Women have been wearing men’s clothing for centuries whether for ease, to make a fashion statement or maybe, as Joan of Arc was accused, because the devil made them do it. Historically, women’s wardrobes have reflected cultural expectations so their clothing was generally designed to showcase what was considered inherently “female” proportions, aka a pre-Spanx hourglass. During the first world war, women raided the men’s section for overalls and jeans since these items were much more functional for the manual labor they were enlisted to do-- and you know, because Rosie the Riveter made coveralls look adorbs. Eventually, the menswear look went mainstream and denim designers started cutting styles specifically for women. Women’s styles brought new colorways and incorporated innovative materials such as spandex so you could finally squeeze something between you and your Calvins.
Despite the proliferation of women’s premium denim, many women still cruise the men’s section to find their perfect pair. But, there are legit differences in how denim jeans are cut and fitted for men and women that you’ll want to know before you start your hunt. Because we love you, we’ve done the dirty work and broken down the why, what and how to make it easier for women to shop for men’s jeans.
Why Men’s Jeans
- Fit - A major reason women opt for men’s jeans is fit. For those seeking straight leg or a slouchy fit and frankly, the “boyfriend” trope is tired. Tall women can especially benefit from men’s jeans considering most women’s inseams top out at 31-32”.
- Fee - Sure, there’s an occasional “Ladies Night” drink special, but sadly, the “pink tax” does exist and it includes clothing. A lot of men’s basics such as jeans, tees and button-ups are less expensive than women’s. Don’t believe the hype? A study from the NYC Dept. of Consumer Affairs found that products marketed to women cost more about 40% of the time.
- Flair - Raw denim, or denim that hasn’t been washed or treated is harder to find in women’s styles. Same for selvage denim, which is a tighter weave that creates that quality seam that many opt to show off with a wide cuff. Many women seek these styles and find more options within the men’s categories. Check out Bluer Denim’s raw indigo and raw black selvage jeans. These are a great example of clean, crisp denim and as a bonus, are made from the last batch of Cone Mills denim, one of the first-- and now last- producer of American-made denim.
What Makes Men’s Jeans Different
- Junk in the trunk - We’ve all read the Insta affirmations about how our bodies are perfect, just as they are. True, but that doesn’t mean we all have the same shape. Generally speaking, men’s and women’s bodies do not have the same hip-to-waist proportions and this is noticeable in jeans. Because men’s jeans tend to be cut narrower through the hips, women often need to size up to accommodate wider hips. This of course means the waist will be larger so make sure to factor that in when determining size (more on that later). Conversely, men’s jeans are usually roomier in the crotch (which means even the zipper is longer) and baggier in the seat.
- Just a number - Trying to find the right size is a numbers game: you’re a 6 in pants, in one style of jeans a 28, a 29 in another. Lucky for men, their pants are generally universally sized based on waist and inseam (length). That used to be true of women’s wear as well, before they were converted into an extrapolated ratio (factoring in hips and waist) and essentially spit out an accompanying number size, e.g. (0-12) that was meant to be an industry standard. It was also found to be preferable to women who liked the smaller numbers of women’s sizing than the larger waist size. Regardless of the nomenclature for sizing jeans, the biggest fit factor is the waist-to-hip ratio, which in any woman can vary from being 12” smaller to being inches larger than the hips. So where does that leave us? The best practice is to take your key measurements (see below) and choose accordingly. Don’t let the patriarchy win.
- Fit and Flair - Every designer and manufacturer is going to have their own stamp which is reflected in the embellishments-- or lack thereof-- on their jeans. Generally, women’s jeans are cut more precisely than men’s because trends in women’s apparel calls for it; think of the precision needed to differentiate between a flare and mini-bell. Women’s jeans are often more embellished than men’s and may feature enhancements such as a butt lift (aka the wedgie jean) or a seam to elongate legs. Pockets are another area where women get short changed, so to speak. Women’s jeans generally have smaller pockets even if they are styled to look the same as men’s. Chalk it up to the handbag-- or simply that a lot of women don’t want any extra bulk.
Finding the Right Fit
Like job hunting or online dating, shopping for jeans is a numbers game and you’ll need to try on a few duds to get the right dungarees. The best place to start is with your measurements to use as a point of reference. Have a pair of jeans you love? Measure those across the waist, hips, rise and inseam. Not sure what that means? This Wiki is a great reference for what and how to measure accurately. Some denim companies also include similar brands for comparison, so if you know your size in a mainstream brand such as JBrand, you can find your similar size in an indie line. The other option is to take thyself to your local tailor and have a few alterations made to create a truly bespoke pair.
How to Wear Them
There may be fashion tips to consider, but when it comes to what you wear, there should be no rules. Women looking to wear men’s jeans should style them however feels good; with a well-cut tee and high-tops or a pullover and heels. Patti Smith, the iconic musician, artist, writer and men’s-jeans-wearer offers the best philosophy when it comes to getting dressed: “My style says ‘Look at me, don’t look at me...It’s, ‘I don’t care what you think.’ ”