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.