How to Style Every Type of Denim, From High-Rise to Baggy

Plus where to shop the best cuts, how to rescue a torn pair of jeans, and how to take care of denim.

woman standing against blue wall wearing denim
Photo: DAYMION MARDEL

If we had to pick a phrase to describe the season's denim trends, it would be: All over the place! With so many cuts and rises, shapes and washes, what's a jeans lover to do? Follow your heart—and our guide to making them work for you.

01 of 06

Flares

flare-jeans
DAYMION MARDEL

They may be reminiscent of Woodstock, but today's flares have a high waist and clean, modern silhouette that lengthens the legs. Pair them with a cropped sweater or blazer for everyday style, or lean into their rock-and-roll vibe with a denim-on-denim-on-denim combo. Either way, keep accessories simple and let your jeans do the talking.

To buy: Tamara Dark Distressed True Blue Shirt, $118; mavi.com. Rachel Flare Ultra High Rise Instasculpt Jeans, $199; dl1961.com. Loran Deep Hemp Jacket, $128; mavi.com. Infinite Necklace, $195; maisonmiru.com. Chuck Taylor All Star Classic Sneakers, $65; converse.com. Rings, models own.

02 of 06

High-Waisted

Woman sitting on a chair wearing denim and red sandals with a blue background
DAYMION MARDEL

The beauty of jeans that "come up to here" is that they're essentially two pairs in one. Go casual with a front-tucked sweater and ballet flats, or add a great pair of heels and a button-up for what's basically the informal look of the season. (Red lipstick optional, but very much encouraged.)

To buy: Mainstay Cotton Catalina Pop Over, $115; buckmason.com. Sheri Slim Jeans, $119; nydj.com. Nouveaux Puff Earrings, $118; jenny-bird.com. Christian Dior vintage silk scarf, stylist's own. Emaline Heeled Sandals, $140; vionicshoes.com.

03 of 06

Multicolored

woman standing in blue room wearing denim
DAYMION MARDEL

Why choose one wash when you can have three? Paneling and patchwork turn basic jeans into "wow" moments—which means you can throw on the same jacket and T-shirt you always wear, and look like a totally new you.

To buy: J.Crew vintage leather moto jacket, stylist's own. Fine Line Jeans, $59; revicedenim.com. Arlo Ring, $80; jenny-bird.com. Kam Leather Sneakers, $99; kennethcole.com.

04 of 06

Tucked In

woman standing with one arm above her head on a blue background
DAYMION MARDEL

Cropped, straight-leg jeans are a favorite of Hollywood stylists because they go with pretty much anything. Try a statement heel, or tuck them into high boots (a stylish look that will keep you warm and dry in inclement weather). Get a pair with a bit of stretch, and they'll be your go-to bottoms for early mornings, late nights, and everything in between.

To buy: Soft Focus Ruched Turtleneck, $50; onestopplus.com. High Rise Vintage Slim Jeans with Washwell, $70; gap.com. Havoc vintage 1980s acid-wash fringe jacket, stylist's own. Analeah Crocodile-Embossed Leather Boots, $238; schutz-shoes.com

05 of 06

Low-Rise

woman standing against blue wall in jeans and a crop top
DAYMION MARDEL

OK, hear us out. If you have a short torso, a lower rise is your secret BFF—and yes, you can wear it without looking like Britney in the '90s (or now). Choose a wide leg for balance, and pair the jeans with a polished piece of knitwear that grazes the waist, so only a hint of skin shows. Prefer to go more modest? Add a blazer, and reach things on a shelf without your midsection making an appearance.

To buy: Sequin Boxy Shaker Vest, $176; autumncashmere.com for similar. In Awe Stonewash Frayed Jeans, $89; mistressrocks.com. Levi's SecondHand Ex-Boyfriend Trucker Jacket, $59; secondhand.levi.com. French Twist Ring, $78; katespade.com. Arlo Ring, $80; jenny-bird.com. Suede Classic XXI Women's Sneakers, $70; us.puma.com.

06 of 06

Baggy

Woman sitting on a chair wearing denim with a blue background
DAYMION MARDEL

Surprise! The baggy jeans you rocked during your TLC-listening days are back, and this time, you don't have to steal them from your big brother. Grab a pair cut for your body (we like the Abercrombie & Fitch ones here),or try your local vintage store. Add a fitted tee or tank for an adult upgrade (but, you know, a cool adult).

To buy: Surplus Rib Tank, $40; buckmason.com. Tamara Tannin Denim Shirt, $118; mavi.com. Curve Love High Rise 90s Relaxed Jeans, $89; abercrombie.com. U-Link Earrings, $98; jenny-bird.com. Marge Loafers, $149; kennethcole.com.

Can I Rescue a Torn Pair?

You spend good money on your jeans—and a good bit of your life in them. When they rip, it can feel like losing an old friend. But there are plenty of ways to mend them, and most take less than 15 minutes (or a $20 trip to the tailor).

Frayed Hems

If you've got a confident whipstitch—or 10 minutes to watch a YouTube tutorial—you can fold the bottoms up a few millimeters and simply rehemyour pants. Not handy with a needle? A tailor can rehem jeans for a clean finish, and if they're a little shorter, well, cropped is all the rage right now!

Belt Loops

A loose or broken belt loop is a quick fix. First tack it back in place with a safety pin, then find some strong polyester thread in the same shade as the denim. Do a simple cross-stitch until it feels secure again, and double-knot your thread on the inside of the jean. You'll feel like you could star in a Little House on the Prairie reboot.

Knees

If you want a shredded knee to look as close to new as possible, you'll probably need a professional. But if you're cool with a slightly more bohemian look, consider taking a few squares of your favorite fabric and patching the jeans with a needle and thread. The result doesn't need to be perfect, just personal. And chances are you'll love them even more when you're done.

Can I still wear my skinnies?

You may have heard about the skinny jeans debate that raged online last year. Women of a certain age (read: college sophomores) took to TikTok to swear the style was "dead" (i.e., something only their moms would wear). National media outlets glommed on to the intergenerational controversy, as they tend to. Gen Z eventually declared victory, as it tends to.

So where does that leave us? Still standing, defiantly, in our skinnies, which are neat, slimming, and comfortable. "Why would you stop wearing something you love?" says designer Stacey Bendet, founder of the clothing company Alice + Olivia. "Jeans are a sophisticated staple, and if the slim cut works for you, keep it up."

InStyle senior fashion editor Samantha Sutton says her skinnies have become "more of a dressed-up bottom than something super casual," great with a beautifully tailored jacket and a fab pair of shoes, or with an oversize oxford for a fresh, preppy riff. "Plus, as a petite person, I use them to create an unbroken line that elongates my legs." Even Snapchat's global head of fashion and beauty, street-style savant Rajni Jacques, makes no apologies for her skinnies. "I like to wear them with a big sweatshirt to offset the tightness," she says.

Other ways to make them feel current? A trench coat and rubber boots with high-waisted skinnies is your chic, pulled-together armor on a rainy day. (Imagine dragging a wet, wide-legged hem down the street as you run errands. Pass.) Or you can DIY a distressed crop: Measure one to three inches up from the hem and slice the jeans with your sharpest pair of scissors. Fray out the bottoms with your fingers or a piece of sandpaper. The result is a rock-and-roll look that goes well with black pumps and a polished blouse, a motorcycle jacket, or even a band tee from your Lilith Fair era. Because it is now cool to have had a Lilith Fair era! Take that, sophomores.

How often should I wash my favorite jeans?

When it comes to washing your jeans, maybe just don't? Many fashion designers and fabric experts recommend laundering your denim only once for every 10 wears, because every time you do, the fibers relax a little more, loosening the fit and losing some color. If you're worried about hygiene, science says you don't have to be. When a student at the University of Alberta wore jeans for 15 months without washing them, then tested his pants, the bacteria count was unexpectedly tiny. (As was our level of surprise that a college student didn't visit the laundromat for over a year.) Keeping your favorite flares out of the wash has an eco-friendly benefit too: Besides using less water, you'll help prevent the microplastics found in some materials from leaking into reservoirs. You save your pants, money, water, and wildlife!

What's the best way to store jeans?

Fold? Hang? Roll? Crumple on the floor outside of your Zoom frame? Here's the good news: It doesn't really matter. Unlike heavy crochet knits (which can get long and stretched-out when hung) or silk and satin tops (which crease the second you put them in a drawer), denim is one of the most resilient fabrics on the planet, and you can stash it wherever best fits your storage space. Easy!

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