Hem length is one of the most important factors to consider when you’re buying a new pair of jeans. But how do you know where to find this info on the label? Familiarizing yourself with some common denim lingo will help you choose jeans that fit you perfectly every time—including the length.
Shopping for jeans usually means wading through a sea of denim washes, cuts, and labels that don’t always seem to mean what they appear to. Different brands sometimes call the same fit or length different things.
That’s why, to make things much easier, we’ve put together this buying guide that includes info on how lengths are labeled, who should wear them, and even a few recommendations. Hopefully, this will make your jeans shopping easier than ever!
What defines them: Deliberately short, typically cropped somewhere between the calf and ankle. Some brands use this term interchangeably with capri pants, which fall at the calf, or ankle jeans, which fall closer to the ankle. Generally, cropped jeans will be the shortest option available.
How to wear them: These typically look best on folks with narrower legs because they maintain the line without cutting it off oddly wherever the hem falls. Pair them with an equally tailored top for a more refined, upscale look, or a flowy, breezier blouse for a more casual look. Avoid wearing shoes with bold ankle straps, as this will create a shortening effect by breaking up your lower leg-to-foot line.
Who should wear them: These work for people who are neither especially tall nor short. If you’re very petite, the visual effect of cropped jeans might break off the line of your leg in an odd place and make you appear even shorter. If you’re especially tall, it might be difficult to find cropped jeans that aren’t overly short on you.
Shop the look: The Madewell High-Rise Skinny Crop Jeans feature super-stretchy, comfortable denim in a versatile medium wash. The hem hits a couple of inches above the ankle, with a slim, tapered leg that keeps a relatively sleek silhouette. Plus-size, petite, and tall variations are available as well.
You might also like the Gap Mid-Rise Girlfriend Jeans, which have a deliberately cuffed hem to create the cropped look. You can choose from among five different inseam lengths to customize these comfortable, medium-wash jeans for your particular body type and height.
The pre-rolled cuffs aren’t sewn in place either, so you can unroll them and just wear these as normal jeans when the weather cools.
What defines them: They’re exactly what they sound like: jeans that fall at, or barely above, the ankle. These often come in slimmer cuts, at least at the bottom of the legs, so as not to look out of proportion.
How to wear them: Ankle pants are often the trickiest to get right. “Ankle length” is different on everyone, so you’ll likely have to try on a few pairs to find the perfect fit. However, they’re incredibly versatile (You can dress them up or down.). Just keep in mind that these do tend to draw attention to your feet, so they’re perfect for showing off your favorite pair of super-cute sandals or shoes.
Who should wear them: These tend to look flattering on just about everyone. Again, though, you’ll have to try on a few pairs to find one that falls right at your ankle and fits nicely everywhere else.
Shop the look: The Lucky Brand Mid-Rise Ava Skinny Jeans combine several trends into one. They’re ankle-hemmed skinny jeans with a distressed finish. These stylish, light-wash jeans fall right at the ankle. You can choose from a few inseam options, so you’ll be covered no matter your height!
For a more unexpected look, try the J.Crew 9-inch High-Rise Toothpick Jeans. They feature the typical slim-leg style of many ankle jeans, with the trendy twist of a four-button, high-rise waist.
What defines them: “Classic” is a catch-all term for jeans of average length. It means that they’re intended to fall between your ankle and the floor. They come in a wide range of cuts and styles, but the legs will be full-length.
How to wear them: This depends more on the overall style of the jeans than the length. “Normal” or “classic” jeans usually aren’t labeled by length but by waist rise, leg width, cut, and more. As a result, they tend to have the most flexibility in terms of style. If you’re on the shorter side, you’ll most likely have to cuff these.
Who should wear them: Anyone—they’re called “classic” for a reason! A few pairs of normal-length jeans are a must for everyone’s wardrobe. If you’re tall, keep an eye out for jeans that have a slightly longer inseam. If you’re a bit shorter, be prepared to cuff or have them hemmed. No one wants their hems dragging the ground, as it can make you look out of proportion or sloppy.
Shop the look: It doesn’t get more classic than the AE Ne(x)t Level High-Waisted Skinny Kick Jean. The traditional boot cut, forgiving high-rise waist, and medium-dark wash make these jeans versatile enough for any look. The hem falls near the feet, with a “kick” for some extra interest and movement.
Levi’s 501 Original Fit Women’s Jeans are a fashion staple. These straight-leg jeans have a hem that hits your shoes, and they come in a variety of washes. They are, quite literally, the original blue jeans from which all others have sprung, and they’re still workin’ it nearly 150 years later!
What defines them: They’re designed specifically for those who’ve been blessed with height. Tall jeans have a longer inseam and leg length. Some jean styles might have a “tall” or “long” option, along with standard (and sometimes petite) lengths.
How to wear them: Any way you like! Just find a cut and wash that suits you and your style, and then pair them with your favorite shirt and accessories.
Who should wear them: Tall people, of course!
Shop the look: Tall jeans are typically a special size that’s offered rather than a unique style. So, look for jeans with longer inseam selections, like these Lucky Brand Mid-Rise Sweet Straight Jeans. With a comfortable, relaxed fit, a long hem, and inseams up to 34 inches, they’re the ideal versatile, dark-wash jean that you can wear any time.
Similarly, the Levi’s 314 Shaping Straight Women’s Jeans offer inseam lengths of up to 34 inches as well as standard and plus sizing. The slightly tapered style offers a slimmer, more fitted silhouette through the leg. However, they’re made of a comfortable, breathable stretch fabric for ultimate comfort and a smooth overall style.
When it comes to jeans shopping, the amount of options and labels can be overwhelming. Once you know exactly what you’re looking for, though, you’re far more likely to find what you want quickly.
New jeans aren’t cheap, so to keep yours in the best shape for as long as possible, make sure that you know how often you should wash them and with what.