Not your mother’s pants: Thrifting the perfect pair of mom jeans

How to take part in this long-lasting denim trend

Thrifting can be a daunting task, but it's worth it.

Mom jeans: the elusive denim trend that’s captivated our Pinterest boards for years is still going strong. Even though mainstream fast-fashion brands have caught on and started manufacturing dupes of these high-waisted denim pants, nothing beats the feel and look of a thrifted pair of mom jeans, especially if you can find vintage (pre-1980s) denim.

Unfortunately, finding thrifted jeans involves thrift-shopping, which can be a daunting task. If you don’t know where to start, don’t fear: I’ve got all the tips you need to find your perfect match.

Before you go

When it comes to thrifting mom jeans, the most important measurement to know is your waist size. Grab a tape measure to see exactly which pant size to shop for. Start at the top of your hip bone, then bring the tape measure all the way around your body, at the same level as your belly button. Make sure it's not too tight—no holding your breath. The number you see when your stomach is relaxed is your waist size, and that will be the size range you need to keep an eye out for at the thrift store.

Wearing comfortable clothes to go thrifting is a must, because you’re going to be changing in and out of clothes multiple times. When it comes to shopping for mom jeans, wear a top that isn’t too loose or baggy so that you get an idea of what your jeans will look like in a finished outfit. My go-to thrifting outfit is a pair of leggings and a cropped tank top, so I can easily slip out of my clothes in the change room.

Let’s get thrifty

The men’s section, believe it or not, is the only place I look for high-waisted jeans. The cut and fit of most men’s jeans are usually perfect for a high-waisted look on women. The front fly is longer, and the jeans are tight around the hips and loose on the legs. However, most thrift stores only carry men’s sizes starting at 28 inches for waist size, so if you measure less than that, I recommend starting with the women’s section.

Despite my earlier recommendation to know your waist size, I still browse the sizes directly above and below mine, because each brand might size their products differently. Vintage jeans especially are prone to shifty sizes, because brands’ size labelling could have changed over time. You never know where you’ll discover the perfect fit.

The devil’s in the details

When it comes to the jeans themselves, there are certain characteristics you should look for to single out mom jeans. The length of the fly—essentially, the crotch area of the pants—is key. This measurement is from the bottom seam to the very top of the button fly. Generally, I consider a fly that’s longer than 10 inches to be high-waisted. Anything shorter than that isn’t worth trying on if you’re looking for a true high-waisted fit.

True mom jeans, and most vintage jeans, are far sturdier than most fast-fashion-produced pants. Vintage denim is almost exclusively made of 100 per cent cotton, whereas modern products usually contain two per cent spandex. This makes modern jeans stretchier, but also thinner and more prone to rips. That’s why vintage jeans have lasted long enough to still be wearable, as opposed to today’s flimsy finds. Feel the fabric of the jeans on the rack for thickness, or check the tags to find 100 per cent cotton pants. These ones will feel and look like proper mom jeans when you try them on.

While browsing through the aisles, keep an eye out for trustworthy denim brands. Everyone knows Levi’s has some killer vintage jeans, but other brands are just as reliable. Wrangler, Lee, Calvin Klein, and Dickies are as valuable to find, and sometimes a certain brand might fit your body type better than others. Don’t stick to one brand you think is trendy if that brand doesn’t suit you.

The changing room

Finally, even though it might fill you with a sense of dread, I recommend trying on every single pair of jeans that catches your eye. Mom jeans are fickle products, and the pair that looks perfect on the rack could fit you in all the wrong places. I sometimes go into the changing room with 20 pairs of jeans, and only end up fitting into one or two properly. Plus, trying on multiple pairs of jeans will let you get a better sense of which styles, cuts, and washes suit your personal style better. That means on your next thrifting trip, you’ll know what to look for.

With these tips in your back (jean) pocket, I promise that your next trip to Value Village will be a successful one. Sort through those racks, keep your eye on the prize, and stay hopeful. Your perfect pair of mom jeans is out there waiting for you.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.