organic cotton or, in some cases, the addition of spandex or elastane to provide stretch.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Mallori Albright has had six years of experience writing fashion and beauty content. While Mallori isn’t a fan of pants, she does have a few pairs of high-waisted, vintage-look jeans that she loves to style with cottage core-esque tops and ballet flats. You can check out more of Mallori’s work at Marie Claire and NYLON Magazine.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough affordable jeans from Black-owned and/or Black-founded businesses to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.