The old me would write you an 800 word intro, at least, about my journey from devoted ripped-knee-jean-fan to my current mindset: NO RIPS. I would explain, at length, all the ways in which they used to do it for me, and then confuse matters by going on about how they still do, honestly, because I’m not anti-ripped jeans. (I still love those selvedge denim Levi’s, for instance.) But I did wake up one day and decide that it would be nice to have a few pairs that weren’t sliced to the point of feeling ocean breezes that start all the way down in Florida. It might be nice to have some jeans that weren’t immediately informal. You know how Milanese gentlemen always seem to look so dapper in their dark wash, straight leg jeans? I wanted to look like them. And all my hole-y jeans weren’t cutting it.

The problem is, or was, that I wasn’t sure I actually liked how jeans looked on me without holes at the knees. Knee holes have a magic way of cooling-up jeans that would otherwise appear awkward. They break up all the space or something. Like a well-placed ottoman.

I had a very specific vision in mind, so specific that I drew it out above. I wanted:

-A pretty stiff denim fabric, minimal stretch (but not so tight that it squeeze out my guts)
– Proper straight-down legs — not “skinny,” not “wide” — and NO BAGGY KNEES
– Length long enough to cover ankles and cowboy boots, but not so long that I step on the hem (may just have to tailor)
– No weird poofy part above my thighs near my crotch (I think this happens because I usually have to fit the jeans to my butt and thighs, not my waist — so there may not be a solve here beyond stretch, which I’m currently anti, but still.)
– No back gap, but this is tied to same issue in the parentheses above. I guess I can always tailor them, particularly because there’s a good chance I have to shorten these jeans anyway. I’m fine with that, sick of cutting them myself.
– A waist high-enough that it would cover my belly button, or sit just below it
– No squished-flat butt antics; must have good cheek-cupping properties — or extra room that appears deliberate and casual and cool, not like there’s a weird sagging situation and a bad fit
– No excess pinch-y fabric on the sides of my thighs, just next to the cheeks
– In terms of wash: I’m open, but I feel like I’m craving something in the darker denim spectrum
– Where price is concerned, I’m willing to spend $250 for a truly stupendous pair — and that pair would have to last me forever and ever, god help it.

I tried on at least 25 pairs of jeans, total. (Thank you to Elizabeth Tamkin for calling those samples in.) I found 10 really strong options that felt worthy of a list. In the end, I think I found my perfect pair, if you were wondering. Hence the shortened-intro “new me,” writing from a covered-knee perspective. Yet what would a journey be if I didn’t take you along for the rest of the wordy ride? Below, enjoy my denim-paved road trip journal entries I kept on my quest to find the best jeans without ripped knees.

(I am wearing my favorite tee in the entire world, Hanes x Karla crew, throughout.)

1. AG “The Rhett,” $225

Straight off the bat, these are excellent jeans. Almost exactly what I’m looking for: the waist is high, the length is perfect for my leg length (I’m 5’3″; if you click the linked title above, you’ll see they’re pretty cropped on the model), they’re straight and a good vintage-y wash. Normally I can’t stand forced whiskering but this effect is subtle.

They fit true to size and feel like jeans that would be comfy to sit in all day, even though that’s weirdly not a major concern of mine (my tolerance is high/I give myself a pants break when I go home). These give me hope and energy to continue.

2. Ayr “The Lil Dude,” $245

I love these jeans. These are cozy jeans, weekend jeans, period cramp jeans. These are jeans you put on because your body needs a hug. They look great with a plain white tee, but all I want to do is put on thick socks and a chunky sweater then take a big whiff of firewood scent, preferably authentic, although I’d settle on a candle.

At $245, these jeans are just about to sneeze on the denim budget I’ve laid out — but the quality is there, without a doubt, and as you can see, I’ve already dreamed up enough scenarios in these pants that I feel confident the cost per wear would be worth it. (I went one size down in these, but I’ve tried them on before at the store in a few other sizes, and thought they looked really cool with a slouchier effect, if you’re open to that.)

3. J.Crew Curvy Demi Boot Cut Jean, $128

These are too stretchy for what I’m looking for today, too long for my short legs, and a little more flared than bootcut. I included them because they were so, so flattering. If you’re on the hunt for jeans without holes — for a pair that will make you feel as elegant and put together as trousers — I highly recommend these. Just go in knowing they’re a bit long if you’re on the shorter end, and be prepared to tailor if so, or, save them for taller shoes.

They’re really comfy, too, have excellent butt cupping, and for what it’s worth, got a very enthusiastic thumbs up from my audience of one who had to endure this denim marathon.

4. Levi’s 501 Original Fit Jeans, $89.50

I don’t love these, but I like them a lot. If someone said to me, “Amelia, from now on, these are the only jeans you can ever wear again,” I’d say okay and then ask what’s for lunch, since that person seems kind of bossy but I’m all about someone else taking lunch decisions off my plate. I’ll eat anything except super fatty salami and I hate soup that doesn’t come in a bread bowl. Other than that, I’m easy.

These feel like the kind of jeans I’d be really happy to have in my closet. They wouldn’t be my favorites, but I’d probably end up wearing them more than my favorites because I’m a clothes-saver. I’m also a sinning denim-washer, so, it’s good for me just in general to own a pair I can get some grass stains on, then attack with OxiClean and not worry about it.

5. Madewell “The Perfect Vintage Jean: Comfort Stretch Edition,” $110

These are a solid option if you’re open to stretch, because they’re not so stretchy that they feel like leggings. They retain their straight shape and give some nice breathing room around the waist.

That said, you may want to size down. I stress the “may” because jean preferences are as personal as Netflix recommended options. (Shout out to that moment when your friend who watches exclusively smart documentaries and psychological thrillers comes over and Netflix basically reads her your diary like, “Amelia hates movies that give her nightmares, make her think too hard, require her to follow a plot, and require her to stay awake!”)

Speaking of personal, button flies are controversial but I’m all for them. Do with that information what you will.

6. Re/Done Originals “Stove Pipe” high-rise straight leg jeans, $250

Okay, $250, top of my budget — over it when you consider tax and shipping. Are they worth it? If you really want that authentic vintage look and can’t ever find vintage jeans in your size, and don’t mind a distressed pocket (because remember, originally, this was all about the polished look), then I give these two thumbs up for you to consider. They are flattering — which “vintage jeans” somehow never are on me, pretty comfortable, and I can picture them being really cool with dramatic fancy tops and heels.

(These fit me true to size, but if I were to buy them, I’d have to tailor them at the waist. I couldn’t go smaller in the legs.)

I keep thinking about it and I do wish those damn pockets weren’t distressed, but I’m not sure I’d red-flag them because of it. My thing with distressing is like, we all know it’s faux, but even so, how or why would pockets get that distressed. What does one put in there to pull it out so often? A hammer or something? Maybe I could be someone who gives off the appearance that she pulls things in and out of her pockets a lot, though. I really like them.

7. Re/Done Originals High Rise Stove Pipe, $250

These are the darker-wash and non-distressed fraternal twins of the jeans above. They technically meet all my requirements in terms of all that I listed above, so I kept them on this list, but they don’t have a ton of pizzaz. 

Do you need pizzaz-y jeans? Maybe not. But for $250, I’d have to feel some sort of bond. I didn’t feel that with these, but I sincerely appreciate all of their efforts and their remarkable ability to adhere to so many picky denim-related requirements.

8. Askk Denim “Boot Leg,” $175

I really like these jeans. The moment I put them on, I felt like I’ve owned them for a while. They were stiff but soft, if that makes sense (probably not) and the wash was great. A really good blue.

If you’re wondering why I’m standing like a little tea pot demonstrating where my handle is, then thinking to yourself, Oh! I never thought to do the teapot handle hand behind the waist, I always put it right on the waist!, then welcome to a little styling trick known as “pinching the extra fabric so that you can take a selfie where the jeans look like the fit.”

I’ve done this a few times above. With the Re/Done jeans, I definitely could not have gone smaller. I wouldn’t mind trying a size down with these, but I fear my thighs would feel like they’re being sat on more than normal. And see the puffy crotch thing here? That’s what drives me nuts, but again, I think it could be helped by keeping this size, and getting the waist tailored. Also, I don’t mind it in this wash.

9. Nobody Denim “Charlotte” High-Rise Straight-Leg, $230

These jeans were exceptionally, astoundingly high. The waist went ABOVE my belly button, which I haven’t seen since the days of disco and the fitness leggings I wore this morning. I went through a phase where no jeans were high enough. I wanted jeans as high-waisted as the ones Lori Singer’s character wears in Footloose. Man do I wish I had these then, back when I was throwing fits in dressing rooms.

I am happy I know about these now. They are perhaps a little higher-waist than I’d wear on a daily basis — they’d be part of a “look,” I think, and I’d have to be thoughtful about the shoes because of my own hang-ups with my personal waist-length to leg-length ratio (for example, on me, I think these would look weird with sneakers), but I also imagine an oversize white button-down tucked into them, with the legs pulled down over a pair of cowboy boots (kind of like I did for this round of Office Apropos, Day 2). I really like these. Actually, now I want them. More info than you ever needed? Great!

10.Wrangler Pre-Washed Wrangler Cowboy Cut Slim Fit Jean, $35

Of ALL the jeans I tried on (again, that would be about 25 pairs total, 10 of which you see here), these were, without a doubt, my absolute favorite. Wrangler Cowboy Cut. Thirty-five bucks. The perfect blue-jean blue.

Granted, this pair was too tight — I am sucking in so, so hard in this picture for the sake of my insides. The sizing is weird, so if you buy, I advise you actually measure yourself and follow their website’s sizing guidelines.

Other than that, the denim was perfectly starched. Exactly how I like a pair of jeans to feel. At the same time, I knew I’d be able to bend my legs and kick and stretch and maybe ride a horse if I needed to. I honestly can’t get over how much I love them. I want to wear them with blazers and turtlenecks and boots and heels. I want to let the world know that these are my new favorite jeans. So, here you go!

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