September 16, 2015 8:09 AM   Subscribe

In today's era of chaotic jeans trends, exactly what styles and colors of jeans does a mid-30s US woman wear if she wishes to appear polished, classy, but also not desperately un-hip... ideally, for like the next 2-3 years?

A mere half-decade after I finally got on the skinny jeans bandwagon, it seems as though the denim winds are once again shifting in confusing ways. The kinds of jeans I need are ones that function well in work-related or similarly public situations where I need to look casual-but-still-put-together-- AND that register neither as mom-like or uncool to any 20-somethings I meet, nor as conspicuously trend-chasing or teeny-bopper-ish. For a while, it seemed as though my beloved dark-wash skinnies fit that bill, but now it seems like they might be going the way of the late lamented boot-cuts before them-- and while it does seem like there's a growing consensus surrounding light-colored boyfriend jeans, I can't really see how the slouchy look those produce can be made to fit a grown-up/dressy niche.

Beyond boyfriend jeans, the stores seem to be filled with a wild mix of skinnies, wide-leg, boot-cut, flares, in all colors and washes, so I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to proceed with so much choice available. (Specifications, if it matters: I'm short with a slender-to-average build, no real concerns with needing a slimming effect or anything, would probably prefer stretch to not-stretch in comfort terms, prefer low-rise to high-rise (short torso), and verge more conservative/classic in style generally). Fashion sites aren't overly helpful, since they seem to focus on bleeding-edge youthful urban looks, not the fashionable-but-not-FASHIONABLE-fashionable kinda thing I'm going for. At this point, I just want to buy a pair of jeans already and be confident it won't make me look like I'm stuck in 2010. Fashion-savvy Mefites, what would you recommend?
posted by Bardolph to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
For a while, it seemed as though my beloved dark-wash skinnies fit that bill

Dark wash skinny jeans in a mid rise (not skin tight, but certainly fitted with a leg that DOES NOT flare in the slightest) will always been in style. They've been in style since jeans first started being a thing and always, always, always look fashionable. They are the platonic ideal of jeans. Look at cool fashion people through the 20th century (particularly James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, etc, etc) and every single person wearing fitted, dark wash jeans looks hip and stylish. They looked hip and stylish in 1960, they look hip and stylish today, and they'll look hip and stylish 50 years from now. Not necessarily on trend, but certainly they look good.
posted by phunniemee at 8:13 AM on September 16, 2015 [21 favorites]

Flares are coming back in a big way. I started seeing them in a few stores a couple years ago, but now they're right in the front window of every place that sells denim.

It's important -- and this is equally true with skinny jeans, boot cut, etc. -- to get a contemporary cut, though. I don't think you can just bust out your favorite pair from 1997, because (as far as I can tell?) the new flares are high waisted and... also probably different in some other ways I haven't realized yet having not bought a new pair.

A dark wash is always a safe bet for looking put together in jeans. I'm seeing a lot of lighter washes, but that's here in Los Angeles and more on Silverlake hipster types in casual settings.

Also, lots of people are still doing the skinny thing, so unless you're looking for a pair of jeans that's going to last years, you can't go wrong with whatever your go-to skinny jeans currently are. (Though, again, higher rises are more on-trend.)

Also, I would disagree that skinny jeans will "always" be in style. They have been in style for the past decade, sure, but that's a clear signal that they're on the way out for an equally long stretch of time. In the 90s no self-respecting style conscious person would be caught dead in skinny jeans. I was by no means a cool teen and I still knew that NOBODY wore "tapered" denim and lived to tell the tale.
posted by Sara C. at 8:15 AM on September 16, 2015 [16 favorites]

The word I was looking for but could not think of is classic. Mid rise dark wash slim cut jeans are classic.
posted by phunniemee at 8:25 AM on September 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

A black slim-straight cut jean, mid-rise, will likely endure a few fashion cycles (barring the kind of JNCO-loving disaster nightmare Sara C. mentions from the 90s). High-high rise is too young and trendy, low-rise is passé.

It's not skinny jeans in the sense that yes, the tapered skin-tight angle is starting to look a little dated. But they still fit close to the body until the mid-calf-ish region. Basically phunniemee nailed it with the Audrey Hepburn comparison. And even in the skater-jeans-loving 90s an adult wearing slim black jeans and flats (I am remembering a handful of art teachers here) looked like a Polished Adult. Which is what you want to look like.

Gap has some nice ones right now, the Resolution 1959 slim straight cut.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:27 AM on September 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

Watching this thread with interest, but for a more polished look I agree that dark wash or black straight jeans with a mid-rise (example) are a safe bet for the next 2-3 years. I saw a trend article saying that flares are coming in the next 5 years, fwiw. Boyfriend styles and light colors are always going to be casual.

But this is also why I never own more than two pairs of jeans at a time.
posted by veery at 8:28 AM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just bought two pairs of the Resolution 1959 slim straight cut from the Gap mentioned above, in black wash and dark blue wash. They are great. Just enough stretch, slim but not cut like leggings (they don't hug the calf too much), mid rise.
posted by misskaz at 8:29 AM on September 16, 2015

Yes, I think you want to avoid trends altogether unless they flatter you - I, for instance, will be sitting out the Return of the Flare entirely and with extreme prejudice.

Another vote for a straight leg, mid-rise, fitted but not skintight dark wash as your most classic option. I also think GAP makes great slim- and straight-cut jeans for the price. That cut may cycle in and out of trendiness, but even at its lowest point of fashionable-ness it's going to be a nice, neutral canvas for a polished outfit.
posted by superfluousm at 8:31 AM on September 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Depends on where you live. I brought my bootcut jeans to Australia last month specifically so I did not look behind the times, and every woman I saw was wearing ultra-skinnies. I looked terribly out of date. In Los Angeles, on the other hand, skinny jeans have largely fallen off the fashion radar. Boot cut in dark wash seems to be back as the classic jean du jour.

phunniemee, there is a world of difference (or at least a couple of inches) between "slim cut" and "skinny" jeans.
posted by rednikki at 8:34 AM on September 16, 2015

Please don't use "mom-like" when you mean unfashionable or unflattering. Relevant Meta.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:39 AM on September 16, 2015 [25 favorites]

I agree with the consensus that straight leg. mid rise, darker without washes/fades/embellishment is "classic" and "timeless" for a pair of women's jeans. Stretch is good for comfort and fit, but like misskaz says you don't want too much hug through the calf or at some point, they'll look like an old trend.

I don't have a suggestion for a retailer, though.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:52 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree with a straight-leg, mid to dark wash denim. Some straighter-leg may fall under a "barely -boot" category which does go out a bit at the ankles but not too much. (Express example.) Paige Denim has some good straight cut (they are pricy, I got some for less than $100 at Norstrom Rack. They could at least serve as inspiration if they're out of your budget.)

But yes, I would consider myself a decently fashionable 25-yr old and I hate flare and super boot cut with a passion. I have 1 pair of boot cords (and some wider leg dress pants, but that's more classic fit.) I will likely never stop my obsession with skinny or straight leg jeans. My short skinny legs don't mix well with flare. [*Remembers the 90s and 00s; shudders with the thought of too long flares getting drenched with rain and dragging on the ground; gags at the idea of too-short flares with shoes.]
posted by Crystalinne at 8:53 AM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

The official answer, straight from the gods of fashion: Anna Wintour in J Brand 914 Cigarette Jeans.
posted by rada at 9:04 AM on September 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

For exactly this niche, I've settled on dark wash straight-to-slim jeans for more casual and dark wash trouser jeans for a little less casual, and I'm 31.
posted by mchorn at 9:17 AM on September 16, 2015

The word I was looking for but could not think of is classic. Mid rise dark wash slim cut jeans are classic.

That is correct but I would not describe them as "skinny jeans" - to me that statement means "these could be jeggings for all you know" not "regular straight leg jeans".
posted by poffin boffin at 9:21 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

As everyone is saying- the slim straight. Not a super tight fit like skinnies. The pic of Anna Winter above is exactly what you should aim for- including length. In some brands you can get the look by sizing up on skinnies.
posted by TenaciousB at 9:30 AM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

After disappearing for a while, there are some great slim straight leg jeans back on the market. I recently had to buy all new jeans to replace my very old, frayed at the cuffs pairs and spent several long days making the rounds to see what options I had.

I'm very happy with the Lucky straights I purchased in curvy. They're the most whiskered pair I bought but the fit is great and they are comfy to wear. I'm also trying out some very dark wash Levi straights in hopes they're wear in and fade nicely. They're the 314 shaping - I don't really care about the shaping but I liked the look of the rise and the no-frills design.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:55 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Super-tight skinny jeans are going out of style, previously superseded by boyfriend jeans and now by high-waisted flares. You should also avoid extremely low-rise jeans, but a moderate low rise (8" for me) will always work if it flatters and fits you.

They're apparently sold out right now, but I bought these AG jeans from Anthro last winter and they are timeless.
posted by serelliya at 12:01 PM on September 16, 2015

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