This post was originally composed for my personal site, Closettour.
I wrote a brief history of blue jeans, "De Nimes," for the February fashion issue of Vice, and while it's chock-full of fun historical facts — like Vogue writers falsely distressing their denim at dude ranches in the '30s — it isn't very personal. And what's more personal than jeans? Ten years ago, they were the topic of the first article that carried my byline, and I imagine I'll be writing my Denim Diaries for years to come. Here's a new installation. Consider it a confession.
I have 26 pairs of jeans. That’s counting two pairs of overalls and one pair of cutoffs. Eleven of those pairs — those out of heavy rotation — live in a giant Tupperware container in the corner of my closet. This goes against the advice of most stylists, roommates, friends, and mothers (and probably therapists), but it seems my personal growth is archived in denim—and I do bring old jeans back around occasionally.
One of my favorite pairs was a gift from Rogan Gregory’s former production director, who was cleaning out her samples. I worked in knitwear production for Edun when the brand was still under Rogan’s direction, and there was a lot of good denim floating around the office we shared. The jeans are rigid, meaning they have no stretch, and have a sort of resin-y coating that makes them smell a little funny when it rains. I was about 24 years old, and a sample size with no stretch fit me fine. They’re what Rogan called a “bow-leg” meaning the legs sort of bowed out, Popeye-style. I think it was a men’s jean he was considering making for women. They have a big black metal button and are so long I have to cuff them six inches. But I love that, because I remember Rogan wearing the same jeans the same way, back when I had a big crush on him. They’re great with bare feet and moccasins. I could barely button them for a couple years, but I kept them around, because how could I get rid of them? It’s funny, I don’t think of myself as someone who has major “body issues," but if I do, they probably manifest themselves in a deep desire to wear certain jeans.
When I was a sophomore in college, the low-rider thing was happening, which is tough on a girl with a real butt (and the leftover "freshman fifteen"). I loved the style though. I lived in Santa Barbara at the time, and it killed me that all those butt-less babes got to wear sexy jeans slung around their suntanned hips. Like this:
It just didn’t work on me. I’d get plumber’s crack, pedaling around on my beach cruiser. So I was elated when I found a pair of ‘70s-era high-waisted, chambray-colored wide-legs at a vintage store called the Wall Pocket. They needed to be worn with wedges instead of Rainbow Sandals or Reefs, but that was fine for me, because everybody else was wearing Reefs, so I wanted to be different. I probably haven’t worn them in three years, but they’re still in the Tupperware in the corner of my closet.
The most I’ve ever spent on a pair was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $250. When ACNE first came to the U.S. it was the only brand doing the straight-leg/high-waisted thing, and it was only sold at Barneys. I had a friend who worked there, and I asked her to buy them for me with her discount. I still remember meeting her on Crosby Street for the handoff, like it was a drug deal. I wish I could justify this through price-per-wear, but I have probably only worn them about ten times (in about seven years), which is likely because they cut into my intestines with no forgiving stretch and also require heels. In other words, they hurt to sit in, and they hurt to stand in. They’re in the Tupperware, which if you do the calculations, probably contains close to $700 worth of jeans—more like $1,000 if you factor in the free samples. And it just contains the jeans that are out of current circulation. That’s hard to admit, even if some of those pairs are ten years old. (And those ACNEs, by the way, came in the midst of boom-times in New York. Things are different now.)
My favorite jeans ever are no longer with me. They haven’t been for a long time. When I was in ninth grade in St. Louis, Missouri, my mom took me to Cherokee Street, an area known for its antique stores (and head shops). The antique stores had almost no clothing, but in one, we came across a single pair of jeans. I think they were folded on top of a tin lunchbox. I unfolded them, and they were bellbottom Levis — like, real, big bellbottoms — that were slim until the knees, flared wide, and had been cut off at the hems. They fit perfectly. They sat below my waist, and the back pockets were low, which was great, because I hadn’t yet made peace with my butt and they sort of minimized it. They were my security blanket. I wore them all through high school with my turtleneck sweaters and Patagonia fleeces until one night my family was out to dinner with my friend *Gwen’s family, on a ski trip. Something spilled on my jeans and she offered to take them back to their condo to wash them. (She must have given me something to wear home.) I never saw the jeans again. Every time I asked for them, Gwen said they were in the trunk of her car, or in her room and she couldn’t find them. I offered to come over and look, desperate. But they were just gone. In an interview last year, Jane Pratt talked about how everyone has an “emotional age.” I think these were my “emotional jeans,” like a cross between an emotional age, a spirit animal, and a perfect pair of pants. There was already a hole worn in the knee when they disappeared—but that’s not the way I choose to remember them.
*not her real name