Searching for a great pair of jeans can feel like an epic challenge, but there’s more than one way to get the perfect fit! Seamstress and blogger Heather Lou of Closet Case Patterns is a denim expert – in fact, she teaches classes on how you can make your own custom pair! We picked her brain on spotting quality denim, finding stretch jeans that won’t stretch out, her fit guidelines and more! This is where the path to your dream jeans begins!
SB: How do you spot a pair of quality jeans?
HL: First off? The smell. Really cheap fast-fashion jeans from H&M often have a terrible chemical smell that doesn’t wash off. Avoid at all costs. Price is a good indicator; really great denim from mills in the US or Italy is simply more expensive, and you’re not going to find many pairs using high-quality denim for under $100. I think the most affordable line is probably still Levi’s; they often use denim from Cone, which is my favourite US denim mill. Otherwise, look for proportionately sized pockets and nice finishing on the inside.
SB: What are some common signs of a bad fit when it comes to denim? How can they be fixed?
HL: The back of your jeans should touch the small of your back – a gaping waist indicates a “sway back” (basically a deeper curve in the lower back), or your hip/waist ratio is more pronounced than the pattern was drafted for. A decent tailor should be able to correct this for you if they fit everywhere else. Otherwise you want a front crotch that lays smoothly against the body without any puckers or drag lines, and a waistband that fits snugly without digging into your flesh. It is normal to have some drag lines along the back of the thigh in skinny jeans (we call this “sitting ease”) but otherwise they should fall somewhat smoothly underneath your bum. Unfortunately, most fitting issues in commercially available ready-to-wear jeans can’t be easily fixed. It’s good to try on lots and lots of different brands to find one that suits your frame. If you know how to sew and you suffer with finding well fitted jeans, it may be time to make your own!
SB: High-rise, mid-rise, and low-rise jeans have dramatically different looks. How should someone determine which look works best for their figure? How should these be adjusted for their specific figure?
HL: I think whatever you like is what works for your figure. Fashion body rules are BS. Having said that, in general a low waist will lengthen the upper body while a high waist will shorten it. If you are very short-waisted, a high waist may skew the proportions of your body in a way you don’t like, and vice versa. Mid-rise are generally the safest bet for all body types, and in my opinion are the most comfortable and timeless.
SB: A lot of women enjoy jeans with a little stretch. How do you select denim that has stretch but won’t lose its shape by the end of the day?
HL: The trick is high-quality denim. Honestly, most jeans are made from total garbage denim, and if I was still buying jeans I would probably only buy higher-end jeans since it’s more likely they’re using the best denim from the best mills (my fave ready-to-wear brand is Imogene & Willie – their denim is sublime). When in doubt, look for a little polyester in your jeans. It’s not always the case (especially with really cheap denim) but sometime polyester helps stretch denim recover better and prevent bagging out over time.
SB: It seems like pocket placement and size can do a lot to compliment one’s backside. What is your advice for making the back view appear a little perkier?
HL: Cheaper jeans tend to use very small pockets (I think this is a fabric saving measure). Make sure the pockets are proportionate to your tush size, especially if you have a curvier bum. It’s also critical that pockets fall on the fullest part of your cheek; high pockets make bums look really long, while low pockets can flatten your rear view. I know “mom jeans” with high pockets are hip right now, but from behind they are horrific and do no one any favors. There is a reason they became a punchline!
SB: What are some of your favorite denim embellishments and why?
HL: I’m a denim purist. I like dark indigo denim that wears naturally over time, and generally dislike fake chemical distressing and “whiskering”. A dark indigo pair you wear all the time will create a fade that is totally unique entirely to you. Having said that, there are lots of ways to personalize denim with creative topstitching. Even subtle changes to stitching width or bar tack location can have a dramatic effect on how your jeans look. It can also be fun to do custom embroidery on back pockets.
SB: It can be tricky to know how short to hem your jeans, especially because many women wear heels or flats depending on the day. What is your recommendation for flare and skinny jeans?
HL: Flared jeans should just skim the floor. If you wear heels and flats, it’s helpful to have two pairs hemmed for each shoe. Ensuring they are long enough means your legs look super duper long and leggy. For skinnies, I prefer a slightly cropped length, at or above the ankle bone. They look very chic with heels or flats and look cute with ankle boots too.
SB: Keeping the rich look of dark wash and black jeans is a real challenge. Have you developed any tips or tricks when selecting fabric or washing your jeans?
HL: Dark denim should always be washed inside out in cold water. Throwing a cup of vinegar in the wash will hope hold the dye. Having said that, I do like the soft fade you get from frequent washings. In all cases, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you put stretch jeans in the dryer. The heat destroys the elastic in the fabric and will greatly reduce the lifespan of your denim.
SB: What level of sewing skill is required for someone to sew their first pair of jeans?
HL: Jeans are typically considered a more advanced sewing project, but I’ve had students who have never made a garment before successfully make their own jeans! They are an intimidating project because the finished product has so many details; people look at the hardware and topstitching and feel overwhelmed. In truth, it is merely a lot of simple steps, one after another. I believe absolutely anyone can sew their own jeans with a little patience and self-confidence.
SB: What inspired you to create your first pair of jeans?
HL: It is so hard to find well-fitting jeans, especially if your proportions aren’t in line with manufacturer standards. I was fed up with feeling bad in changing rooms and always having to wear belts to cure the back gape, and decided it was something I could do if I set my mind to it. I fell in love with the process – making jeans is so much fun and makes you feel like you can do ANYTHING!