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Women’s Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified

Denim silhouettes are in flux right now, and I get a ton of questions about pant styles and hem lengths and what shoes to wear with the various styles of pants that are trending these days.

I’m getting ready to start a series on what shoes to wear with each type of jeans, but before I do, I thought it would be helpful to define our terms.

In this post, we’ll discuss the different styles of jeans and their lengths, as well as some of the more nebulous terms you may come across when shopping for jeans online.

But first, if you’re not sure what is meant by rise, inseam, and leg opening or how to measure them, you may want to read How to Shop for Jeans Online: Denim Measurements and Fabric Composition.

Skinny Jeans

rag & bone Cate Mid-Rise Skinny Ankle Jeans

Skinny jeans fit close to the body and take the shape of the leg from hips to hem. They may be crop, ankle, or full length, but I think they look best when the hem falls right around the ankle bone.

The best part about skinny jeans is, you don’t have to own different lengths to work with different shoes. I’m convinced this is why skinny jeans maintained their popularity for so long. They’re just so easy.

STYLE TIP: It’s sometimes hard to find jeans off the rack that are the perfect length, but you can always cut them. See my tutorial on How to Cut Your Jeans.

Straight Leg Jeans

How to Style Wedge Sandals This Spring AG Mari Slim Straight Leg Jeans

Straight-leg jeans hang straight up and down the entire leg from hip to hem. They be relaxed and slouchy, or sleek and slim-fit. There’s quite a range here, so it might help to break it down.

Slim straight means the jeans fit closer to the body. These may look more like skinny jeans on ladies with thicker legs. Examples are the AG Mari (pictured above) and the Mother Dazzler. But straight-leg jeans also come in more relaxed silhouettes, and sometimes they look downright baggy. I tried to include one of each style in the picture below.

 rag & bone Alex Straight Leg Jeans // AG Mari Slim Straight // AllSaints Debbie Relaxed Straight

For a traditional fit, straight leg styles should be hemmed just below the ankle, right before your foot starts. But right now, we are starting to see more straight leg jeans in relaxed silhouettes, some even puddling on the floor. And then, of course, there is are crop and ankle length styles. All lengths are acceptable; it’s just a matter of the look you’re going for.

Frame Le High Raw Hem Ankle Straight Leg Jeans

My one caveat would be this: The hem of your jeans should NEVER hit the widest point of your calf, so be sure to hem (or cut) your crop jeans to a spot where your leg is narrowing. This can be a range, and it depends on your height and the shape of your leg, so play around with it and see what looks right to you.

Bootcut Jeans

AG Farrah Fray Hem Bootcut Jeans

Bootcut jeans are fitted through the thighs and flare out slightly from knee to hem, and they also come in crop, ankle, or full length styles.

This style is considered universally flattering, and they’re particularly good for balancing out a top-heavy figure (the inverted triangle body type) or larger hips (hourglass or pear-shaped bodies).

It’s important to have full length bootcut jeans hemmed to the correct length with the shoes you will wear with them — which should be ¼” to ½” from the floor, although these days women are wearing them shorter. As long as they aren’t dragging on the floor, they should be fine. Worn with heels, bootcut jeans can make your legs look a mile long.

Crop boot and ankle length bootcut jeans have their place as well. Sometimes you will see these called demi boot or crop bootcut or kick crop jeans.

  Citizens Isola Cropped Boot

This a great way to show off your cute shoes, and the shorter styles have a more relaxed vibe than the full length bootcut jeans. Plus, you can wear them with all heel heights without having to hem them for different shoes.

I plan to talk more about what shoes to wear with each type of jeans in future posts, but one easy rule of thumb is, the wider the leg, the higher you want your heel. That’s because the wider the pants are, the shorter you look, so heels help offset that effect.

Flares

Mother Raw Hem Flare Jeans

Flares are basically a more exaggerated form of bootcut jeans. They fit straight through the hips and thighs and flare from knee to ankle, and leg openings are typically wider than 20″.

Like all of the denim styles above, flares can be crop, ankle, or full length. There really isn’t much to differentiate a crop flare and a crop boot, but some have wider leg openings than others.

Wide Leg Jeans

 Spanx Wide Leg Crop Pants

Wide leg jeans fit just like they sound. The leg is full from hip to ankle, and you guessed it… They can be crop, ankle, or full length. These are a little tricky to style, but they tend to look more refined and sophisticated than some of the other silhouettes, and they’re very on trend right now.

Boyfriend Jeans

rag & bone Dre Slim Fit Ankle Boyfriend Jeans

Boyfriend jeans are intended to have that slouchy “borrowed from the boys” vibe. The fit is relaxed through the hips and thighs and tapered towards the hem, and they usually have a low rise. They’re often worn cuffed, as shown above, and they’re typically cropped or ankle length.

I don’t consider boyfriend jeans on the cutting edge of fashion at the moment, but they’re still a viable option if they align with your personal style.

A Few Other Mentions…

Girlfriend jeans are slightly slimmer versions of boyfriend jeans — slouchy, but not quite as relaxed through the hip & thigh, and they usually have a mid rise.

Mom jeans are an ’80s throwback style. They have a super high rise with a relaxed fit through the thigh and a tapered legs. They are meant to be somewhat ironic, which is why we mostly see teenagers are wearing them. Make of that what you will…

Barrel jeans are a form of straight-leg jeans, and they usually have a high waist and wider cut, tapered legs that are crop or ankle length.

Balloon jeans are pretty much the same as barrel jeans — fitted at the waist with curved “balloon” legs. These are another ’80s throwback style.

Cigarette jeans are in between straight leg jeans and skinny jeans. They have a slim, straight fit with a small leg opening, and they’re usually ankle length with a mid rise.

Stovepipe jeans are pretty much just another version of cigarette jeans. Sometimes they are also called pencil pants. The general idea is the same; the silhouette is long and lean and straight such as a pencil, a cigarette, or a stovepipe.

Trouser jeans are wide leg jeans with pant-like details such as pleats, back welt pockets, front patch pockets, paper-bag waistbands, or built-in belting.

Curvy refers the fit, not the style of jean. Any style of jean (flare, boyfriend, skinny, straight) can come in a curvy fit. These are designed for women with a true hourglass or pear shape body, for whom typical pants are usually too big in the waist when they fit in the hips and rear. If you have a 12+ inch difference between your hip and waist measurement, looking for curvy fits will help eliminate that annoying gap in the waist.

What about Capris?

photo credit: Nordstrom

Fun fact: The term “capri pants” is derived from the Italian isle of Capri, where this style rose to popularity in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

These days, capri pants is really just another name for crop pants, but they’ve come to be associated with the frumpier styles that end at the widest point of the calf, which is never a good idea.

Call them what you will, but make sure your crop pants/capris end where the leg narrows — that is usually a couple of inches above the ankle bone. (The picture below is no bueno.)

And finally, what about Pedal Pushers?

photo credit: Saks Fifth Avenue

Originally designed for cyclists who couldn’t pedal in anything that fell far below the knee, pedal pushers are too long to be Bermuda shorts and too short to be crop pants.

I actually think these pants can be quite flattering — more so than a Bermuda short, actually, but they’re typically a spring/summer style.

Pedal pushers are most flattering when they fit close to the thigh, but you’ll also see wider styles from time to time.

And I think that pretty much covers all the major categories!!! As always, I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments, and perhaps I can expand on a few of these styles in future posts.

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19 thoughts on “Women’s Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified

  1. What an informative post that I really appreciate you doing for us! I’m glad y’all still got to have some friends over yesterday, even though the weather was not conducive to pool time. It was another hot and humid day down here; today and tomorrow are supposed to be rather sunny with highs in the upper 80’s, then we have tons of rain moving in for Thursday-Sunday. Perfect weather for me to finish working on my closet changeover. Have a great day!

  2. Thank you, great post! Where is the black and white floral tee you wear in the picture with the boyfriend jeans? Im sorry I missed it when you featured it.
    Those jeans look great on you!

  3. Thanks for a great post! It was 112 yesterday so we stayed inside with the AC. Today is supposed to be hotter or same as yesterday! Yikes. Could you style some ice block fashions for us!? LOL!

  4. Thank you for this post. I believe you just answered all of my questions. So glad you got to have friends over. I’ve been working on my closet for the last couple of days. Haven’t bought those flare leg pants yet. Since I’m so short I’ve only bought straight leg. But I’ll get there. Hope you have a great week!!🌻

  5. I am not having luck looking for straight leg, high waist, hemmed, 27 inch, dark wash in the $100 or less price range. Would appreciate any suggestions. Thank you.

    1. Emily, have you tried Gap? I like their Vintage Slim. I prefer a mid rise but they do have it in high rise too. Lots of options for length.

      1. Thank you Ann…..I am looking for the same as Emily and its been harder than I thought. I’ll try GAP, but think its best I go to try them on. Thanks for the comment.

        1. Actually, I too prefer more mid rise, as the higher rises tend to bag in the crotch area and don’t feel comfortable. I think 10-101/2 is about as high as I like.

  6. Great post. Maybe its safe to say “Anything Goes?” LOL I’m still trying jeans and struggling to get the right fit. One thing will be right and the others not etc. etc. Its getting pretty frustrating and I’m going to be left with 2 jeans for Fall that I’m not that thrilled with, but I’ll keep trying. Thank goodness Nordstrom is free shipping and returns. 🙂 By the way……you look great in ALL the styles.

  7. GREAT Post and can’t wait for the shoe part……..but let’s be honest and call these new “cropped” jeans highwaters 🙂 I mean we HATED this idea when we were kids cause it meant we had grown too tall for a pair of pants and yet now days we struggle over finding the perfect pair of “high waters” technically 🙂

  8. Such a helpful post. Thank you! Looking forward to your upcoming post of shoe suggestions that work best with the different Jean lengths. Thanks again!

  9. Loved this post! Digging through so many articles to find answers to my questions. Where are your beige sneakers from in the first image of this post? Love them. Thanks for sharing this amazing content!

  10. I love your posts! I know this is from last fall, but I would assume this holds true for this year too. I’m trying to get into more of the straight leg jeans trend , but even though I see everyone wearing them way above the ankle, I don’t like that look on me. I am only 5 feet 103 pounds, so for me, I feel like I like the straight leg jeans a little longer , I guess middle of ankle or slightly below . It does depend on my boot or shoe . I like the fit and length that you showed of the straight leg jeans in the picture with your wedge sandals . That’s a better look on my small frame. I’m not giving up my Skinnys lol and I still love slim boot cut , and slim flare, but I do like my boot cut and flares to go long about half inch off the ground. It does seem know nowadays we are seeing every length jean , so I guess we don’t have to be as picky! LoL .

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