Thanks to denim's ability to lift, lengthen, and enhance, we're convinced of its transformative powers. The perfect pair of jeans can take you from frumpy to fabulous in an instant, which is why we rejoice when we find that flattering fit. And while jean shopping shouldn't be difficult—it's not rocket science, after all—it undeniably is. That's because sizing among countries, brands, and styles is so varied (an annoying fact of life).
So to help you navigate the highly nuanced—and oftentimes, headache-inducing—jean-sizing system, we've come up with a step-by-step guide to helping you find your best fit. Just sit back, relax, and watch your favorite jean collection grow from the two pairs you have on rotation to as many as your heart desires (or pocket can afford).
Keep reading to take the guesswork out of finding your jeans size—because retail therapy should be fun, not frustrating.
Measure a Great-Fitting Pair of Jeans
If you already own a pair of perfect-fitting jeans (lucky you), you can use the measurements as a guide for other brands. Here's how:
- Lay the jeans flat on a hard surface and using your measuring tape, measure across the top of the waist. Make sure the jeans are zipped and buttoned and the button is not sagging down below the back part of the waist. When you get this number, double it for your jeans' waist measurement. (Remember that this measurement varies depending on the rise i.e. the distance from the crotch seam to the waist).
- Measure the inseam, the distance from the crotch seam to the ankle hem.
- Measure the width of the thigh. Take this measurement two inches below the crotch seam and then double it for your thigh measurement.
- The last measurement you need is the rise. Pull the waist tight when you take this measurement to get the most accurate number. FYI: Low-rise jeans generally measure seven or eight inches from crotch to waist, mid-rise is eight or nine inches, and high-rise is nine or 10 inches.
Identify Your Body's Best Rise
Once you've got your measurements, you'll also want to figure out what kind of rise is right for you. There are three types:
- Low-rise: typically sits two or three inches below the belly button or sometimes even lower.
- Mid-rise: usually fits right around or immediately beneath the navel and is the most commonly sold rise across all styles (skinny, bootcut, straight leg, and flares).
- High-rise: sits at or slightly above the navel.
Experiment with the tape measure and compare jeans you already own to decide how far up you like them to sit on your waist. Your rise mostly comes down to personal preference, but it's also worth noting how certain rises can flatter your body type more so than others—in case that's something that interests you. Also, if you're planning on wearing jeans to the office, you might want to consider what's work-appropriate. Those super-low rise jeans you've been eyeing might be Bella Hadid-approved, but they won't offer you decent backside coverage when you're sitting, bending, and walking in front of colleagues—and your boss. Opt for a medium- or higher-rise pair instead.
Measure Your Waistline
It's also important to know the rise of jeans you'll be shopping for when it comes time to measure your waist. While measurements for your natural waistline should be taken from your natural crease (tip: you can bend at the waist to your side to find it), for mid-rise jeans, you'll want to measure right around your navel, and for low rise jeans, two or three inches below that.
In order to get the most accurate measurements, avoid measuring over your clothes, although undergarments or lightweight clothing (think: leggings or snug shorts) are fine. Also, remember not to pull the measuring tape too tightly around your waist because you’ll want to get jeans with a comfortable fit.
Measure Your Inseam
The last area of your body you'll want to measure is your inseam. It relates to your leg length, or the distance between your crotch and your ankle. Many popular denim brands, including The Gap and Levi's, offer jeans in standard waist sizes with varying length options (short, regular, and tall). Since it might get a little tricky measuring this area, don't hesitate to ask for help. Again, it's best to take this measurement while you're wearing lightweight, close-fitting clothing to get true sizing.
Consult the Brand's Size Charts
Whether you're trying on jeans in-store or online, ask or look to see if its brand or retailer offers its own size chart. Some might use a sizing system in inches (e.g. 29, 30, 31) while others favor numbers (e.g. 8, 10, 12). And European jeans brands require you to estimate how their sizes compare to your most typical, U.S.-brand fit, and varies in the U.K., France, and Italy. On top of that, some denim designers are known for vanity sizing, which means you'll take a smaller size in their jeans than usual. In others, particularly those that are youth-oriented, you might need to go up a size.
If this all sounds overly complicated, that's because it is. Still, don't be phased by it. If you have your measurements, let them guide you in determining your jeans size (consulting a sales assistant also never hurts if you're out shopping). Keep in mind that your ideal size can differ from one pair of jeans to the next. It's important that you don't get hung up on the number—it's the fit that counts, not the size on the label.