The Right Jeans

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Meet five women, all in search of the Holy Grail: the perfect pair of jeans. Our fashion expert shows them the way.

Like it or not, jeans are the Little Black Dress of the new millennium. But faced with a bewildering array of brands (Wrangler, Red Engine or Rock & Republic?), sizes (an 8 or a 30?), washes (dark or sandblasted?), cuts (straight, boot-cut, flare or skinny?) and prices ($50 or $150?), many of us try on an average of 18 pairs of jeans only to flee the dressing room empty-handed, cursing our bodies and swearing off food for life. (Funny how it’s never the jeans’ fault.)

Is it really possible to find a pair that fits in all the right places and makes your tush look bootylicious? To find out, we sent five local women&emdash;real women, not runway models&emdash;shopping with Sacramento-based image and wardrobe consultant Karri Grant. Here, meet our volunteers and learn how you can incorporate Grant’s advice to look and feel better in jeans than you ever imagined.

Challenge: GENEROUS BOOTY

Shon Knight, 32, real estate agent

Shon Knight meets us at Bonney & Gordon at The Collection at Town & Country Village. We are here today because of her butt.  The 5-foot-4-inch Sacramento resident says that her generous booty makes it almost impossible to find jeans that fit in the thighs and rear without gaping at the waist.

She’s brought a pair of faded Levi’s from home&emdash;one of the few that she says fit. We have her try them on to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Appraising the effect in front of a three-way mirror, Grant says, One thing I don’t care for is that it’s a light denim, and that definitely draws light to your thighs. Your legs are not big, but they look bigger than they would in a darker jean. Second, these jeans taper in at your knees. What you’ve said is, ‘Look at my thighs! My knees are skinny, and I’ve got big ankles!’ That’s not how you really are. What we’re going to do is a dark denim, straight-leg jean&emdash;which means the jean goes in a straight line all the way down from your hips to your ankles. That’s going to do two things: slim you down and make you look taller.

Grant has Knight pirouette so we can examine her rear end. Our wardrobe consultant immediately targets the trouble spot.
Placement of pockets is huge, she says. You have a woman’s butt. The pockets on these Levi’s are set too widely apart, which makes your butt look bigger than it really is.

And so begins Operation Snag Knight a Killer Pair of Jeans. Grant suggests an American brand instead of a European brand (Euros flatter a smaller, leaner build) to take care of the gaping waist. Knowing that most women buy their jeans too big, she advises Knight to try a size smaller than she usually wears. (They will stretch out.)

Knight tries on Agave and Indigo Palms (made by Tommy Bahama) jeans in two sizes. Both have straight legs, a dark wash, some stretch and minimal embellishment on the back pockets, which keeps the bum out of the spotlight. The Indigo Palms pair ($148) is
especially fetching, with a black wash, close-together button-flap pockets and V-shaped back belt loops, which Grant points out draws the eye inward, making hips and buttocks appear slimmer. We’ve found a winner&emdash;and in the smaller size to boot. Knight smiles all the way to the cash register.

A week later, she’s still as effervescent as a flute of Champagne, even though she’s never spent more than $60 on a pair of jeans.

I wore them last weekend to The Color Purple in San Francisco and I got hundreds of compliments, she bubbles over the phone. My sister was like, ‘Your ass is so hot!’ I’m going to go buy me two more $150 pairs and call it a day. And I’m going to throw out the rest of my jeans.

Challenge: PETITE

Shirley Chao, 29, personnel services staffing manager

Shirley Chao, a 5-foot-4 size 2, looks as though she were made for jeans. But she insists that jeans are not always made for her.

I spend all this money on a pair of jeans, and then I have to spend extra to get them hemmed because they look like the pj’s you had as a kid that wrap around your feet, says the Rocklin resident.

Chao, along with Knight, is meeting Grant, our wardrobe consultant, at
Bonney & Gordon.

Grant eyeballs Chao’s figure.

Although you’re very well-proportioned, you’re not exceptionally curvy, she observes. Women who are petite often tell me they feel like they still look like young girls. It’s great to look young, but you’re a woman, and you want to be viewed as a woman. So you want to create the illusion that you’re curvy in places where you don’t have curves.

Grant continues. Because you’re a great size, you can do a lot of things other women can’t do. One of them is, you can have really decorative pockets on your heinie.

Our expert hands Chao a pair of Indigo Palms jeans and has her stand before a three-way mirror.

This is actually considered low-rise because it’s sitting right on her hips, which is exactly where we want them to sit, Grant says. You wouldn’t want anything too terribly high because when you’re petite, you don’t want to shorten your torso. And the pockets are great&emdash;the detailing on them is actually giving you more of a rounded butt.

The next jeans Chao tries on look even better, and these are the ones she decides to buy because they’re so different. They’re a heather-gray Agave ($185) with a straight leg and a two-pocket flat front. Like a sailor! Chao says, striking a jaunty pose in the mirror.

There’s not a lot of decoration going on in back, but [the color] is light, so it’s creating volume, Grant notes. Gray has become really popular&emdash;colored jeans are coming back in&emdash;but it’s not a jean everyone can wear. Women who are bigger than a size 12 really cannot do color because that’s all you see.

As for Chao’s biggest problem with jeans&emdash;too much length&emdash;well, there’s just no way around it. She’ll have to get them hemmed.

Challenge: HOURGLASS FIGURE

Andrea Schroeder, 44, nurse

Our wardrobe consultant spots Andrea Schroeder’s problem before she even dips a toe into a pair of jeans.

Your slacks are too short, Grant says, eyeing the khakis Schroeder, a Sacramento resident, is wearing for our meeting at midtown boutique Dara Denim.

The 5-foot-9 Schroeder glances down, surprised. She thought slacks were supposed to end at the bottom of the ankle. She feels schlumpy when they gather around her feet. And she sees no reason to wear them longer because she almost always wears flat shoes.

Grant tells Schroeder she’s doing herself a disservice. Someone who’s looking at you follows the line all the way down to the end of your feet, so you don’t want to cut yourself off at an awkward spot, Grant says. What ends up happening is, a woman who doesn’t necessarily have big thighs or hips will look like she does.

Grant begins hunting for jeans that’ll create the right kind of optical illusion. She recommends for Schroeder’s hourglass figure a dark denim, straight-leg or boot-cut, with pockets positioned on the roundest part of her rear, for the most slimming effect.

Schroeder tries on a variety of brands&emdash;Paige, Red Engine and J Brand&emdash;and feels a bit uncomfortable with the rise (too low), the fit (too tight) and the length (too long). But Grant assures her that the rise is correct; just apply the two-finger rule. (See sidebar.) As for the tightness, Grant says a little creasing is fine as long as it runs in straight lines across the thighs and doesn’t create a V in the crotch. (Remember, jeans made with spandex or Lycra will stretch.) She reminds us that jeans are supposed to be tight at first, or we risk ending up with diaper butt by the end of the day. Regarding the length, yes, they must be hemmed, but not as much as Schroeder may think. (See sidebar.)

But at what age is it inappropriate to wear jeans like this? Schroeder wonders.

I say it’s not age-appropriate when bare skin is showing or you look like you’re trying to be something you’re not, Grant says. But if the pant is cut low, and that works for your body, then that works for your body forever. So you don’t have to stop wearing them just because you’re a certain age.

Finally, Schroeder puts on a pair of People’s Liberation jeans. Bull’s-eye! We all agree this is her perfect pair. She loves the button-flap pockets, the dark wash, the linen-like texture, the straight cut and the fact that they don’t gape at the waist, even if she’s not yet used to the length, the tight fit, the lower rise.

And they’re on sale: $75 from $211, Grant points out. You can’t beat that!

Next up for Schroeder: a pair of heels to wear with them&emdash;after she gets them shortened a teeny bit.

Challenge: SUPERLONG LEGS

Sommer Carter, 30, sales representative

Sommer Carter, a slim 5-foot-11, loves the trend toward longer jeans, but with her 36-inch inseam, she can’t always find them long enough.

And the longer they are, the bigger the waist! she says.

In a Macy’s dressing room at Arden Fair mall, she tries on a tragic pair (by Womyn) that she brought from home.

I bought these only because they’re long, says Carter, who lives in Sacramento.

But our wardrobe consultant says length alone does not the perfect jean make.

See how this flattens out your rear? Grant says. This is a stretch jean, but you don’t need a stretch because you’re already long and lean. Second, this line is a little old for you&emdash;it looks like your mom’s jean. And actually, they’re not long enough.

Grant shows Carter how to determine the proper length for jeans. (See sidebar.)

Now we’re ready to comb the racks on Macy’s second floor. Grant recommends for Carter a straight- or boot-cut, but not a flare.

A flare is generally for someone 5-foot-6 or taller who’s about 40 pounds overweight and has the mass to carry it off, Grant says.

Carter tries on a couple of pairs of dark-wash 7 For All Mankind jeans (which typically run long) in different styles&emdash;one with a coppery scallop design on the back pockets and one with no pockets at all. Both are a no-go: The pair with decorative pockets has a too-low rise, making everything else, including the pockets, too low, which doesn’t provide the lift and curvature she needs in the back. The pair with no pockets makes her butt disappear. She tries on a pair of Citizens of Humanity jeans with silver buttons and star patches on the back pockets. Cute, but same thing: too low, no lift.

Finally, we hit upon a treasure: $225 trouser jeans by Citizens of Humanity: dark, with whisking (fading) in the back to give Carter’s thighs extra curve. She decides to buy them.

The length is fantastic, and the detailing makes them very dressy&emdash;very Audrey Hepburn, Grant observes. And these pockets are so much better. Although they’re not necessarily sitting a lot higher on your tush, the fact that they come up to a point makes them look like they are. They’re darted in the back above the pockets, so the eye is coming upward, which makes your butt look higher.

This is a gorgeous jean.

Challenge: SMALL BUT CURVY
Kirsten DuBray, 45, college fundraiser

At 5-foot-2, with a tiny waist and supercurvy booty and thighs, Kirsten DuBray of Elk Grove is our biggest challenge yet.

Shopping in most petite departments for her is a disappointment.
It seems most are geared toward older women, she says. (That goes for jeans, too.) They need to think Eva Longoria, not Granny!

But if she aims for a younger, hipper look, she finds the dreaded butt crack problem inescapable.

At Macy’s Arden Fair, our wardrobe consultant sets out to change all that. First, she has DuBray
try on the pair she’s brought from home: DKNY, which DuBray says are the only jeans I can get over my legs that don’t totally gap.

Grant is not impressed.

Your pants are too short, she says. For someone who is petite, that alone will add weight and make you look even smaller than you are. You don’t have any leg to spare.

In addition, the pockets are set too low and wide, creating puff where it doesn’t need to be.

Grant points out yet another faux pas: The jeans are lighter at the tops of the thighs, darker toward the hem&emdash;meaning they scream for attention at just the wrong spot.

Scouring the racks, Grant says DuBray shouldn’t base her search on whether the waistband gapes, because that’s easily fixable; she just needs to get them taken in.

She thinks her biggest problem is her figure, but actually it’s the fact that she’s petite, Grant says. And by petite I mean 5-foot-4 and under. It has nothing to do with how much you weigh.

DuBray tries on several petite-cut jeans&emdash;7 For All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity, DKNY&emdash;with mixed results.

A pair of DKNY Stretch Soho jeans (short, $68) shows promise&emdash;we like the slightly higher rise in the back&emdash;but this Macy’s doesn’t have it in her size. (The downtown one does.)

There’s nothing going on in the back pockets, the color is monochromatic, there’s no detail on the front, the length is not bad and the pockets are drawn more toward the center of your rear end, Grant says. This is actually a good pant for you.
DuBray moves on to Joe’s Jeans ($158), also a contender because it offers the Provocateur (petite) style. (Joe’s also offers the Honey-Booty, with fitted waist and voluptuous contours in regular sizes.)

The Provocateur has dark denim, no whisking, well-placed pockets and&emdash;surprise!&emdash;is already the perfect length. While the butt crack does peek out when DuBray squats, it’ll be OK with a longer top, Grant assures her.

DuBray delays purchasing any jeans today, but a few days later returns to buy the Joe’s jeans because she was unsuccessful in locating the DKNYs in her size. Although she likes the way the Joe’s jeans proportion out her legs, she’s not thrilled about limiting herself to long shirts because of the gaping waistband. Her only other alternative is to alter the waistband&emdash;an added hassle and expense to which she has not yet decided to commit.

I think maybe for me there is no perfect jean, she says, sighing.

Which brings us to conclude that for some women, good enough may be as good as it gets.

Getting the Jeans of Your Dreams

Before you head to the mall, check out this true-blue advice from local image and wardrobe consultant Karri Grant:

• Hesitant to shell out big bucks for jeans? While it’s always wise to shop around for the best price, keep in mind that high-end jeans are engineered to provide a better fit, feel and look. Superior fabrics, complicated washing processes and hand stitching&emdash;not to mention the designer name&emdash;all conspire to jack up the price. (The more details, the more expensive the jeans.) If you know you’ll be wearing them for years to come, think quality, not quantity. It’s better to have three pairs of knockout jeans than 10 or 15 pairs of so-so ones. A good pair of jeans should last three to five years.

• The correct length for jeans depends on the shoe. With flats, the hem should fall across the top of the foot at the break, about the exact midpoint of your foot, and should touch the floor in the back. For heels, the hem should fall at the big-toe joint in the front and should slightly bunch on the floor in the back. If your jeans have special detailing along the hem, ask your tailor to reattach the original hem. If you fall in love with a pair of jeans, says Grant, buy two pairs: one for flats and one for heels.

• You can’t trust sizes because all brands are different. If you don’t like the size you’re wearing, cut [the size label] out and forget it, Grant advises. If it looks great, who cares?

• Whisking, bleaching and distressing spotlight certain parts of your legs, hips and buttocks, making them appear larger than they are. That’s great if you need it for proportioning (as in apple shapes, with thick midsections and thin legs), not so great for pears.

• Midrise jeans flatter most body types. Leave the low rise to super-skinny 20-year-olds and the high rise to those with thicker bellies.

• You can’t always tell a midrise by the label. If in doubt, apply the two-finger rule: Place your index and middle fingers sideways directly underneath your belly button. Jeans should come up no higher than your bottom finger.

• A straight cut is the most universally flattering. But don’t always believe the label or the way the jeans look on the hanger. Here’s what to do: Remove the jeans from the hanger and hold them upside down, legs together, outer seam to inner seam, inner seam to outer (as if you were preparing to iron them). Look at the line from top to bottom. There should be no tapering.

• If you’d have to make three or more alterations to a pair of jeans, don’t buy them.

• Once you purchase a pair of jeans, keep the tags. Put them in a little book, so if you want to buy that same kind of jeans again, you have all the information right there, Grant says.

• Vertically challenged? Wear pointed shoes with your jeans. It’ll extend the line of your leg, making you appear taller and thinner.

• Turn your jeans inside out before washing them, and always wash them in cold water. For brand-new jeans, add a quarter of a cup of white vinegar to set the dye, then immediately rewash them to remove the smell.&emdash;Dayna Dunteman

Where To Buy Jeans

•  Article, 1616 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento;
    (916) 921-7400; articleonline.us
    Acne Jeans
    Earnest Sewn
    G-Star
    John Varvatos
    Ksubi
    Rogan

• barby k boutique, 2312 K St., Sacramento;
    (916) 554-0050; barbyk.com
    Fortune Denim
    James Jeans
    Juicy Couture
    True Religion Brand Jeans

• Bonney & Gordon, 2651 Town & Country
    Place, Sacramento; (916) 485-9999;
    bonneygordon.com
    Agave
    Barry Bricken
    Indigo Palms

• Blush Boutique, 2317 J St., Sacramento;
    (916) 457-7139
    Genetic Denim
    Live Life & Love Denim

• Dara Denim, 2404 K St., Sacramento;
    (916) 444-1188; 5530 Douglas Blvd.,
    Suite 120, Granite Bay; (916) 797-6090;
    daradenim.com
    David Kahn Jeanswear
    Habitual
    J Brand
    1921
    Paige Premium Denim
    People’s Liberation
    Red Engine
    Rock & Republic

• HER Boutique, 2421 J St.,
    Sacramento; (916) 442-9600
    Rozzie Rae
    Svobada

• Krazy Mary’s, 2527 J St., Suite C,
    Sacramento; (916) 442-6279;
    myspace.com/krazymarys
    Blue Tattoo
    J & Company
    Joe’s Jeans
    Paige Premium Denim
    7 For All Mankind
    True Religion Brand Jeans

• Macy’s, 1701 Arden Way, Sacramento;
    (916) 925-2845; macys.com
    AG Adriano Goldschmied
    Calvin Klein
    Citizens of Humanity
    DKNY
    Hudson Jeans
    Joe’s Jeans
    Lucky Brand Jeans
    Paige Premium Denim
    7 For All Mankind
    William Rast

• M.E. Boutique, 3315 Folsom Blvd.,
    Sacramento; (916) 456-9400;
    myspace.com/meboutique
    Denim for Immortality
    Robin’s Jean

• Nordstrom, 1651 Arden Way, Sacramento;
    (916) 646-2400; nordstrom.com
    Citizens of Humanity
    Hudson Jeans
    Paige Premium Denim
    7 For All Mankind

• Pinkadot, 238 E St., Davis; (530) 753-2247
    AG Adriano Goldschmied
    Citizens of Humanity
    James Jeans
    J Brand
    Joe’s Jeans
    Paige Premium Denim
    William Rast

• Pinkadot 2, 218 E St., Davis; (530) 753-2255
    !iT Jeans
    Juicy Couture
    Lucky Brand Jeans
    7 For All Mankind
    True Religion Brand Jeans

• Serendipity Boutique, 5362 H St.,
    Sacramento; (916) 454-2900;
    serendipityboutique.com
    Citizens of Humanity
    Lucky Brand Jeans
    Red Engine
    &emdash;Compiled by Elizabeth Marxen