When it comes to denim, casual comfort is in vogue for fall.
By Ashley Breeding
Invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873 as a durable work pant during the Gold Rush era, jeans—believed to be named after Genoa, Italy, where “jeane” cotton corduroy was manufactured at the time—have evolved from a utilitarian commodity to a ubiquitous fashion statement worn by people from all walks of life.
Over the past nearly 150 years, denim has taken on various forms: From coveralls to cigarette pants, cutoffs, frocks and even swimsuits and footwear, we’ve seen it all. Waistlines rise and fall while hems crop, cuff, flare and hit the floor again with the change of seasons. Almost a quarter way into the 21st century, some retro styles are again in vogue. Fortunately, this fall brings back all the best hits—so toss those gauchos and low-rise, skinny jeans. Here, Newport Beach’s savviest style experts speak to current trends and how to own them.
“The relaxed, high-rise with a straight leg is staying strong,” says Newport Beach-based Leslie Christen, a longtime personal fashion stylist to local fashion A-listers. “It’s not as tight, so it doesn’t accentuate any areas you don’t want to, and it’s easy to fit to your body type.” Steph Clymer, who owns Common Thread in Costa Mesa and lives on the Newport border, also says this style is back in a “big way,” from basic blues to muted hues. “Charcoal replaces black denim,” Clymer adds, “and we’re seeing a lot of it.” Fellow OC-based stylist Heather Fish, who formerly worked on the South Coast Plaza stylist team, adds, “Dark charcoal translates immediately as denim versus a black dress pant, which true black jeans tend to do. But charcoal, like black, pairs well with any style or color top. If it’s a gorgeous shade of gray, it can be dressed up or down beautifully.”
Wearing them to work? Opt for a more polished pair like Levi’s high-waisted Ribcage Ankle Straight Jeans in Feelin’ Cagey charcoal tone ($98 at Bloomingdale’s, Fashion Island). For weekend wear, distressed versions like Re/Done’s 1970s-inspired High Rise Stove Pipe Jeans or Citizens of Humanity’s Emerson Slim Fit Boyfriend ($218 at Laguna Supply, Corona del Mar) can be paired with anything from a favorite tee and slides to a chic blazer and boots.
Bootcuts are Back
“I giggle when the slim bootcut is ‘back in style,’ but … it’s back,” Christen says. “I have a curvy shape that really looks great in this silhouette. In my opinion, they’re the most universally flattering style for every shape.” Longer flares also add length to legs since they follow your natural lines and don’t stop at the ankles the way skinny jeans do. This makes them an ideal staple for petite bodies, too, Christen notes.
Check out ASKK’s Ultra High-Rise Bootcut Jeans (also available in cropped bootcut, $230, at Anthropologie, Fashion Island). For extra “flare,” Citizens of Humanity’s Rosanna jeans ($240 at A’maree’s) have a classic high rise and added volume above the ankle. Pair floor-length hems with block-heel boots or flat sandals, like beek’s Gallito slide ($240 at beekshop.com); cropped styles look hip with ankle boots that either just meet the hemline or underlap it.
Denim on Denim
Pants aren’t the only pieces popping up in denim this season. “A denim jack is an absolute must,” notes Clymer, pointing to styles with a puff sleeve (find a variety at her shop) and denim on denim “done right.” For Fish, that means matching top and bottoms exactly. “The color, tone and weight must be the same for this look to be flattering,” she says. “If not styled correctly, this fashion statement is a miss.” Christen echoes this advice, adding that softer denim works better to avoid a look that’s too “stiff.” A match made for the more fashion-forward, head-to-toe denim can be fun as “a western look or with killer jewelry for a statement outfit,” Christen says. “It can be done very tastefully and chic—you just need to get the image of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake—[circa 2001]— out of your head.”
Give us the Details
Light to medium washes, off-black and distressed denim are staples this season, Clymer says. While frayed hemlines were hot for spring, fall is more about looser-fitting ripped jeans with a laid-back vibe. For trend followers who like a short-lived statement piece, Fish loves Cynthia Rowley’s black-and-white striped Rockstar Jeans ($298 at Cynthia Rowley, Lido Marina Village). “They may be a one-hit wonder this season, but are great for a semi-casual yacht party or date night,” she says. The ultra-baggy jeans by Rag & Bone were also big on Paris runways for fall 2021, but be warned: This look can swallow petite bodies, so avoid them if you’re on the less leggy side. (Check out Rag & Bone’s Miramar Jogger, $225, at Neiman Marcus, Fashion Island.) Flares are also seeing more volume, a la the 1970s, and are flattering to most figures, especially curvy gals, Christen says. (Try Paige’s Laurel Canyon Clean Front Ultra High-Rise Flare Jeans, $229, at Neiman Marcus, Fashion Island) Pair them with flat sandals, retro platforms or clogs, or ankle boots.
Top to Bottom
The wrong hem or pair of shoes can make or break a look, so it’s best to follow these rules: “If jeans are too long, they look a bit undone; too short, and you mess up the long, lean line you’re trying to create by wearing denim in the first place,” Christen says. With flares, shoes—“I recommend a heel,” she says—should be fully covered. (Remember this when you buy them, since they tend to shrink in the wash.) Straight jeans should fall right at or above the lower ankle, and not skim the foot. “This length is great because it pairs well with sandals, heels, boots and sneakers,” Christen adds. “Anything longer or shorter is limiting and can make you look out of proportion.” According to Fish, “Sneakers do not pair well with denim—period.” But if you’re a fan of this mix, opt for low-top styles like the plimsoll or a slip-on.
Generally, straight styles suit athletic and curvy figures, as well as rounder mid-sections, while boyfriend jeans accentuate slim figures. “Fit is everything,” says stylist Leslie Christen. “When buying new denim, be kind to yourself: Not everyone is the size off the rack, and there is no universal sizing in the U.S. You [might] be a size 6 in one brand but a size 10 in another. Try them all on and size up to tailor if necessary—alterations make clothing fit you perfectly—like your own couture.”
Add these must-have jeans to your fall wardrobe.