A variety of jean styles are popular right now: cropped, skinny, bootcut, high-rise, and wide-leg jeans are all pretty easily available. The wide variety could be because we are in the process of shifting away from skinny jeans, but maybe, instead, it is a deeper cultural shift to liberate jeans (and their wearers) from style restrictions.

Instead of one style dominating the market for several years to a decade, it would be great if people could buy many different types of jeans at once, so nobody would be limited to one style that may or may not work for them. Time will tell!

In the meantime, the variety of jeans means that what style you choose will depend on your blouses, your shoes, your proportions, and what look you want to create.

Skinny

Skinny jeans emphasize legs and de-emphasize your waist and torso. Skinny jeans worn with flowy tops or boxy tops to create a straight-up-and-down silhouette, which you may prefer if you like your legs, if you want to camouflage a part of your torso, or if you just like the way it looks.

(Legs and shoes are the focal point.)

Skinny jeans draw the focus to your legs and shoes more than other styles, so on the one hand, if you are a shoe lover this is a great style to wear to show off your collection of colorful, delicate footwear. However, you may want to try consider trying a different style of denim if you have sensitive feet. Hear me out: if you wear skinny jeans with plain, clunky shoes, they’re more noticeable than when you wear that same shoe with a flared or wide-leg pant. This is why, if you are not a shoe-lover, a wider-leg pant leg might be a good choice for you! (Or if, like me, your feet require more inserts and support that make cute flats and heels harder to wear.)

(No waist emphasis here.)

Because balanced proportions are often achieved by wearing volume in one place (such as on the top or bottom), skinny jeans lend themselves well to larger, boxier, flowier blouses. If you prefer to wear loose, flowy blouses, tunics, or chunky sweaters, then skinny jeans work well with your wardrobe. (Fitted tops with skinny jeans can look too tight all over, and looser tops with looser pants can make it look like nothing quite fits—but not always!)

(Long vertical lines, no waist emphasis.)

Living in a place with extreme weather will also influence your jean choices. Skinny jeans will always be good for wearing with rain boots, duck boots, snow boots, and in various types of bad weather because they cuff or tuck in easily and don’t drag on the ground.

(Skinny jeans tuck in easily.)

Wide-Leg

(Late 1920s- to -1930s-era wide-leg pants.)

(Smaller, fitted tops pair well with wide-leg pants.)

High-waisted, wide-leg jeans work well for people who prefer outfits with waist emphasis, who like to create an hourglass silhouette, who want to draw the focus up to their torsos and faces, who may want to camouflage part of the hips or legs, or who just like the way it looks. Wide-leg pants can also be styled to create more of a retro look if you’re into that. Fitted tops work well with wide-leg jeans because they balance out the volume around the calves and ankles. If you like to wear fitted t-shirts and sweaters, cropped cardigans, and crop tops, then you might want to consider adding more flares and wide-leg pants to your wardrobe.

(High-waisted, wide leg pants emphasize the waist to create an hourglass shape.)

(A belt adds to the waist emphasis.)

Wide-leg pants and flares look great with pointed-toe shoes that continue to elongate the leg, and reference both 1940s and 2000s wide-leg styles. Boots also work well, especially if they have a pointed, tapered, or almond-shaped toe.

(Wide-legs pants obscure the shoes.)

Wide-leg pants may be a good choice for you if you want some roominess around your thighs, hips, and bum. For some people, the looser fabric is a little more comfortable. (For other people, they feel encumbered by having that extra fabric swishing about their ankles.)

Cropped/Ankle Jeans

Current styles of cropped pants are straight- or wide-leg pants that end at or above the ankle, sometimes as high as mid-calf. (Often they are 27” long.) You may want to wear these jeans if you like to feel modern. Right now, they have a bit of a youthful, androgynous, street-style vibe. These jeans also work better with fitted tops, crop tops, or tops that are tucked in the front for waist emphasis. The cropped style may be more elongating for some people, such as those with long, thin legs and hips. For other body types, such as those with wider hips and legs, they can sometimes look shortening because they break the leg line early. This is not the case for everyone! It also depends on how you style them, but they don’t work as well for as many body types as do more classic cuts, such as bootcut jeans.

(Cropped jeans emphasize the waist and shoes.)

Like the skinny jean, cropped jeans emphasize shoes. Because of their shorter length, shoes worn with cropped jeans need to elongate the foot with a heel, a high shaft, or a color that’s similar to either your skin or the pant leg. (So a brown or nude boot that would match your skin tone, or a black boot for a black pair of pants.) Heels look good with cropped jeans, as do boots that come up well past your ankle. Trim boots or sock boots generally look better than chunkier boots if you are pairing them with cropped jeans. 

Cropped jeans may be a good choice for you if you like to showcase your shoes, but also prefer roominess in the legs or a waist-defining fit.

(The shoes here are skin-tone so they don’t add a second break to the leg line.)

(Thin, strappy shoes to elongate the leg.)

(These boots have a tall shaft to meet the high hem of the cropped jeans.)

(Cropped jeans with a high-shafted boot.)

Full-Length, Straight-Leg Jeans (think Levi’s 501s)

(Straight-Leg)

Bootcut and straight-leg jeans are two of those classic styles that works for many different body types. Because the bootcut and straight styles do not employ extremes—they’re not very skinny, or very wide, or very low, or very high—they are timeless cuts. This still doesn’t mean that these cuts will necessarily work for everyone! But they do work better for more people than skinny or cropped styles.

Straight-leg jeans are generally mid-rise jeans with pant-legs that are pretty much straight—the same width—from hip to ankle. They are usually 30” long but of course you can also order them in tall or petite lengths, too. If you need to shorten them, straight-leg jeans may not always look as good rolled or cuffed as skinny jeans (seems to depend on brand, wash, and weight). You can try cuffing the jeans on the inside, so there’s not a band of contrasting denim at the end of your leg. Or you can also hem them up yourself or take them to a tailor.

(Straight-leg jeans have more room than skinny jeans, but sometimes you can also roll them for shoe emphasis.)

(Less shoe emphasis, more waist emphasis.)

Straight-leg jeans add more waist emphasis than skinny jeans, especially if you add a belt, but less emphasis than high-rise jeans. With bootcut, you can also go for the middle ground—waist not obscured, but also not emphasized—by wearing a shirt untucked, or by wearing dark jeans with a dark shirt (or light jeans with a light shirt). Straight-leg styles are relaxed enough that you can wear fitted tops without the outfit feeling too tight all over; they are also not voluminous, so if you prefer to wear blousy tops, you can wear them tucked them in at the front of bootcut jeans.

(More voluminous tops can work, too.)

Straight-leg jeans are balanced, and can act kind of like a blank canvas for your style. If you are interested in investing in a sturdy pair of jeans and breaking them in over the years, bootcut jeans are a good choice because they are so timeless.

Bootcut Jeans

Bootcut jeans are mid-rise pants that are slim through the hip and thigh, and widen slightly from the knee to the ankle. They are usually 32” long, covering your ankle and reaching almost to the floor. These are not cuff-able, so they definitely need to be hemmed or taken to the tailor if they are too long.

(Waist emphasis and obscured shoes.)

Bootcut jeans share many similarities with straight-leg styles in that they look good on lots of different people and are considered a timeless classic. These jeans harken back to the 1970s, though they were invented close to a century before.

(These front pockets add to the 1970s vibes.)

(Original 1970s jeans – these are wide enough that they are probably flares rather than bootcut.)

Both straight-leg and bootcut jeans look good with any kind of shoe, including flat shoes—sneakers, flats, loafers, and boots. Just hem them up to the right length, if necessary, so that the bootcut’s flared hem doesn’t drag on the ground and get dirty, and the straight-leg’s hem doesn’t bunch up around your foot. Like wide-leg jeans and flares, bootcut jeans can cover a bit more of your shoe so they are not the focal point.

(The shoes are probably cute, but we only see a bit of them because the jeans are long and the focal point is the torso.)

(Less shoe emphasis.)

A few final notes about fit

Readers who enjoy thrift and vintage shopping will know—never go by the size on the tag! The same goes for jeans. Sizes are all over the place from brand to brand, and even within brands from cut to cut.

Think outside the box to find a pair of jeans that fit well, or that you can get tailored to fit well. I have made a number of unconventional decisions or alterations to pants over the years to get pairs that fit the way I like.

For example, I have a long-ish legs and a wide, long hip area, with a really small, short torso. High-rise pants hit me as mid-rise. (Mid-rise pants often hit me as low-rise!) I am not exceptionally tall, but I have bought “tall” sizes in order to get an actual mid-rise. I have also bought pants in “long” sizes, even though regular is the correct length, because sometimes those “long” sizes also sometimes reach a little higher in the waist. Another time, in search of a true high-rise, I bought pants several sizes too big so that the hips fit and the rise was high enough. Then, had them taken in at the waist and the hem.

I’ve also gotten pants several sizes too big and cinched them in at the waist with a tight belt, to create a sort of wide-leg, paper-bag waist look, even though that was not the original cut. (Note: This only works with thin denim.) I have had to get probably half of my pants over the years hemmed up or taken in somewhere. It is quite rare to find something that fits me perfectly all over.

This is just to say that ready-made clothes are crazy, so you may need to get creative to find styles and sizes that work for you!