How to Shop for Jeans As a Gift

Posted November 21, 2007 2:45 p.m. EST
Updated November 22, 2007 6:01 p.m. EST

— Wide legs. Skinny legs. High-waisted. Not high-waisted.

If you want to buy denim for your daughter - or anyone else in your life - the range of popular styles this holiday season can leave even the fashion-savvy hard-pressed to pick out the right look. The flip side: You are just about assured of finding something that looks good on anyone.

That's why some retailers are offering more personalized service in the form of "jeans experts" to help customers make the most appropriate purchases.

"The rules for denim have really changed over the past few seasons," said National Jeans Co.'s online denim expert, Carly Lundy. "Now, no matter your figure, your size, your height, your weight, you can always find a fit."

Denim experts say clean, dark washes are popular for a fancier look, while casual styles range from worn and tattered to classic bootleg or straight-leg cuts. Two of the hottest women's styles are at opposite ends of the spectrum: wide-leg and skinny-leg.

Taller, thinner women are reaching for the tight styles, while those with an athletic or stockier build might prefer higher-rise, wide-leg cuts.

"If you're a mom and you're clueless about what kind of jeans to buy for your daughter," said Janna Meyrowitz, a National Jeans representative, "at least you can say 'Well, she's tall.'"

Shoppers should be prepared to answer questions about whether the recipient's jeans typically gape at the waist or cause a "muffintop" above the waistline; whether she has small, average or prominent hips and thighs; what features she'd like to accentuate; and whether she wears flat shoes or heels to determine pant-leg length. has an eight-question survey to help shoppers find the "perfect jeans in three minutes." Site visitors shouldn't be shy about disclosing information about their "saddle bags" or "stick legs" and need to determine whether they'd like the jeans to make their rear-end look "booty-licious" or make wider legs look "long and lean."

At Levi Strauss & Co., the company has phased out its glass "body scan" booths, introduced in 2005, whose technology traced a customer's body and suggested sizes and styles. Instead, Levi's is relying on experts on the floor who can drive sales by guiding customers to the right style, as is National Jeans Co.

And long-limbed ladies are not the only ones donning skinny pants. Levi's also expects skinny jeans to sell for men seeking a "really progressive" look, according to Loreen Zakem, president of the Levi's brand U.S. wholesale business. At the same time, Zakem expects Levi's "quintessential" 501s, along with baggy, straight-leg and boot-cut pants, to maintain their core selling positions.

Scoop, a trendy chain of boutiques, has seen an uptick in high-end men's denim, particularly clean, dark washes with straight legs, said Stephen Biebel, assistant manager of a Manhattan location.

"They're reaching for more fashion pieces, like (Diesel's) Denim Gallery and Rag & Bone," Biebel reported. "They're no longer just buying Levi's core line."

Customers are also driven by what their favorite stars are wearing. When Lundy noticed that pop star Jessica Simpson wore William Rast's "Savoy Bootcut" jeans on several occasions, she sent an e-mail out to customers. That drove sales of the style up 400 percent, and sales of the brand - with prices from $230 to $245 a pair - up 75 percent.

While shoppers may be more willing to spend a few hundred dollars on a pair of jeans, they're not buying as many, according to said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at NPD Group. Overall jeans sales have risen just 1.2 percent so far this year, compared with 7.8 percent last year.

The retail industry has been in a funk due to a drawback in consumer spending and unseasonable weather, but the slowdown in jeans sales can also be attributed to a change in behavior. Customers now "reach for that one special pair" instead of stocking up, Cohen said.

"Clearly a more discriminating purchase is being made," Cohen said. "It's not about the price anymore, it's not about sticker shock. It's about the look."