growing a minimalist wardrobe: blue jeans.

September 1, 2015

growing a minimalist wardrobe: blue jeans | reading my tea leaves September seems like the right time to talk about blue jeans.

My jeans absoutely, positively do the hardest work in my closet. When we’re not experiencing extreme temperatures, I wear them four or five—even seven—days a week. Usually I wear the same pair, day in and day out.

For me, I find it most helpful to have a pair or two of well-fitting skinny jeans in my dresser drawer. I prefer a mid-rise waist that’s not so high that I feel like I can’t breathe, but that’s high enough to complement a slightly cropped or tucked-in shirt. For length, I tend to opt for something that hits just around my ankle.

Writing about clothes always comes down to a matter of taste. And when it comes to finding a favorite pair of jeans, it’s clear that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.  These days, my go-to is a pair of skinny jeans with enough stretch that I don’t spend the day hyperventilating or feeling like my thighs might soon go numb. Someone else might be perfectly at home poured into in a pair of stretch-free vintage Levi’s. And surely there are others for whom easy, breezy, flares or broken-in boyfriend jeans are their preferred look.
growing a minimalist wardrobe: blue jeans | reading my tea leaves Particulars aside, I think there’s commonality to be found in the satisfaction of finding a truly great pair of blue jeans. When I find a favorite pair, I tend to wear them until they can’t be worn anymore. I had a pair of jeans in high school that I wore so thoroughly that the entire bottom fell out and had to be patched. When the patches also gave up, I resorted to wearing them with a pair of black spandex underneath.

I think the most helpful approach to jean shopping is to find out what generally works for me, and to put my energy toward finding something similar. If I cast too wide a net, I finish with a pile of jeans that are only so-so.

I appreciate that buying premium denim isn’t a choice that every can—or wants to—make. But I have found a distinct difference in quality, fit, and staying power of premium denim. And besides all of that, the shopping experience itself has often been more pleasant. Premium denim is usually sold according to waist size and not an obscure number system that can fall easy victim to vanity sizing and the whims of individual brands.
growing a minimalist wardrobe: blue jeans | reading my tea leaves Most helpful, I’ve found that many of the premium denim brands offer consistent fit and quality. And the consistency means being able to search for discounted pairs on Ebay or in thrift stores and actually having success.

As always, I try to opt for jeans that have been made with workers and the environment in mind. I do my best to take good care of my jeans so that they last as long possible. There’s a lot of debate about how to best care for jeans. I typically opt for the wash infrequently/inside out/in cold water/hang dry approach and save a few pairs that got stretched beyond repair in pregnancy, I’ve had most of my jeans for years (and years, and years.)
growing a minimalist wardrobe: blue jeans | reading my tea leaves Here are a few favorites and a few new-to-me folks who look like they’re doing things right:

J. Brand: I’ve been lucky to snag a few pairs of J. Brand jeans on deep discount over the years. Their 811 Skinny Stretch Jeans are my personal favorite, but I also have a pair of looser, less stretchy, selvage denim jeans of theirs (not sure what style!) that I really loved. Made in the USA.

Frame Denim: Their Le Skinny de Jeanne is the latest clothing purchase I’ve made (pictured!). I turned two pairs of jeans into shorts this summer when I reconciled with the fact that they just weren’t going to unstretch post-pregnancy, and these have felt like a solid, hardworking replacement. Made in the USA.

Paige Denim: I found a black pair of these on a whim during a frantic hunt for wedding-appropriate shoes at a discount store a few years ago and have loved them. I think the ones that I have are the Transcend Verdugo Ultra Skinny Jeans (or similar). (I’m wearing them here and here.) Made in the USA.

Imogene and Willie: I’ve never tried on a pair of these jeans, but I really admire their small-scale, their use of selvage denim, and the all-around attention to detail that the brand has committed itself to. If I’m ever in Nashville, I’d love to try on the Imogene Indigo for size. (Also available on Zady.) Made in the USA.

DSTLD Jeans: This company touts its high standards and relative low cost. I can’t vouch for the quality, but the price point is a little easier to swallow than some of the other jeans on this list. Made in the USA.

Good Society: These guys pride themselves on making carbon-neutral jeans from organic cotton. Their women’s line looks promising, but it only appears to be available overseas. On my radar! Made in Italy. Organic Cotton.

Nudie Jeans Co.: For an organic option, I’m intrigued by this company. The jeans are marketed as unisex but the website only uses male models, so I’m not positive what the fit might be like. Organic cotton. Check out their production guide.

Industry of all Nations: Doesn’t look like these guys have a womens’ line yet, but their Clean Jeans are laudable sounding and cute too. Made in the USA. Organic Cotton.

In case you’re curious, here’s the 411 on selvage (AKA selvedge) denim. And here’s a nice little history of denim. If you have jeans that it’s time to reliquinsh, check out Blue Jeans Go Green. They turn blue jeans into housing insulation for communities in need.

If you’re hoping to round out your outfit, here’s a roundup of t-shirts and another on undies.

The rest of the minimalist wardrobe posts are right HERE.

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  • Reply Hanna September 1, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    I'm so glad you mention Nudie, it's a swedish brand, and they make really great jeans. I bought a pair of Tight Long John's six years ago and they are the only pair I've used ever since. They are worn beyond repair now, but I will buy a new pair after giving birth (pregnant at the moment). For some of their fits they actually use both male and female models (see Tight Long John black or Skinny Lin dry steel). I have also had a pair of High Kai and my mother recently bought a pair of Grim Tim, so they are really unisex. Most of them are also organic cotton, and I like that you can get your jeans mended in their stores. If you live far away you can order a mending kit instead. If they are broken beyond repair you get a discount when buying a new pair if you return the old ones to store so that the fabric can be recycled.

    • Reply admin September 1, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      So glad to hear you love them! They sound terrific!

    • Reply Monika March 2, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      Hi Hanna. I’m really interested in purchasing the nudie jeans but a little nervous about sizing since I can’t try on and shipping can get pricey for returns. Do you find that they fit true to size? I’m 5’7″ 125 lbs and in between size 27-28. Would you recommend sizing up or down? They have the virtual fit option so I’ll use that as a guide as well. I also like the look of the grim trim. Is your mom happy with them? Thanks in advance.
      Thanks for this post Erin – your whole minimalist wardrobe series has got me thinking and changing my practices. Clothes are my vice and I tend to be an impulsive buyer but your advice has helped me to slow down, get back to basics and consider the environment and humanity in my purchases . Thank you thank you!

  • Reply Kristyn | Laite Jewelry September 1, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Yes!!! I have the hardest time finding good jeans that have stretch in them but still hold their shape (it's the worst when you end up with bunchy knees and bottoms). I've been shopping on Rodale's lately and I came across a few pairs of organic cotton jeans from Eileen Fisher, made in the USA. Perhaps worth a look?

  • Reply Kate Harvey September 1, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    I have those black Paige jeans! (But in extra long.) My sister-in-law got them at TJMaxx but they were too long on her so she passed them on to me, which is totally awesome, especially when I looked up the price. They look so chic on you!

  • Reply Steph September 1, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Yoga jeans (produced by Second Clothing) are really great, comfortable jeans with lots of stretch that somehow never get baggy/stretched out the way other jeans with stretch seem to. They look fanatic, fit really well, and are made in Canada.

  • Reply Emily C September 1, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    If you're ever up in Montreal, I recommend checking out Jeans Jeans Jeans – it's a lot of fun! It's pretty much a warehouse full of jeans and extremely helpful and knowledgeable staff who help you find exactly the jeans you are looking for, and they hem their pants on site in 10 minutes. I've had some great jeans from there.

    Any advice on where to find good maternity jeans?

  • Reply Beth September 1, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    I also wear Nudies, and have for years. My first pair lasted several years across three continents. They age so well and form to your shape if you don't wash them. So great for all bodies!

  • Reply Sarah Zappala September 1, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Erin, I love this series and really your entire blog. I am interested to hear if you have any thoughts on maintaining a minimalist wardrobe for a woman's fluctuating body type. I had a baby in January and I still do not fit into my old jeans (or skirts.. or dresses.. or.. ). Maybe my hips are permanently wider. Would you donate everything and start from scratch? Do I hold onto the hope that my failing attempts to finally drop the last of the baby weight will eventually succeed? I feel like I am surrounded by clothing that I love which won't fit, while wearing only a few items that I now resent. 🙁

    • Reply admin September 1, 2015 at 2:34 pm

      You know, I think you just have to do your best and be gentle with yourself. I wore a lot of a single black jersey dress last summer so that I wouldn't have to worry about fitting back into anything. And I bought another new dress that I knew would fit consistently regardless of hips or thighs. This summer when my weight swung in the other direction, I made cutoffs and called it a day! I don't think there's a perfect solution, just little attempts to make things work the best you can.

    • Reply emily September 1, 2015 at 3:57 pm

      That is such a great answer. I kept the clothes I really love in a large, natural material garment bag from Container Store (it lives at my in laws :)) in case things return to what they once were. Then I bought a minimalist wardrobe in the size I've been for a few months. Don't subsist on a couple of crappy but "big enough" clothes – it's too depressing! There is no reason why you shouldn't feel beautiful and worth well fitting clothes in your current size (it's the same hardworking, remarkable body, after all). I bought a couple good jeans, a white tee, a couple sweaters, a skirt, and a few other bits and pieces to make it all work.

    • Reply Anonymous September 1, 2015 at 10:06 pm

      Weight fluctuations can be so difficult to dress around! As Erin said, be gentle on yourself. I'm not a mother, but I have dealt with big weight fluctuations due health problems, and my advice would be to purchase a few items that make you feel good in your current size. You deserve to feel good no matter what your size is! Also, as mentioned in the above comments, perhaps look for some clothing that makes you feel great no matter your size. For instance, I invested in a few flowy dresses that included sashes/belts from Madewell – they have enough give and drape that I can wear them when my weight is up or down while still being flattering and making me feel great.

  • Reply Christine Amorose September 1, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Yes! I have one pair of blue skinny jeans and one pair of black skinny jeans, and that is ALL I need. After two seasons of wearing them almost every day, I basically wear them into the ground–but then I get rid of one and replace it and it's perfect. Currently obsessed with AG mid-rise skinny jeans–but maybe I'll branch out next time I need to replace!

  • Reply Anonymous September 1, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Glad to see this list! Blue jeans are such an iconic staple. Still searching for my perfect pair, but thought you might be interested in this revisionist approach by a non-profit organization called Fibershed:
    A small batch of organic cotton grown in Northern California was dyed with locally grown indigo, then woven and cut & sewn right in San Francisco. There's a celebratory event and fashion show October 3rd, in case you'll be on the West Coast!

    • Reply admin September 1, 2015 at 2:34 pm

      Sounds wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Reply aeonium September 1, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Hi! Just want to mention I picked up a pair of Industry Standard Margot mid rise after seeing them mentioned in the comments of an earlier post and I have been enjoying them. Time will tell how they hold up, but I can wear them a week straight without them falling off by the end. Made in The US.

    • Reply admin September 1, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      Oh, awesome! Yes, another company I've been meaning to try!

  • Reply Archana September 1, 2015 at 3:31 pm


    I am reading a book called : Fugitive Denim. A story of denim, the factories, the production, the impact. Its a great book to read if you get a chance ….

    I own 4 pairs : light blue(citizens), army green(Rag and bone), ash(madewell) and black( citizens ). Such a pleasure ! All of them.

  • Reply Jen September 1, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    How do the Frame's fit you? I'd be curious to know how tall you are…I love ankle length jeans but I'm fairly petite and struggle to find ones that work!

    • Reply admin September 1, 2015 at 4:24 pm

      I've got many a pair of jeans hemmed, but these ones hit at the ankle without hemming. For reference, I'm 5'5", though I'm not sure how much of that is legs 😉

  • Reply Jessica September 1, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Even though they work on waist measurement, companies still vanity size. I recently bought a pair of Paige denim from ThredUp in the same size as the Page denim I am currently sitting in, but because they were a few years older, they were at least an inch smaller. Angry face.

    • Reply admin September 1, 2015 at 4:35 pm

      Oy. So disappointing!

    • Reply Jessica September 2, 2015 at 12:01 am

      They were so. cute. Probably would have fit you 😉

  • Reply Lillian September 1, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    You should add Raleigh Denim to the list of brands to try!

    • Reply Jessica September 2, 2015 at 12:01 am

      ooooh I love Raleigh Denim!

  • Reply Sarah September 1, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Thanks for posting so many Made in America brands! I try to keep my purchases of RTW clothing to a minimum but when I do, I like to buy American or with a brand that I can trust like Everlane. I'm excited to check these brands out because I wear my jeans the way you do. Buying something that will last a long time is so important to me.

  • Reply paula September 2, 2015 at 11:22 am

    I'm considering patagonia denim for my next purchase:

    organic cotton, fair trade, $99. wow!

  • Reply Anonymous September 10, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    nudie are great!
    going into summer here. every summer i freak out–too hot for jeans–what to wear????? help!!!!!

  • Reply Bragan December 31, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Hello Erin!

    I just found your blog, and I am in love! I was wondering what your jean recommendations are for petite girls. I am 4’11, and I have yet to find ‘petite’ jeans that are the perfect length for me. I have heard of short women buying cropped skinny jeans, which fit them like a regular pair would, but I prefer flare jeans on my body type. Do you think cropped flare jeans would fit properly?

    Thank you,

  • Reply Taylor January 25, 2016 at 11:50 am

    Is this the wash you have pictured here? Your link looks a lot darker.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 25, 2016 at 11:55 am

      Nope! My link is the right one. I’ve worn these many times so they’ve lightened a bit, but they’re still quite dark.

  • Reply Elizabeth in Paris May 6, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Dear Erin, As I am currently living in Paris, I thought it would be fun to try the Good Society jeans! My first order mysteriously underwent a switch of name and tracking number, and was returned. It took several phone calls to DHL, DHL Express and Chronopost (all in French – nerves!) to find out what happened. But, I persevered and ordered the same jeans a second time. They arrived (hurray!), but didn’t fit. At all! My Australian friend said, “Oh, bum!”, and I said, “Yes. My bum was the problem!” These jeans, while not suited for my body, felt exquisite! These would have been my extra-special comfy jeans – the cotton is very smooth and just lovely. Sadly, not for me.

  • Reply gillian November 19, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    Hi Erin! I’ve loved your Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe series since you began it. I came back to this post as I’ve been trying to find the perfect, wear-everywhere pair of jeans: the right shade of indigo, skinny but not too skinny (not “jeggings” as they say), good enough quality to warrant wearing for years. I wondered about your Le Skinny de Jeannes. They look perfect! Would you mind answering a couple questions? Are they true to size (i.e. if the size is 28, does the waistband actually MEASURE 28)? How do they fit/hold up otherwise? Thanks a ton! Keep up the great work!

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