It can take at least three hours of changing room trauma to buy a pair of jeans. But a host of new advice services promise to deliver the perfect fit - and fast. Lifestyle measures them up:
There is no garment more at the mercy of fashion: nothing that defines you as chic, chav or cheap more than the jeans you wear.
There is no other piece of clothing that induces so much stress when it comes to tracking down the ones that fit the fashion remit of the day, flatter your bum and make your legs look long and slim. And we're apparently prepared to go to great lengths to find the perfect pair.
According to a survey last year by Which? magazine, the average person spends twice as long shopping around for the right pair of jeans as they do choosing a current account - almost 40 per cent of those surveyed spent up to three hours choosing jeans.
And with a trendy new denim label launching almost every week, keeping track of what's hot and what's not is like trying to keep up with Kate Moss's love life. Skinny or straight? Bootcut or baggy? Grey or indigo? High-waist or hipster? Designer or High Street?
The truth, of course, is that it's a very personal choice: take into account your budget and your body shape and you'll narrow your options considerably. Jeans were originally created by Levi Strauss for the gold prospectors of the American Mid-West and not everyone wants to spend £200 on a garment many people consider to be 'workmanlike'. And if you really want the status of a Stella McCartney label (£250) or True Religion's Joey Big T jeans (£435), you will pay handsomely for the privilege.
In fact, the most expensive jeans in the world, designed by Italian Giovanni Cavagna, are £29,000 and are made from a specially-engineered denim woven with a thread drawn from pure platinum. But for those who don't boast the budget of a footballer's wife, Primark is shifting squillions of pairs of its £12 jeans to savvy fashionistas, while Hennes denim range is walking out of stores at £29.99 a pop.
Cheap Monday's narrow-leg £40 jeans are so elusive they are changing hands for £70 a pair on eBay, while hundreds of Topshop's Baxter jeans (£39) are sold every day. So insatiable is our search for the perfect pair of jeans that savvy retailers have come up with tailor-made services which aim to take the pain out of the process. After all, wouldn't it be better if it took 30 minutes, not three hours?
There are personal shoppers at Liberty, and Selfridges offers a state-of-the-art body-scanning machine which will apparently create the ultimate personalised jeans for your figure. And there's even a website dedicated to the hunt for the perfect jeans - simply give your measurements, body type and budget and www.ilovejeans.com will suggest the best brand for you.
Sounds too good to be true? That's what we thought. So Lifestyle sent five desperate denim hunters to track down their perfect match using some of the services on offer:
ONLINE AGONY AUNT
WHERE: www.ilovejeans.com. Free service to find your ideal brand. Camilla says:
THE ISSUE: I'm addicted to 7 For All Mankind jeans as they fit me and are comfortable, which is the most important thing given that I wear jeans almost every day. But as a denim addict, I'm always looking for a new label or style.
Being 5ft 4in, I often find jeans are too long and I've had many a pair that shrank in the wash, which then made them too short to wear with heels. I also don't like low-cut jeans that show too much 'muffin top' but I find high-waisters unflattering on the bottom.
THE EXPERIENCE: The website is easy to use. You can find your 'bodytype' in just five questions and the guide will then tell you which labels are best for your figure. You can then go into 'Jeans Finder' where you determine your price range and size details. And, if you're still stuck, then the 'Ask the Stylist' section allows you to do just that or read solutions to other frequently asked questions.
Once you've done the initial 'Bodytype' test there is a lot of information to sift through before you get to what you want to know - which brand! If you've got time to research all the labels suggested, it is extremely informative.
RESULT: I tried two labels recommended for my body shape. One was very low-cut which, having been told I needed a hipster, I thought would be flattering but wasn't - muffin top in view.
The other label, Paige, had a higher waistband which felt more comfortable and looked better. They were a perfect fit; the length was just right for heels. My only complaint was that I couldn't buy them directly from the website. I then needed to find a stockist and go out to buy them.
Paige Premium Denim £140, from Harvey Nichols 020 7235 5000.
THE PERSONAL SHOPPER
WHERE: Liberty's department store, Regent Street, London W1, 020 7734 1234. Service free. Kitty says:
THE ISSUE: At only 5ft (and half an inch) my quest for the perfect jeans has been endless and unfulfilling. As a teenager, while my friends were pouring their fledgling curves into Miss Sixty denim I could wear only Tammy Girl - for aged ten.
I am now a curvy size 8/10 but my bottom seems to either get swallowed or flattened in all my jeans and, with legs this short, nothing fits properly.
To date, I have about 15 pairs of jeans languishing in my bottom drawer. Juicy and Diesel look odd because I had to lop 5in off the bottom, Topshop petites are too short for high heels. I love skinnies but just can't find any to suit.
THE EXPERIENCE: I was seen by chief expert Maxine De Burnay who appraised my body shape in a nanosecond and rushed off to collect armfuls of jeans.
They stock six different brands, but taking into account the different fits (up to eight per brand) and washes, they have hundreds of pairs to choose from.
She suggested the Superfines in light grey and although I had told her I was a size 27, she came back with a size 25. They fitted perfectly. Even the length was OK as these are supposed to ruche over the heels and be worn with high shoes.
The high waist held in my tummy and my bottom looked pert. I still wasn't utterly convinced - being used to trying on at least 50 pairs of jeans before finding a fit - so I tried on a few more before eventually settling on the first one.
THE RESULT: I loved my new jeans, but what would my flatmate and boyfriend think? The boyfriend likes them - anything clinging is OK by him. The flatmate is going to see Maxine at Liberty as soon as possible.
Superfine jeans, £130.
THE DENIM OBSESSIVE
WHERE: Start boutique, Rivington Street, Hoxton, East London EC2, www.start-london.com, 020 7729 3334. Service free. Deborah says:
THE ISSUE: With legs that aren't quite long enough, hips that I would love to shave an inch from and a bottom that just about squeezes into size 29 jeans (I sometimes need a wire coat hanger to push in the pockets as my fingers won't fit), my hunt revolves around finding jeans that will make me look thinner.
Since a stylist told me all skinny jeans make me look wider, I've slunk back to boring bootcuts. Will I ever be in fashion again?
THE EXPERIENCE: Enter the Start boutique and the first thing I see is the daunting shelves of folded denim at the back - eight brands, and dozens of washes and fits. But the staff, who look amazing in even the most difficult-to-wear styles, are so passionate that fears are allayed.
Apparently, I can wear skinny, but should go for a style that isn't quite so fitted on the ankle to give balance. They recommended I fold the hem up to the knee (the cut begins below the knee) to gauge and compare widths.
The store aims to find your perfect fit in three tries or under. I am dispatched to the changing room with straight jeans from Acne and Ernest Sewn skinnies - plus, seduced by the pretty pockets, a pair of Grass jeans I chose myself.
THE RESULT: The Ernest Sewn Harlan cigarette jeans in dark blue were the best. The subtle darker shading down the inner and outer thigh is a slimming device that doesn't resort to aggressive fades.
The back pockets have curved white stitching to give the illusion of a perter and smaller bottom, and the back is cut higher than the front, so despite the low-waisted feel, the jeans cover the dreaded muffin top and stop knickers appearing above the waistband. My legs looked 4in longer, and the same amount thinner.
Ernest Sewn Harlan cigarette jeans, £179.50.
THE BODY IMAGING SERVICE
WHERE: Bodymetrics at Selfridges, London, www.bodymetrics.com, 0870 086 9059, Anabel says:
THE ISSUE: I dream of being able to sling on a pair of jeans and a top and look casually elegant. But I have never found a pair that I like.
I have ten or more styles hanging in my cupboard and each one makes me feel body-insecure in a different way. I am a jeans size 27/28, but have a small waist and a chunky bottom and thighs - in other words, the classic pear shape, so either the leg is too tight or the waistband too loose. I want a pair of jeans that fit, but also look hip enough to see me through from day to night.
THE EXPERIENCE: Launched in 2004, Bodymetrics scans your body electronically to measure its exact contours. It then claims you can create your own pair of designer jeans, tailored to fit, with flattering pockets and seams.
Standing inside the high-tech imaging pod, wearing only my bra and knickers, and with legs and arms stretched out to the sides, I felt like an extra on Blake's Seven. But those rays of light took more than 200 body measurements in just over five seconds.
Following the scan, I was presented with an array of denim colours and washes. Would I like skinny fit, bootleg or straight? Low, medium or high-rise on the waist? Designer (cult LA brand Serfontaine and Tristan Webber jeans can both be made to measure) or own brand?
I was further measured by hand to find out leg length and waist to crotch length which the machine can't judge. Your jeans will be personalised with your name, and measurements are stored on the computer if you want to re-order.
THE RESULT: A few weeks later a beautifully packaged pair of jeans arrived in the post. I had plumped for own-brand in a dark denim with a low-rise waist and straight cut. They fitted perfectly. Even though the waistband was low-rise, these clung snugly on the hips which meant I didn't show half my bottom every time I leaned over.
The dark wash - though not my favourite - was slimming, the length just as I wanted and the carefully placed pockets did make my bottom look more pert. My embroidered initials on the front pocket felt a bit Eighties Dallas, so I wouldn't call these cutting-edge, but, apart from that, I was nicely surprised.
Bodymetrics jeans, £250 including scan, fitting and delivery.
THE HIGH STREET
WHERE: Gap Style Expert in 27 stores across the UK. To find your nearest store, call 0800 427 789. Lucy says:
THE ISSUE: When I'm not at work, I live in jeans. I probably have about 15 pairs and I wear them all. Some are a lot more casual than others, but with all of them, smart or casual, I will only wear wedges or heels.
I have never been able to find a pair I can wear with flats - the shoe of the season. I have rather short legs, 30in, and jeans tend to accentuate this.
THE EXPERIENCE: Gap offers a Style Expert service, a one-to-one personal consultation - like your best friend but even better. They're up on the latest fashion trends and will give you advice on what's hot, what's not and, more importantly, what works best for you.
Gap is known for its vast and rather daunting selection of denim - around 12 styles which then come in different washes and fits. But the expert is on hand to help find your favourite denim fit with ease.
Before your appointment, you ring ahead to let them know your size, as well as any preferences on the type of jean (skinny, bootcut, straight, etc) you like and what you want the jeans to do for you.
When I arrived, I was whisked off to the VIP fitting room, where I was faced with a large rail of jeans, all in my size!
We patiently worked through each style and colour - my expert gave honest advice and top tips as to how I should wear each pair.
Skinny jeans were a big no-no, and she wasn't afraid to say so - she was honest and brutal, I loved it. After 15 minutes I struck gold. From the beginning she thought Long and Lean in ankle length would be best for what I was after. And she was right.
THE RESULT: The fit was great, they hugged my waist in a comfortable, non-muffin-top way and the length was perfect - just skimming the ground, so would work perfectly with flats. And despite being ankle-length, the style and dark denim wash made my legs appear longer, without having to wear tower-high heels.
Gap Long and Lean, £39.50 ? bargain!