Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Outfit Post: A dissertation of denim

Ah, jeans. It's easy to forget that they began as utilitarian clothing, evolved to rebel-wear (see: James Dean,) and finally moved into everyday wear. Practical, simple, and easily dressed up or down, jeans are an integral part of any woman's wardrobe. Yves Saint Laurent said the only piece of clothing he wished he could have invented was blue jeans. Nobody knows exactly when the practice of dying cotton with indigo and sewing it into pants began, but a bit of research reveals some possibilities.

The word denim originates from the French term serge de Nîmes, deriving from the name of a bolt of fabric called a serge, originally made in Nimes, France. Originally called serge de Nîmes, the name was soon shortened to denim. The fabric is marked by its use of a single weft thread passing through two or more warp threads creating a specific type of sturdy twill material. The diagonal twill pattern created in this process can be seen on the inside of a pair of jeans either running from right to left or left to right. Denim is always made from cotton and is typically marked by a colored warp yarn (most often indigo blue) and a white weft yarn.

The word jeans derives from the phrase bleu de Gênes, literally the blue of Genoa.  While serge de Nimes was being produced in Nimes, denim trousers were being sold through the harbor of Genoa, long an important naval and trading power. The Genoese Navy required all-purpose trousers for its sailors that could be worn while working on ships. Denim material met this need. These trousers were laundered by dragging them in nets behind the ship, and the sea water and sun would gradually bleach them to white.

In the 20th century, the denim center of production crossed the Atlantic to the U.S. by way of shopkeeper Levi Strauss and his customer and tailor Jacob Davis. Davis suggested adding copper rivets to the jeans, as a way of reinforcing points where the material suffered wear and tear. In the 1850's denim was marketed to the mining communities of California, where it was purchased by Gold Rush participants.

A pair of Levis from 1880, pictured with a wearer of that era

In 1901 the US Navy issued boot-cut denim pants to sailors as replacement for their traditional uniforms.

Photo from Haberdash.com
From there the popularity of denim spread outward, later adopted by cowboys and James Dean and Marlon Brando and Gloria Vanderbilt and Guess and a number of other unfortunate 1980's clothing designers who failed to understand just how unflattering small back pockets are. Eleven years ago we reached the age of premium denim with the debut of Seven For All Mankind, ushering in the cultural zeitgeist of jeans as designer pieces.  The market for high-end designer denim has ballooned since 7 For All Mankind first hit the scene in 2000. In 2006, jeans sales totaled $15.8 billion, up from $15.2 billion a year earlier and $14 billion in 2004, according to market research firm NPD Group Inc. Currently, the average price of a pair of Seven jeans is $165.00. As a contrast, in 1885 jeans could be bought for $1.50 (approximately $37 today.)

The perfect jeans are incredibly subjective, as everyone's body and tastes are different, and what works for me might not work for someone else. What I want in a pair of jeans is relatively simple: a moderately low rise and cut that's as tight as possible in the hips and thighs, but falls straight through the knee and lower leg. (The puddle of fabric that some skinny jeans deposit around their wearer's ankles has never been my thing. It's just not flattering to a petite woman.) I want a bit of stretch, which makes jeans fit better feel more comfortable, though too much stretch results in bagginess in high-traffic areas such as knees and the seat. When I'm wiggling into a pair of Joe's Jeans in the Nordstrom Rack dressing room, I'm not looking to be intrigued by a unique cut or an unusual silhouette. I want to pull them on and think nothing but these jeans make my ass look smokin'.

I happen to be a rabid fan of designer denim. I believe they fit better, last longer, and have superior back pocket placement.  My thighs look slimmer, butt magically higher, and legs longer. I'm extremely loyal to the brands I buy, though I adamantly refuse to pay full price, scooping them up on eBay, at Buffalo Exchange or Plato's Closet.

What do you look for in a pair of jeans? What are your favorite brands? How much are you willing to pay for a great pair of jeans?

Thrifted Ann Taylor blazer; thrifted J Crew blouse; thrifted Paige jeans; Frye clutch; Stuart Weitzman wedges; Forever 21 necklace; Forever 21 rhinestone bracelet

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