How to Shop for Jeans Online: Denim Measurements & Fabric Composition

Shopping for jeans can be a daunting task, but there are a few ways to make it easier, and the most important thing is to know your ideal measurements.

tee (S) // Mother Denim (29) // Born slides (39) // YSL sunnies

I often list the rise, inseam, and leg opening measurements when I’m reviewing jeans here on the blog, and I use those measurements when shopping online to rule out jeans that won’t work for me.

But as I talk with friends and the ladies here in the blog comments, I’ve come to realize that most women don’t even know what their ideal measurements are. In fact, some don’t even know what I’m referring to when I talk about rise, inseam, and leg opening. So, let’s break it down.

Key Denim Measurements

Rise: The front rise is the distance from the middle of the crotch seam (right between your legs) to the top of the front of the waistband. High rise jeans are around 11-12″, mid-rise jeans are in the 9-10″ range, and low rise are 7-8″. These are ballpark numbers, but that’s the gist.

Your body type (hourglass/pear/straight/carrot), whether you are long or short-waisted, and general comfort level will determine the ideal rise for you.

I’ve learned that I’m happiest with something in that 10″ range. I can go up to an 11″ rise, and sometimes I’ll settle for a 9.5″ rise, but no higher or lower than those numbers, and 10.5″ is my happy place.

Mother Denim (29) // Vince sweater (S) // Vince Camuto sandals (7.5) // Gucci sunnies

The best way to figure out your ideal rise is simply to measure the rise on your favorite jeans. And most websites provide that info, so if your favorite jeans are still available online, you can look it up that way.

Inseam: The inseam is the distance from the middle of the crotch seam (right between your legs) to the bottom of the pant leg. You take this measurement on the inside of the pant leg. Lay them out flat, folded in half, to get the most accurate measurement.

Once again, to determine which inseam length you want, it’s best to measure a pair of jeans you like. And you may want a few different options, depending on what shoes you are wearing or what style you’re going for. I keep several different lengths in my closet.

How to Style Wedge Sandals This Spring AG Jeans (28) // jacket (S) // sandals (8) // sunnies

Leg Opening: This is simply the width of the bottom of the hem of the jeans, but before it’s sewn together.

To measure the leg opening, lay the bottom cuff flat and measure from one seam to the other. Then take that measurement and double it. For example, most skinny jeans have a 10″ leg opening, and when you lay them flat, they will measure 5″ across at the hem.

The knee measurement is sometimes listed, but it isn’t important unless you’re comparing flare or bootcut jeans, and then it’s nice to have so you can compare it to the leg opening.

Guide to Denim Fabric Composition

Denim is a strong cotton fabric made using a twill weave, which creates a subtle diagonal ribbing pattern. Historically, denim was 100% cotton, which makes them very rigid. These days, most denim is made with a certain percentage of Tencel, Spandex, elastane, etc. to give them a stretchier, more comfortable fit and feel.

tee (S) // Mother Denim (29) // Born slides (39) // earrings

My favorite denim composition is 98% cotton/2% spandex or elastane. In my opinion, that 2% is just enough to give them some stretch, but they still have the integrity of denim and they usually hold their shape quite well.

I do have some with more of the stretchy stuff in them, especially white and other colored denim, but I always look at the fabric content and try to go for that 98% cotton/2% elastane when I can.

As we look forward to the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, which is now available online for Preview, I thought it would be helpful to have this information so you can shop more strategically and successfully!

My Favorite Jeans

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photos: Alison Cornell

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26 thoughts on “How to Shop for Jeans Online: Denim Measurements & Fabric Composition

  1. This post was really helpful. I think the best part was seeing your personal preferences, which gave meaning to the numbers. Thank you!

  2. This is such helpful information and I will save it. How do you determine your correct size, specifically to fit the waist and hip lines? I think you did a post once on the ideal back pocket placement on jeans. If you did, can you direct me to that link? Thanks Jo-Lynne!

    1. I just know from trying things on; I don’t find there is a direct correlation between body measurements and product sizes. Plus, every brand fits a little differently, and sometimes there is even discrepancy between different styles within certain brands. I often order 2 sizes and return the one that doesn’t work.

  3. Thanks for the informative post! I especially appreciated the info on fabric composition. I have a vintage pair of jeans that I cropped that have a thinner fabric which is great for summer. How can I determine if the denim is a lighter weight fabric when shopping online?The composition on my jeans is also 98/2 so doesn’t seem that that would give me any indication of weight..

    1. Ooo, I was just thinking about this recently because I bought a pair of Mother Ditcher Crops in “Chalk Tapioca”. I absolutely love the lightweight feel and softness of them for summer, The fabric is 58% cotton, 40% Lyocell, and 2% elastane. I’ve been searching Mother for anything else I can find with a similar mix.

  4. This post was really helpful in identifying the different measurements for denim. I prefer jeans with 92-94% cotton but you’re right that they don’t provide as much support and can stretch out. The hardest measurement is knowing where the jeans should hit on your ankle for the best length. I’m close to 5″7″ and many jeans seem too cropped. Should they hit right at the ankle bone or above it?

    1. Hi Laura, I am a tall girl also (5’9”) and I’ve found that for the cropped ankle length on me I need 28”-29” and for full length I like 31-32” and for flare/boot cut I like 33-34” to wear with a small heel or wedge sandal (or heeled boot in cooler months).

    2. It really depends on how you want them to look with the shoes you’re wearing, I know, so not helpful… I generally like mine just above the ankle, but I have a few of the AG Mari, which are longer than that — I like them best with a heel.

  5. Perfect information and graphic! I was on the AG website last night looking at sale styles, and pulled out my measuring tape to check leg openings and inseams. Right now with all the different denim styles out there, I’m finding it important to pay attention to leg openings just as much as rise and inseam.

  6. Great post. I think I know by measurements from you talking about it, but really need to narrow it in. I think the inseam is hard for my height, (5’3″)as they are always at the awkward length for me when the site says crop. I usually need to cut them off an inch at least to get the correct crop look. I’d like to have some jeans without the raw hem. Petites don’t alway fit right in the crotch. I find “short” works better, but most sites don’t carry “shorts.” I have find out “petite” and “short” is NOT the same thing. Am I correct? They fit different to me. ” Petite” messes with the overall fit of the jean(crotch), but “short” doesn’t seem too. As for the rise I like 10-10 1/2″ but I still don’t know how to tell if you are short or long waisted or neither? LOL I think I might be neither. Thanks for great informative post.

    1. I’m also 5’3”. I agree with your comments of short vs petite. I have found that short sizes are the same as regular sizes except for the length but petites change more proportions. Usually short sizes fit me better than petites.

      For long vs short waisted, you need to think about torso length . I am short waisted because there is hardly any distance between the bottom of my bra and my belly button. You can also be even waisted.

      1. You said you want jeans without he raw hem. The good news for us shorties is that you can buy raw hem jeans in regular lengths and simply hem them!

  7. Appreciate all this information! I’m 5’ 2” but I’m not petite in structure. I’m definitely more muscular and heavier on bottom but can wear a size 8 in misses denim depending on the brand. I often find I can’t find jeans to go past my bulkier calves. Any recommendations on where to find trendy denim for a non- petite short person?

  8. Three questions:
    1. Are khaki pants out of style?
    2. Should we iron a crease in pants?
    3. How do I pin one of your posts to Pinterest?

  9. Hi. Do you know if there is a way to filter the search on the Nordstrom website to search for fabric content? I’m another that prefers 98% cotton.

  10. Thank you so much for this! I cannot tell you how many jeans I have purchased online and returned. It is absolutely overwhelming. Now I have something to go by!!!!!

  11. Love this!! As one of the comments, I am looking for a thinner fabric lightweight jeans. Any tips on how to find that online? Its so hard 🙁
    Currently looking at a pair of CK jeans that is 50% off but just not sure if its the fabric I am looking for – the website does not mention anything about the weight

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