The Good Ick #25: The Right Denim
The Good Ick #25: The Right Denim

I posed the question recently on my Instagram: “What is your personal backstory with denim?” Everyone has one. For many Europeans (my husband included), it was about their very first pair of jeans, romanticizing everything a pair of Levis stood for, from James Dean to Madonna. For others, it was about the warm feeling nostalgia evokes: the worn-in pair from a first love, or a grandfather’s pair he wore working on his farm. Many wrote that denim was the first time that they associated a piece of clothing with its ability to make you feel just so damn cool, whether the feeling resembled an OG Calvin Klein ad, a friend’s pair of Guess jeans, or the introduction of Seven 7 jeans in the early 2000s. The eras may be different, but the emotions are the same. One person wrote me and summed it up perfectly:

“There’s a jean for my every mood. Can’t say the same for cords, chinos, sweats, or trousers.”

This certainly explains why I dedicate such a significant portion of my closet to denim. It’s also the area that I tend to weed, recognizing that what I toss is rarely anything that I have worn frequently but mostly a mistake I made in the original purchase.

More than any other item in the closet, our denim bears a tremendous amount of responsibility. It’s not there to make you look slim, curvy or tall; in fact, any goal of this sort does not apply. Instead, denim gives you a truly visceral feeling, with a unique power to affirm a memory in the same way a familiar scent does; you’re standing taller or slouching but doing so confidently. Damn…that’s a lot of accountability to assign to a piece of clothing.

And this got me thinking about the times when I got it right at the time, but wrong in the long run. When I fell for a trend, I inevitably never felt good or, in fact, felt anything in them. Other times, I didn’t know enough about the item to realize it would never perform to my expectations. Maybe I thought the jean would go with everything, but more often than not, it became siloed to a specific look and vibe.

No one has time to try on every pair of jeans out there, but luckily our design team (all three of us) has done the hard work already by experimenting, dissecting, and analyzing, ad nauseam, the design factors that allow denim to deliver on all our outrageous demands.

The defining trait of jeans that permanently reside in our closets adheres to the three important adjectives of Creative Pragmatism: Chill, Modern, and Classic (pg. 35 in The Creative Pragmatist book). If a pair meets the CMC test, you also need to analyze whether the denim has the ability to deliver on these CP adjectives. Think of it as interviewing an applicant for a job: you need to understand the responsibilities of the job and you need the tools to assess if the candidate has the ability to perform them to expectations. In other words, you need to know what to look for, in order to make the best decision.

I can help you here.

The factors that play into the decision include:

  • The Wash: this refers to the “look” of a jean that is achieved through a washing process. There are also different dyes and treatments that give different effects. But let’s keep it simple here: the point is to understand how each type of wash elicits a different outcome in wearability for you - depending on your need.
          • The Fit and Shape: it’s important to know how these attributes contribute to functionality and serve as different tools in to put together looks where you feel most like yourself.

To determine what wash, fit and shape make the most sense for you, refer to the The Good Ick #24: Strategic Closet Planning, In this issue, we help you assess how an item of clothing will work for you: understand the mindset first, lifestyle second, and lastly, the needs.

The Mindset: This is how you move through your life. Be aspirational here–it’s okay to shoot for the mindset you hope to have (“chill” for example) rather than your usual daily reality.

The Lifestyle: Assess the realities of your day. If half your time is spent with a toddler, or working from home, or in a corporate office, or a combination of all three, acknowledge that this is your life and that each moment in our life is worth feeling like yourself. This isn’t about wearing sequins at the playground– it’s about having your personal style run through all the facets of your life.

The Needs: This is not about upcoming events, imaginary ones, but the real ones. An example might be “something to wear at the grocery store that makes me feel chic but utterly appropriate in the chips aisle.” When you feel like yourself throughout your life, you will feel calmer. This is my form of meditation and I now know that so many of you share this sentiment.

Here I lay out how to understand our key denim styles across wash, fit and shape.

six pairs of denim in varying washes


When you need both refinement and chill. Undeniably classic, it’s the wash that says, “no fuss here.” When worn with a suiting blazer, the look comes down a few notches, but with the addition of hose and heels, it adds “irony” and can attain elevated status. The color of the jean often keeps it out of more formal arenas, strictly speaking, and that’s OK.

To consider: Trainers and sweats often feel too literal. Playing into opposites gives this jean the emotion you seek.


When you need to feel elevated, but with ease. Inimitably dresses up core pieces in your closet; black jeans, a plain tee, and the right earring takes you nearly anywhere. Paired with an elaborate top, this is the jean that hedges your bets when a dress code has not been identified.

To consider: A mix of textures and proportions give loads of depth. Take a look at your favorite screenshots of someone in all black: furry, fuzzy, sheer, scratchy; all these fabrics feel far more interesting paired with black. And proportions? Lean hard on Big/Slim/Skin when you’re exploring in the closet.


When you want to balance timelessness with irony. The classic heritage of denim plays as the antonym to any hyper-modern or uber-sexy items. Any items that lean trendier become much more familiar with this classic.

To consider: If you ever feel too straight-up-traditional, try it on with the most unexpected piece in your closet. It will be good, promise.


When you want to exude casual but thoughtful. All those super-casual pieces in your closet that are so perfect for a busy or quiet day get the right style lift when paired with a bleached jean, keeping you comfortably in your personal style but fully appropriate for the moment you are in.

To consider: Proportions and the “good strange” are critical here. To do the hard work, the shape needs a point of view when the wash says decidedly casual.


When you want to feel special without any fuss. When craving a piece that gives a bit more, some of us like using a bit of color. When the color comes from your denim, it gives functionality. You’re not wearing a cream slack around town, but a cream denim? It’s the piece that can make you feel dressed but can also get trashed and thrown in the wash. No care label needed.

To consider: Having the color wheel on hand (pg. 117 in The Creative Pragmatist book) lets you experiment while ensuring you look chic.

Acid Wash:

When you crave modernity and effortlessness. All those pieces in your closet that are pure and refined, like that crisp poplin top or the refined wool sweater, take on an entirely new vibe when mixed with the friction of this wash. Don’t you find sometimes the polished silk top feels a little too, well, polished when paired with a sleek bottom? This is when acid is the hero–it’s the personification of The Good Ick.

To consider: This wash packs a lot of texture. If you pair it with something else highly textured, you may find yourself craving the balance of something sharp and clean for contrast.

I’m going to keep scratching at this itch to create the ultimate denim guide, so stay with me here on this journey. There will be more GOOD ICKs to follow, but it’s a process. Stay tuned.

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