cute androgynous person wearing jeans and a puffer jacket
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How to Shop for Jeans as a Non-Binary Person

Tired: "men's" and "women's" jeans. Wired: factoring in the different cuts and wearing whatever the hell feels good (and looks good).
March 1, 2021, 3:40pm

I know, I know. After the year 2020, we’re all wearing a lot of sweatpants! And I get it: Shopping for jeans can be a terribly gendered experience. I hear you, fellow gremlins and gentlethems, asking why should I wear jeans ever again?

Jeans are workwear, my friend, and in light of that, I’d like to answer your question with another question: What’s more work than breaking the crushing hold of the gender binary with one’s very existence, on the daily? 

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Jeans elude gender definition. Whether you prefer ones that hug or hang from your hips, they come in a multitude of configurations. Dress them femme with a corset and pearls, or masc with a flannel and a beanie—no matter what you’re assigned at birth, a pair of jeans is an essential base layer for all kinds of gender fuckery.

Quick history lesson: The word "denim" comes from “serge de Nîmes,” which translates literally to “cloth from Nîmes,” the city in France where it was first produced. The weavers who created the sturdy blend of white and indigo cotton that we know and love today were themselves trying to re-create a cotton corduroy out of Genoa, Italy which was called jeane. And, like many things born of a bastardized European heritage and the desire to make a buck, jeans are an all-American invention. They were originally created by California tailor Jacob David and patented with wholesaler Levi Strauss in May of 1873 (she’s a Taurus!) under the adorably queer moniker “waist overalls”.

These days, the denim that makes up your jeans probably includes not just cotton, but some small percentage of spandex, which increases the stretch a whole bunch. And on the subject of things any intrepid denim buyer should know: 

The Difference Between “Men’s” and “Women’s” Jeans

Learn the trappings of the binary. Men’s jeans tend to have larger pockets, longer inseams, and an extra inch or two in the crotch, and are often sized in accurate-ish waist and length measurements. Ladies’ jeans come in a wider variety of cuts, typically feature softer fabrics, and are sized using a mix of utter nonsense and basic devilry (more on this in a second). Also, men’s pants button on the right, and ladies button on the left, for whatever reason.

All Jeans Are for Everyone

Take your measurements. Sizes don’t always correlate with waist measurements, even when they seem like they’re supposed to. And don’t get me started on the size 0 standard situation, which gets manipulated deliberately to make people feel bad so they make impulsive shopping choices. Add in the fact that those sizes rarely translate between different labels, and it’s a complete nightmare. Do yourself a favor: get a tape measure and your chosen brand’s size chart, and find a pair of jeans that actually fits.

Befriend your tailor. Every body is a different shape; instead of changing yourself to fit a manufacturer, change the pants to fit you. Just keep in mind that while a tailor can easily take in a pair of jeans that are too large, they can’t really help with ones that are too small. 

Destroy the binary in your heart. As you well know, my gender non-conforming friend, you are the only person who gets to say what’s in your pants. That applies to the pants themselves, too! We all have an inner critic that says “you don’t look ___ enough in those jeans” and I am here to remind you that voice is a liar. You know when you look good? When you feel good, baybee! Gender is made up, so wear whatever brings you joy.

As for jeans that bring me (a fellow non-binary person) joy, here are a few contenders:

Levi’s 501 Original Fit Jeans

It’s not just the name—this classic fit is iconic and available in sizes 28-44 online. Also, considering the fact that they’ve been in production for almost a century and a half, odds are that with some patience you could find a pair at your local thrift store.

Levi’s 501 Original Fit Jeans, $49.99 ($59.50) at Levi’s.

Everlane Utility Barrel Pant

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No wardrobe is complete without a pair of black jeans, and with a high rise, wide leg, and cool crop, these are so much better than anything you wore as an emo teen. Wear with a black turtleneck and a cropped jacket and live out your art-kid fantasy. Available in sizes 00-16.

Everlane Utility Barrel Pant, $75 at Everlane.

Big Bud Press Work Pants

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The fact that these aren’t technically called "jeans" shouldn’t matter to someone who knows that language purity is one of the ways the gender binary perpetuates itself. Made of durable 100-percent cotton twill with a comfy, retro 70s fit, they’re functionally as versatile as your favorite pair of jeans. Throw in more than a dozen colors to choose from, and suddenly they’re a lot more exciting. Plus, they come in gloriously ungendered sizes XXS-5XL and are made entirely in LA—what’s not to love?

Big Bud Press Work Pants, $85 at Big Bud Press

Naked & Famous Weird Guy Recycled Selvedge

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Selvedge denim is often considered to be the highest quality denim because it’s made with a vintage shuttle-loom process that produces an especially durable fabric. Naked & Famous makes theirs by recycling old jeans—shredding them and re-spinning that material into fresh yarn—which makes them eco-friendly, as well as handmade and beautifully detailed. The stone blue is light and springy, and the Weird Guy fit is a classic mid-rise, straight leg, with just the slightest taper. Available in sizes 28-40.

Naked & Famous Weird Guy Recycled Selvedge Jeans, $177 at Garmentory; also available at Stuarts and Nordstrom.

BDG High-Waisted Skate Jean

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Tony who?? You better work your early-aughts pro-skater aspirations in these high-waisted cargo pants. You can femme them up with a crop top, or go full teenage boy with an oversize band shirt—either way you’ll be the cutest queer at the half-pipe. Sizes 24-34.

BDG High-Waisted Skate Jean, $69 at Urban Outfitters.

Gap Mid-Rise Girlfriend Jean

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Are you the kind of queer who can’t sit in a chair properly? You’ll love that these jeans are flattering, flexible, and fitted through the ass, with a mid-rise that keeps you covered no matter how strangely you’re sitting on the floor. Plus, the light wash and subtle distressed detailing on this pair—available in sizes 24-35—are perfect for spring.

Gap Mid-Rise Girlfriend Jean, $69.95 at Gap.

Wildfang Essential Workwear Pants

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Again, we’re feeling the spirit of these pants, which don’t identify as jeans and that’s cool. Also cool: the contrasting stitching, knee panels, and five real pockets. Style with Timbs and a beanie that doesn’t cover your ears for that essential end-of-winter-but-hopeful-about-spring Brooklyn look. Available in sizes XS-XXL.

Wildfang Essential Workwear Pants, $118 at Wildfang.

There you have it, folks: jeans for every body. Go forth, play with workwear, and live your most euphoric gender!


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