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.

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

Treasure & Bond t-shirt (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.

Caslon t-shirt (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.

My Favorite Jeans

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photos: Alison Cornell

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12 Responses

  1. Another great informative post…….thanks for the feedback on your preference as well on the composition of jeans that you prefer. Have a great day.

  2. Great review for me as I plan to buy fall/winter jeans in the Nordy Sale next week. I know all this info but sometimes forget to look at it before ordering. I’m going through the jeans on my wishlist. I already know that the pair of jeans (Frame maybe?) that I loved for the dark color may as well come off my wishlist because the rise is too high. I didn’t see many dark washes in the premium denim choices for the sale. I always keep one pair of light denim out for the winter but is the trend steering toward all light denim year round? I hope not as I love darker colors in the fall/winter. Denim shade is a way I transition from season to season, too. I love dark jeans and a tank top in late September/early October.

  3. Excellent post!
    I think the inseam measurement is the most valuable! Often on models jeans are very short in photos, so some will just scroll on by. But when I read that it’s actually a 28” inseam… add to cart! That’s my sweet spot!
    Leg opening as well… models sometimes lead me to believe it’s more of a straight fit, where on me it’d live more like a skinny!

  4. I’ve read your blog for years and I am one of those people who doesn’t know their ideal jean numbers or composition but because of this post, I am going to figure it out! I’ve started a list of my favorite jean #’s in my “notes” on my phone/computer so I can refer to them when needed. This post will never go out of style, unlike some of our jean preferences. “10” leg opening” on a skinny jean? I can’t imagine wearing that today 😉

  5. My sweet spot rise is 10 1/2 also. When it comes to crop length that looks best I usually have to cut my 27 to 26. But I’m getting tired of all raw hems. Right now I just don’t like full length jeans, especially straight. They look like mom jeans to me. Hoping to figure out the Jean boot thing this Fall/Winter. Didn’t last season. Kept falling back on my skinnies and boots I had. But now skinnies feel too dated for sure.

  6. Jo-Lynne – if I’m 5″1 and like a 10-11″ rise with shorter 28-29″ inseam but carry my weight in my thighs (mostly an hourglass shape)…and wanted to try some premium denim – any suggestions on which style I might have more success with? One of the Mother’s or Frame styles?

    1. Good American has a no-gap waistband which works really well for pear shapes. Paige and AG might work well for you too. I think MOTHER and Frame do best on straighter figures but it’s always worth a try.

  7. I’m old enough that I think I should know this but can you explain short waisted and long waisted? I think it would be helpful for me to know this about myself – but I don’t!

  8. Very informative. Thank you. After reading your blog and another blogger Chi from Petite Dressing I have learned a lot about body shape and rise on pants. I’ve learned what rise works for me. I am short waisted with a long torso. I need a rise of 10 to 11 inches. When I was in my teens and twenties I could wear any rise because I didn’t have to worry about muffin top. My weight may only be 5 pounds more but it’s not distributed the same 😞

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