The week of the Great Retail Reopening, I headed into London on a mission: to try on as many pairs of jeans as possible. It had been ages since I’d tried anything new, denim-wise, and I figured it would be better to to do this in person than to order (and return) dozens of pairs online.
So how did it go? The first shop didn’t have the jeans I’d admired online in stock. The second one had the jeans, but only up to the size under the one I needed. The third had jeans that fit, but frankly, I preferred the pairs I already had at home.
It was almost enough to send me back to leggings-ville.
In a way, it’s reassuring to know that while everything else seems to have changed, trying on jeans remains the worst. And yet, few garments can date a wardrobe like jeans – even fewer can make it look instantly current again.
Which must be why jeans appear to be on so many women’s minds right now. Selfridges saw demand rise almost overnight about three weeks before lockdown began to ease, with jeans increasing to 10 per cent of womenswear sales in late March. Once retail reopened, the Denim Hall at the retailer’s London outpost became one of the busiest departments in the store.
‘People are starting to think about life after sweatpants,’ says Jeannie Lee, Selfridges’ head of womenswear buying. ‘They’re thinking about what’s next. Which means they need new jeans.’
There are plenty of reasons to consider a new pair. Maybe your size has changed. Maybe none of the jeans you own feel good any more. Maybe you’re just ready for something fresh. I finally found the right pair – Sézane’s Brut Sexy, a straight-leg style that works wonders on the rear view. They’re so right that my leggings are finally getting a rest.
Here are five styles to try now. With determination and a little patience, one might just be your next wear-with-everything pair.
The balloon leg
High-waist balloon, £35.99, Mango
Also known as barrel-leg, these jeans are high on the waist, tight on top, and balloon out in the leg before tapering in at the ankle. They shouldn’t make sense, but they do. I’m on the curvy side, and I loved the way Whistles’ bestselling barrel-jeg jeans hugged my waist and created shape around my hips. Since this is a more voluminous style, it looks best with tucked-in tops or boxier jumpers.
Modern Straight, from £160, 7 For All Mankind (from tomorrow)
If you’re tired of skinny jeans, then consider the crop. This could be a kick- flare (tight through the leg with a slight flare below the knee), a wide- or a straight-leg style – whatever you choose will look fab with flat sandals by virtue of ankle exposure, which makes them perfect for summer.
Go for a French tuck (just the front half of a jumper or shirt) and let ’em fray. A note on fit: shopping for denim online is notoriously difficult because styles that appear cropped on models will often be just the right length on regular legs. Read the fit notes and opt for a petite style if you’re under about 5ft 5in, or shop with the expectation that you might need to shorten them.
The S. O.
Venice Beach Boyfriend Jeans, £75, And/Or at John Lewis
Consider the ‘significant other’ style your baby-step out of lockdown. The roomier cut and soft, worn fabric makes S.O. jeans the closest things to sweatpants. Their slouch appeal works well with T-shirts and smocked puff-sleeve tops (it counteracts the girliness) alike. Whether you go for a wider-legged boyfriend (or dad!) jean, or a straight-leg girlfriend cut, these are the weekend jeans of dreams.
Alyssa jeans, £140, The Reformation
High-waist, straight-leg jeans have been back for some time now, usually branded as ‘mom jeans’ (searches for the style have gone up 280 per cent over the past month at John Lewis & Partners). But the appetite for ’90s vintage styles has seen more details from the decade creep in. Just look at the front patch pockets on Reformation’s Alyssa, and the contrast stitching on Maje’s cargo-style jeans. If you’re really a ’90s fiend (or your daughter is), then look out for a vintage Guess Jeans pop-up at Selfridges this month.
The Perfect Slim 7/8, £95, Sezane
Despite the much-heralded ‘death of skinny jeans’, denim brands agree: skinnies are still the overwhelming customer favourites. It’s a question of comfort, insofar as skinny jeans (and jeggings) are closer to leggings than true-denim jeans. Sometimes they’re even more comfortable. No wonder Marks & Spencer sells two pairs of its bestselling jeggings every minute. In other words: even if you’re curious enough to try out a new style or two, you can always come back to skinnies if that’s what you love.
On the catwalk
Luxury designers are using denim more than ever. Most likely this reflects the runway getting real – after all, the red-carpet gowns or going-out garb we’re used to seeing on the catwalks hasn’t really been relevant this year. While houses including Saint Laurent and Celine have included jeans in their collections for years, Alexander McQueen and Loewe have gone deeper into denim.
So has Valentino, with designer Pierpaolo Piccioli featuring reworked vintage Levi’s 517 boot-cut jeans into his spring-summer 2021 collection. While the look may be vintage, the price is firmly on the luxury level at £650 (net-a-porter.com).
Straw grab bag tote, £19.50, Marks & Spencer; Cabana shirt, £90, With Nothing Underneath; Hoop flower earrings, £13, Mango; Eliza sandals, £80, Boden; Air Heart sunglasses, £60, Le Specs at Matches Fashion