Denim decoded: the ultimate guide to what each cut actually means

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Lara Faye
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Boyfriend, tapered, mom, straight leg - when it comes to jeans, the options are endless. But what do these styles really mean? We’ve decoded every denim cut and fit for once and for all. 

Whoever said diamonds are a girl’s best friend clearly hadn’t heard about denim. A good pair of jeans has been our fashion BFF for as long as we can remember. 

Effortlessly cool, the perfect pair of jeans works for every occasion. Whether with a t-shirt and sweater at home – or an oversized blazer and heeled boots in the office, our favourite pair always feels just right. Throw on a going-out top, and we’ve got a look that will take us straight into our evening plans –whatever the night may bring. 

A true wardrobe hero, there isn’t a single item that works harder than jeans. It’s no surprise then, that whenever we hear of a new denim trend, we don’t hesitate before adding it to our collection. The only problem is, with more and more denim styles stepping into the limelight, how do we know which to go for? 

High rise or mid rise? Wait, is that low rise jeans we see coming back into style again? And what about the cut. How to tell boyfriend jeans from tapered jeans? How can you buy the denim style that we’ve seen on just about every fashion editor on Instagram if you don’t know what it’s called? 

It’s time to learn the difference between straight leg jeans and bootcut for once and for all. Stylist has decoded every style of jeans, with the definitive guide to denim. 

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High rise

When it comes to jeans, the style of the rise indicates how far the waist band sits from the navel. Sitting high on the waist, high-rise jeans offer a structured fit around your midsection. Synonymous with 1970s denim styles, the universally-flattering high rise cut is one that has never fallen out of fashion.        

Mid Rise

Sitting right on top of your hip bone and just above your navel, mid rise jeans offer an exceptionally comfortable fit. The perfect cut to wear when you want a more relaxed style with extra ease of movement. 

  • Izzue mid rise cropped jeans

    Hong Kong based label Izzue creates the laidback denim pieces that we want to add straight to our wardrobe. Thanks to an oversized fit and tapered, cropped leg, this pair feels like the perfect style to wear all summer.

    Shop Izzue mid rise cropped jeans at Far Fetch, £95

Low Rise

Sitting below your hip bones and almost at the top of your thigh, the low slung low rise cut was the height of 00s style. Though this style has been out of the spotlight for a few years, it’s back for a long overdue revival thanks to Gucci and Tom Ford’s spring/summer 2020 catwalks. 

Mom jeans 

Long back pockets, a baggy fit around the zipper and an ultra high waist – this was the denim style favoured by mums the world over in the 80s and 90s. With mum-at-the-school-gates associations, this cut fell off the radar but in recent years the mom jean has become one of fashion’s most-wanted styles. Though now available in endless colour washes, a classic stonewash (with a t-shirt tucked in) feels like the perfect on-trend tribute to classic 90s soccer mom look.

Straight leg jeans

If you’ve opened Instagram anytime in the last 12 months you’ll already be familiar with straight leg jeans. The style has been spotted on every editor, influencer and taste maker from Sao Paulo to Shanghai, and fashion’s love for this effortlessly chic style shows no signs of slowing down. With a snug fit on the thigh and a loose yet streamlined silhouette that runs straight down from the waist to the ankle, this classic denim style has never felt cooler. 

  • Topshop Editor straight jeans

    Named in honour of the fashion show set that love the straight leg style, Topshop’s take on the cut has sold out again and again. Now available in 11 colours (including on-trend pastels), we love this classic shade of faded blue. 

    Shop Topshop Editor straight jeans, £49

Boyfriend jeans

Slouchy, baggy and relaxed, laidback boyfriend jeans can be traced back to the 1950s when women first made wearing denim mainstream, but preferred a fit that skimmed the leg rather than clung to it. The perfect pair should have an oversized fit and look just that little bit too big. If you have a petite frame, look for a style that’s tapered at the leg to avoid feeling swamped. 

Skinny jeans 

Skinny jeans are the body-hugging fit that acts like a second skin of denim. Tapered close to the body, a skinny style follows the line of the thigh and calves down the ankle. Typically found with a high rise or mid rise cut, this denim trend has reigned supreme for the last decade. 

Bootcut jeans 

Cousin to the straight leg jean, the bootcut style has the same slightly loose leg skimming fit. Unlike the straight leg style – which follows the same line all the way to the ankle – the bootcut has a slight flare. The style you’ll recognise from Rachel Green’s covetable denim wardrobe on Friends, if you haven’t considered bootcut jeans before, now is the perfect time to get better acquainted with this timeless style. 

Flared jeans

If the word ‘flares’ conjures up images of comically wide-legged disco pants that wouldn’t go amiss on a Bee Gees tribute band, then now is the time to get up to speed with the unsung hero of denim. Much more flattering than you may think, flared jeans follow the line of the thigh before flaring out just above the knee and falling wide around the ankle. If you’re looking to instantly elongate your legs, then a pair of flared jeans is all you need. They even look just as good with trainers as they do with heeled boots, trust me, this 5”2 fashion writer wouldn’t lie to you. 


Typically your jeans graze the ankle, a cropped cut takes the hem up a few inches, sitting low on the calf. Playing with your proportions, opting for a cropped fit is the fastest way to elevate your day-to-day denim look. Though a cropped skinny jean was our go-to circa 2014, right now it’s a wide-leg jean with a cropped leg that we are wearing on heavy rotation. 


Whether they have an oversized mom fit or are a loose boyfriend style, tapered jeans always cuff the bottom of the jeans close to the leg. Adding instant structure to a baggy fit, a tapered style leg will flatter your frame and keep you from feeling swamped with fabric. The perfect way to make a relaxed denim style work for evening, pairing tapered jeans with a pair of square toed heels is the styling hack that fashion influencers such as stylist Pernille Teisbaek swear by. 

Images: courtesy of brands. 


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