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The great denim dilemma, solved: we trawled the high street for the best jeans so you don’t have to

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Lucy Reber
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Stylist’s fashion editor Lucy Reber tries on all the jeans on the high street – so you don’t have to.

Photography: Sarah Brimley

If there’s one thing that is always in style, it’s denim. With its roots in tough workwear, it’s the hardest working fabric in fashion, the ultimate tool to add cool to an outfit. But it doesn’t come without its issues... 

There are a plethora of different cuts to navigate. And within each cut, endless nuances of shape and fabric, which turns everything on its head once again. Who hasn’t stood in a badly lit changing room with a pile of jeans all ‘claiming’ to be straight leg, only for them to all look wildly different when on? I certainly have (there may have been tears).

And then there’s body shapes. Whatever your shape or height it can be difficult to find the perfect pair. For me, it’s usually the jeans gaping at the small of my back (not chic), and picking a pair that ticks all the boxes is a challenge. 

When presented with a sartorial issue this big, it’s tempting to throw money at the problem. But who wants to spend £200 on designer pairs in every colour? Which is where the high street comes in, whose denim collections are going from strength to strength. 

So how do you find the perfect pair? I’d usually advise trying on LOADS to see what looks good. But this season, I’ve done the hard work for you – trying on over 100 pairs of jeans across the high street to test for fit, fabric and style, in the quest to find the best pairs out there.

First, let’s talk about cuts and what you’re looking for. There are four key styles that work hardest in your wardrobe. These are:

If only our changing room selfies looked quite this composed

If only our changing room selfies looked quite this composed

Skinny cut

Depending on the fabric, a pair of skinny jeans can see you from weekend to work with the addition of a sleeveless blazer, silk shirt and statement flat. The clue to the fit is in the name – these should sit close to the body from top to bottom. Cropped at the ankle is most flattering.

Cropped

Showing off your ankles is a key look at the moment. You can opt for slim-fit flared styles, frayed edges or wide culottes. The jeans should fall to just above the ankle so that they are distinctly cropped, but not in pedal pusher territory. Make these styles weather-appropriate by wearing with long-line ankle boots and a chunky knit.

Wide leg

These bold jeans are the new take on the Seventies flared styles that have been popular over the past few seasons. Choose from tailored, boyfriend or mom shapes, just as long as the legs are wide. They can sit on the ankle, but no higher. Keep your top half slim to balance your silhouette.

Straight fit

The straight leg jean is having a resurgence. Its pared-back simplicity feels modern again and can be styled smart, like a skinny jean, but is less restrictive. These should fit around the waist, hips and thighs and then fall straight down from the knee. Wear with a deconstructed shirt and box-fresh white trainers for a crisp modern look.

I have personally trawled the high street to bring you an edit of the five best pieces out there for each cut. Armed with this guide the world of denim is your oyster. Go forth and shop.

Skinny cut

  • Stevie panelled

    £95, Reiss (reiss.com)
    “This panelled slim-fit style is amazing. The material feels a bit like leather, but without the hefty price tag. The cut is super skinny, but in a flattering way – they still look great if you go up a size for comfort.”

  • Rebound skinny

    £69, French Connection (frenchconnection.com)
    “It’s easy to see why these are a bestseller. They’re made of a body contouring stretch denim, which keeps its shape for longer. Plus, they come in a range of washes and two lengths.”

  • Bi-stretch jeans

    £79, Guess (guess.eu)
    “This denim stretches an impressive four ways – perfect for getting a style that fits like a second skin. They’re available in longer lengths and for the more petite. Guess offer an alteration service, too.”

  • Elwood custom mid waist

    £94.99, G-Star Raw (zalando.co.uk)
    “G-Star Raw have sold 20 million pairs of Elwoods in the past 20 years. I love the motocross detailing on these. They’re quite roomy so do go down a size.”

  • Skinny jeans

    £49, Kin by John Lewis (johnlewis.com)
    “This high-waisted pair weren’t too restrictive, with a good amount of stretch. They had a nicely tailored waist, which fitted snugly into the small of my back – key for this cut.”

Cropped

  • Drift

    £55, Cheap Monday (cheapmonday.com)
    “The dramatic cut here really works. They are super fitted, giving a great shape that should give slightly as your wear them. Perfect with a slogan tee for a Gucci-inspired look.”

  • Straight high ankle

    £29.99, H&M (hm.com)
    “Vetements’ cult jean, the Reworked, started an obsession for the line detail down each leg. This pair are cut fairly snugly – do get your size, but I suspect you’ll be quietly pleased when they stretch out.”

  • Moto fringe hem straight leg

    £42, Topshop (topshop.com)
    “The razored hem is moved forward from last season with a black colourway. This pair has a slightly high waist which is so flattering, as is the feathered fringing on the leg.”

  • Straight cropped jandri

    £35.99, Mango (mango.com)
    “These are tight on the calves, almost like a skinny, but with a flattering kick at the hem. The best thing about them is that they hugged the small of my back – no gaping here.”

  • High waist straight leg

    £95, Whistles (whistles.com)
    “Whistles are great at tapping into fashion styles, so are of course on board with a cropped frayed style. The slightly loose leg on these feels really modern and cool.’’

Wide leg

  • Wide leg popper

    £69, Warehouse (warehouse.co.uk)
    “Warehouse’s recent revamp is reflected in its denim, which is minimal yet cool. These sit low and are fitted round the hips, then flare out. Wear with a skinny rib knit.”

  • Raw edge cropped flood

    £50, BDG (urbanoutfitters.com)
    “These loose-fit, super wide-leg cropped jeans were surprisingly flattering on, looking almost like culottes. Wear with a talking-point heel.”

  • De-albury denim

    £160, Diesel (diesel.com)
    “I love this relaxed pair. The high waist feels really unexpected for a boyfriend, and I like their chic inky finish, they feel cool and retro. These could be your ‘smart wide leg jeans’.”

  • Mitchell culotte

    £70, Pepe Jeans (pepejeans.com)
    “These are very slick for a wide leg. They’re cropped (so will look perfect with a baseball boot) and have a crisp crease running down the front, which looks really unusual.”

  • Jaden boyfriend turn up

    £98, All Saints (allsaints.com)
    “The denim is lovely and soft, and the cut is simple yet unique. They feel like they could be designer. I’d go one size bigger to make them super baggy

Straight fit

  • Authentic 1969 real straight

    £44.95, Gap (gap.co.uk)
    “Gap has used a loomsgate yarn for these, which ages with every wash for an authentic vintage look. The cut is roomy, so go down a size. All the Gap jeans I tried on felt expensive and like they would last.”

  • Blue fray hem straight leg

    £24.99, New Look (newlook.com)
    “New Look sell a pair of black jeans every 12 seconds. However, it was their washed-out straight styles that really stood out to me. The cut on this pair feels of the moment.”

  • Ashley boyfriend

    £42, River Island (riverisland.com)
    “River Island have a denim guide on their website, outlining all their different fits with videos to illustrate. I love the high waist and turn-ups on this pair for a laid-back, vintage feel.”

  • Vicki straight fit

    £150, Replay (replayjeans.com)
    “Replay have a talent for pushing their washes, with distressing and intricate detail. This slim straight cut has great sanded patches that add a twist to simpler looks.”

  • Wedgie Fit

    £100, Levi’s (levi.co.uk)
    “Levi’s jeans have had a real resurgence with people looking for retro washes and mom styles. I love that these are patched. Go down a size as they are cut slightly large.