My Denim-clad Conundrum

I love denim.

More definitively, I love jeans. If I could function in jeans and a t-shirt every day, I would. But alas, corporate America’s business-casual dress code wins out –at least for about 40 hours of my week every week. Oh well. I know I’m not alone.

To me, jeans are as “American” as apple pie and baseball are. And historically, America was once-upon-a-time the industry leader in all things denim. Up until the 50s, America was touted as the purveyors of the finest quality denim the world over. But as many things seem to go, the manufacturing process aged and the long process of dyeing fabric became all too time consuming. Naturally, the world gave in to the mass market approach, which meant that pre-washing and synthetic dyeing became the norm. This more or less decreased the quality of denim overall.

As the years progressed, and the Gaps, Old Navys and Wal-Marts of the world grew as they took hold of the consumer market, the denim universe more or less became less about fit, and more about function. And then the travesty that is “baggy jeans” took hold in pop culture, rendering the idea of fashion-forward denim to be almost non-existent at that point. The spectrum of jeans was relegated to “grandfather” fitting to retro-inspired super wide-bottomed pairs that trounced the floors of raves all over. Gone was the era of the late 70s & early 80s “status jeans,” a term coined by The Washington Post at the height of Gloria Vanderbilt’s and Calvin Klein’s popularity in the denim stratosphere. Throw-in a little 90s recession into that mix, and all that was left of the denim world was truly…a hot mess.

I, too, plowed along in that “hot mess.” I sported my Levi’s and GAP jeans without a care in the world. Paying no mind to the fact that I probably looked paunchy doing so. With the turn of the new millennium, though, my attention started to shift toward premium denim –which had slowly began to re-emerge as a luxury. Most American-made premium jeans started out at about $200 a pop, which was a far cry from the $36-pair of GAP jeans that I had hanging in my closet then. While the $36 spent, in my opinion at the time, was the best thing ever, I could not seem to escape the fact that my affordable jeans lacked in a meaningful fit; meaningful in my head, anyway. So one day, I decided to walk into a store and try a pair of Rock & Republic jeans, which at the time was one of the leading brands of American-made premium denim. Once in that fitting room, my transformation was almost instantaneous. A decent boot-cut pair of R&Rs fit me like a glove. It opened my eyes to assets I never knew existed, and I was hooked. The only draw-back: length. At a steady 5’7”, I could not escape the fact that I had to relegate my new-found love of premium denim to the additional $20-original hem fee. (Because normal hems are just not good enough on a pair of premium jeans…)

Many pairs of R&R, True Religion, Joe’s Jeans, Diesel, and even Citizens of Humanity later, I have given my fair share of cash to the denim industry. And I wore the shit out of those jeans. But with time comes change; change in style, fits and even price points.

A big problem I now face is that a majority of the pairs of jeans in my closet just do not do it for me in fit anymore. I have displaced my personal appreciation for boot-cut jeans for the straight leg (or even skinny) fit. It all seems like a waste now that I look back, but I guess that’s just what happens as trends change.

So today, I am still holding steadfast to my love for premium denim. I still feel that the quality and fit far exceed what I find at local shopping mall chains, although I have dipped my toes in the Uniqlo waters –more so for their fit than quality, of course. So while I continue to re-build my arsenal of premium denim, I am torn on what to do with my old pairs. Several of my former pairs have already made their way to someone else’s closet by way of the Salvation Army (or places similar), and I have a never-ending debate with myself on whether or not I should follow-suit with the rest of my inventory.

First world problem, I know, but a conundrum nonetheless.

You can read a great post on the history of denim on zady.com.

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