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10 Ways to Look Better Than Ever in Jeans

This wardrobe staple now comes in a variety of crops, washes and rises


spinner image A woman holding a pair of jeans at a clothing store
d3sign/Moment/Getty Images

Fed up with skinny jeans? Think rips and tears are ridiculous? Wondering whether to go cropped or long? Medium or high rise? Buying jeans is always a challenge. No woman over 50 looks forward to the tortuous try-ons, size shocks and fit fiascos that are part of the jeans journey. So here’s the good news. Your chance of quickly finding a pair of jeans to suit your individual shape, body proportions, personal taste and shoes (yes, shoes!) is now easier than ever. Here are 10 tips for selecting the pair that looks best on you.

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spinner image Gap High Rise True Skinny Jeans with Secret Smoothing Pockets with Washwell in Absolute Black; Aerosoles Ballie Knee High Boot in Black Faux Leather; Knox Rose Women’s Long Sleeve V-Neck Pullover Sweater in Burgundy
(Left to right) Gap High Rise True Skinny Jeans with Secret Smoothing Pockets with Washwell in Absolute Black ($55, gap.com); Aerosoles Ballie Knee High Boot in Black Faux Leather ($170, nordstrom.com); Knox Rose Women’s Long Sleeve V-Neck Pullover Sweater in Burgundy ($30, target.com)
Gap; Nordstrom; Target

1. Wear your skinny jeans as 'leggings'

Social media says skinnies are dead, so what about the pairs hanging out in our closets? For years, skinnies made women of every size and shape feel “held in,” as well as convinced them that they looked sexy and cool. It was not a generational thing. lf you still love that clingy look, rather than putting every bulge and anatomical detail on display, you can pair skinnies with long sweaters or tunic tops and tall riding style boots. You’ll look “new” and still gain the benefit of firm, stretch denim that fits like a second skin.     

spinner image Dr. Scholl’s Lively Bootie in Dark Brown; Kut From the Kloth Ana Fab Ab High Waist Flare Jeans; Wit & Wisdom Ab-Solution High-Waist Flare Leg Jeans; Naturalizer Flexy 5 Ballet Flat in Black
(Left to right) Dr. Scholl’s Lively Bootie in Dark Brown ($160, dsw.com); Kut From the Kloth Ana Fab Ab High Waist Flare Jeans ($89, nordstrom.com); Wit & Wisdom Ab-Solution High-Waist Flare Leg Jeans ($78, nordstrom.com); Naturalizer Flexy 5 Ballet Flat in Black ($70, dsw.com)
DSW; Nordstrom (2); DSW

2. Balance jeans length and shoe height 

Inseam length — the distance from crotch to ankle at your inner leg — is a big deal. Your best inseam length will work with most if not all your shoes. If you switch up shoe heights a lot — from clogs and ankle boots to ballet flats, for example — or wear mostly flats, stick with ankle-length jeans. These can be straight, flared or boyfriend style, since every jean is now available in an ankle or cropped length. However, if you always wear wedges, platform soles or heeled shoes for a taller, leggier effect, choose jeans with a longer inseam to keep the unbroken line and length.

spinner image Madewell Plus High Rise Roadtripper Supersoft Jeans with a 13 1/2-inch front rise, Kut From the Kloth Plus Catherine Cuffed Boyfriend Jeans with a 12-inch front rise and Wit & Wisdom Ab-Solution Distressed Girlfriend Jeans with 10 1/2-inch rise
(Left to right) Madewell Plus High Rise Roadtripper Supersoft Jeans ($75, nordstrom.com) with a 13 1/2-inch front rise; Kut From the Kloth Plus Catherine Cuffed Boyfriend Jeans ($89, nordstrom.com) with a 12-inch front rise; Wit & Wisdom Ab-Solution Distressed Girlfriend Jeans ($89, nordstrom.com) with 10 1/2-inch rise
Nordstrom (3)

3. Wear a rise that solves your midriff issues

The rise is the distance from waistband to crotch that determines where the jean sits on your belly. Never mind what’s trendy. Choose a medium rise if you have a short torso and/or a big bust. The waistband will “sit” at or just below your belly button and extend your midriff enough so that your boobs are not sitting on top of the waistband. Choose a high rise if you have a long torso or enough visible rib-cage space between your boobs and top of jeans. The waistband will sit at your waist or right above your navel and easily tucks in muffin tops. The terms “high-rise” and “mid-rise" vary from brand to brand, and rises are often measured in inches rather than a specific category. An inch makes a difference. Here are three similar jeans with rises that vary, proving rise fit is a very individual thing. Find your best rise by measuring a pair of jeans you love and stick with it.

spinner image Lane Bryant Signature Fit Flare Jean Dark Wash; Levi’s Women’s Mid-Rise Classic Bootcut in Cobalt Distress; Gap Mid Rise Girlfriend Jeans With Washwell in Light Indigo; Gap High Rise Cheeky Straight Jeans With Washwell in Light Indigo
(Left to right) Lane Bryant Signature Fit Flare Jean Dark Wash ($49, lanebryant.com); Levi’s Women’s Mid-Rise Classic Bootcut in Cobalt Distress ($50, target.com); Gap Mid Rise Girlfriend Jeans With Washwell in Light Indigo ($70, gap.com); Gap High Rise Cheeky Straight Jeans With Washwell in Light Indigo ($70, gap.com)
Lane Bryant; Target; Gap (2)

4. Play with washes to vary your look

Dark-wash jeans with an all-over even tone do have a more “serious” look. It’s why they have been our favored dress-casual look for work and dress-up look for evening. And the dark wash has a “slimming” bonus, too! This is why as our “good jeans,” they didn’t disappoint. But even if you stick with the same general jeans style, adding new washes can update your look. Skip intensely distressed jeans with rips and tears, though. You can look cool and edgy, without showing a glimpse of knee or thigh, just by selecting a light wash, a vintage-look “weathered” wash or a black jean instead of the usual dark blue.

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spinner image NYDJ Marilyn Straight Leg Jeans in Rinse; Liverpool Los Angeles Plus Sadie Straight-Leg Jeans in Black Rinse; Old Navy Extra High-Waisted Button-Fly Curvy Sky-Hi Straight Jeans for Women in Jay
(Left to right) NYDJ Marilyn Straight Leg Jeans in Rinse; Liverpool Los Angeles Plus Sadie Straight-Leg Jeans in Black Rinse; Old Navy Extra High-Waisted Button-Fly Curvy Sky-Hi Straight Jeans for Women in Jay
Bloomingdale's (2); Old Navy

5. Count on a straight-leg jean

Some things, like a V-neck sweater, a white shirt and straight-leg jeans are classic, classy and chic. They never let you down and never look dated. While it’s easy to get seduced by trendier styles, straights have the right combo of fit through the hip and thighs, with a flattering slim line. However, the interpretation of “straight” varies from brand to brand. Some have a snugger fit than others, and that’s impacted by your individual weight and thigh-calf proportions. Look for a straight-fit  jean — like the NYDJ Marilyn Straight Leg Jeans in Rinse ($109, bloomingdales.com), Old Navy Extra High-Waisted Button-Fly Curvy Sky-Hi Straight Jeans for Women in Jay ($40, oldnavy.gap.com) and Liverpool Los Angeles Plus Sadie Straight-Leg Jeans in Black Rinse ($89, bloomingdales.com) — that stands away from the body, especially in the legs, from the knees down. You’ll be able to judge this immediately by checking the fit at the ankles. No extra room? Skip ’em!

spinner image Gap Popover Tunic Shirt in Olive Green; Ava & Viv Women’s Plus Size Long Sleeve Crewneck T-Shirt in Black; Eloquii Button Down Top With Ruffle in Chocolate; Everlane The Cozy-Stretch Pullover in Heathered Charcoal
(Left to right) Gap Popover Tunic Shirt in Olive Green ($60, gap.com); Ava & Viv Women’s Plus Size Long Sleeve Crewneck T-Shirt in Black ($14, target.com); Eloquii Button Down Top With Ruffle in Chocolate ($65, eloquii.com); Everlane The Cozy-Stretch Pullover in Heathered Charcoal ($98, everlane.com)
Gap; Target; Eloquii; Everlane

6. Pair tops and jeans strategically 

There are no rules, but keep the opposites-attract theme in mind when adding extra fizz to a basic jeans look. Fitted or semifitted jeans, like skinnies and straights, pair well with more voluminous tops, puffy sleeves and tunic-length sweaters. Looser jeans, like boyfriends, girlfriends and wide-leg styles, benefit from the contrast of fitted tops that tuck in or more relaxed tops and sweaters that semi-tuck in front to keep waist definition. Too much slouch, or volume on top and bottom, doesn’t work — neither does too tight or fitted a jean and top. It’s all about balance.

spinner image Lysee Plus Pull-On Boyfriend Jeans in Mid Wash; Women’s Croft & Barrow Girlfriend Pull-On Jeans in Medium Wash; Women’s Gloria Vanderbilt Amanda Pull-On Jeans in Vermont
(Left to right) Lysee Plus Pull-On Boyfriend Jeans in Mid Wash; Women’s Croft & Barrow Girlfriend Pull-On Jeans in Medium Wash; Women’s Gloria Vanderbilt Amanda Pull-On Jeans in Vermont
Bloomingdale's; Kohl's (2)

7. Try an elastic waist jean for easy layering

Let’s be honest: Some of us no longer have any interest in a tight and structured anything that emphasizes a belly bulge — and that includes fly-front jeans. We still love, though, the way our legs look strutting around in jeans under layers of tees and sweaters and jackets. The solution is pull-on jeans (not jeggings) — like the Women’s Gloria Vanderbilt Amanda Pull-On Jeans in Vermont ($31, kohls.com), Lysee Plus Pull-On Boyfriend Jeans in Mid Wash ($108, bloomingdales.com) and Women’s Croft & Barrow Girlfriend Pull-On Jeans in Medium Wash ($25, kohls.com) — that mimic real jeans styles so well that you’d swear they were the real deal. It’ll be our secret.

spinner image Madewell Balloon Jeans in Corson Wash; Universal Thread Women’s High Rise Wide-Leg Carpenter Cropped Jeans in Dark Wash; Eloquii Classic Fit Belted High Rise Wide Leg Denim in Dark Wash; Loft Curvy Patch Pocket Wide Leg Jeans in Dark Rinse
(Left to right) Madewell Balloon Jeans in Corson Wash ($128, madewell.com); Universal Thread Women’s High Rise Wide-Leg Carpenter Cropped Jeans in Dark Wash ($30, target.com), in Women’s Plus and Women’s sizes; Eloquii Classic Fit Belted High Rise Wide Leg Denim in Dark Wash ($100, eloquii.com); Loft Curvy Patch Pocket Wide Leg Jeans in Dark Rinse ($80, loft.com)
Madewell; Target; Eloquii; LOFT

8. Be sure to flash your waist in wide-leg jeans

Some of us get happy just thinking about the freedom of jeans that don’t cling to our calves and ankles. We’re talking about jeans with width at the legs, like balloon, barrel and mom styles, and other roomy fits — cropped or long. However, there’s one thing you must do to make these comfy jeans flattering, and that's show your waist with a tucked-in top. No worries: You can still hide any muffin tops simply by framing the waist with an open cardigan or blazer. Mission accomplished.

spinner image LifeStride Sandrine Mary Jane Pump in Navy Multi Plaid; H&M Quilted Shoulder Bag in Black; H&M Bouclé Jacket in White/Black; Old Navy Oversized Ruffled V-Neck Blouse for Women in Summer Sienna; Kelly & Katie Woven Hobo Bag; Steve Madden Forge Ballet Flat
LifeStride Sandrine Mary Jane Pump in Navy Multi Plaid (top far left); H&M Quilted Shoulder Bag in Black (bottom far left); H&M Bouclé Jacket in White/Black (middle left); Old Navy Oversized Ruffled V-Neck Blouse for Women in Summer Sienna (top right); Kelly & Katie Woven Hobo Bag in Taupe (bottom, second to right); Steve Madden Forge Ballet Flat in Navy/White (bottom right)
H&M (2); Old Navy; DSW (3)

9. Change accessories, keep the jeans on

Think of your jeans as the ultimate wardrobe basic that pivots from day to evening with a shoe and top switch. For example: Pair your basic jeans and tee with sophisticated pumps — like the LifeStride Sandrine Mary Jane Pump in Navy Multi Plaid ($60, dsw.com/en/us), a tailored jacket like the H&M Bouclé Jacket in White/Black ($60, hm.com/en_us), and a quilted bag like the H&M Quilted Shoulder Bag in Black ($40, hm.com/en_us) — for a quick turnaround. Or swap your sneakers for elegant ballet flats like the Steve Madden Forge Ballet Flat in Navy/White ($80, dsw.com/en/us), swap your tee for a feminine blouse like the Old Navy Oversized Ruffled V-Neck Blouse for Women in Summer Sienna ($37, oldnavy.gap.com), and swap your tote for a woven leather shoulder bag like the Kelly & Katie Woven Hobo Bag in Taupe ($50, dsw.com/en/us).

spinner image J. Crew Classic Fit Tie-Neck Chambray Shirt in Ski Slope Wash; Everlane The Clean Silk Relaxed Shirt in French Blue; Gap Oversized Denim Jacket in Medium Indigo
(Left to right) J. Crew Classic Fit Tie-Neck Chambray Shirt in Ski Slope Wash ($65, jcrew.com); Everlane The Clean Silk Relaxed Shirt in French Blue ($100, everlane.com); Gap Oversized Denim Jacket in Medium Indigo ($71, gap.com)
J. Crew; Everlane; Gap

10. Pair blue jeans with other blues for a tonal look

We’re body-positive women who still love a good dress-slim solution. Wearing blue tonally does the trick and creates a pulled-together effect. Try pairing a navy blazer, sapphire silk blouse and your vintage wash flares — or double your denim and add a jean jacket or chambray shirt to your jeans, for what used to be called a "Canadian tuxedo." It’s more than OK — it’s the style.

Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.

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