My earliest denim memory is the pair of pumpkin orange denim overalls I had as a child in the 80s. Mum and I thought I was hot stuff – my grandmother was less generous in her praise of my fashion forward ensemble. Fast forward to the 90s, and I can remember the “cool” jeans I owned (were they Mossimo? Something of that ilk) and the feeling of suddenly taking against them one day when I was walking to a friend’s house, in the way that only teenagers can. I bought a pair of jeans from Glassons one Friday night after a wine or two at work that were so tight they bruised my hip bones. It’s been a crazy journey.
Denim has been at the front of my consciousness recently, in that weird way that the universe sometimes works. It started with the discovery of a book called Cult – A Visual History of Jeanswear – American Originals by William Gilchrist and Roberto Mazotti, which was published in 1992 and bore a sticker inside reading “The Fashion Bookery”. What a magical place that must have been. Then I listened to the podcast on denim from 99% Invisible, which I found fascinating, and so we find ourselves here, exploring denim on denim. It’s doubly interesting to me because if you’d asked me two months ago, I would have emphasised how bored I was of denim. New season, new zeal for denim.
The idea of denim as a clothing option has had a strange and wondrous journey. We start at workman’s wear, designed for tough conditions, and fast forward through more than a century of heavy use to modern denim, designed for fashion purposes and an urbanised environment. However, when you look at pictures of vintage denim it’s still completely recognisable. The basic concept of a pair of denim pants with riveted pockets etc is still there, and has only been changed enough to make our choice of pants seem quite strange, should you be showing them to a visitor from 1855. I mean, imagine Mr Labourer from 1855 turning up a pair of Levi’s overalls (as they were then) and spying Britney Spears in some low rise bootcut situation circa 1999, and then being told that she was wearing the modern version of his overalls. Hilarious!
Lately, my relationship with denim has been spiced up by the introduction of an occasional dalliance with double denim. That’s right, the old Canadian tuxedo, but I prefer to steer clear of the suit look (let’s be real, nobody will ever be able to top Justin Timberlake’s 2001 American Music Awards look anyway). I have denim jeans of various hues, denim jackets in both blue and white, a denim coat and a denim dress. I’ve layered the denim dress over a pair of closely matching jeans for a kind of doll-like/vaguely Japanese look. But this look, of a denim jacket with jeans in a non-matching hue, is by far my favourite. It says “jackets are just jackets and I’ll do what I want” as well as “look, I just love to be comfy”.
To pull off this particular denim on denim scenario, I focused on making the outfit under the denim jacket as cohesive as possible. You know the best way to achieve this – make a colour palette and stick to it, and here that was fuchsia and red. I loved the proportion of these jeans with this pair of shoes, and I think adding a heel to a denim on denim combo gives it a bit of polish. The bright colours and the bold design of this Uniqlo tshirt meant that the outfit felt fun and youthful, which gelled well with the denim vibe. I think that pleasing combination of casual and fabulous was furthered by the oversized jacket. I’ve had this jacket for several years and have never washed it, and while at first I found the fit weird and discombobulating, I am now deep into oversized jacket territory and love how comfy and easy to wear this jacket is.
Speaking of washing, we should all try to avoid washing our denim too much. Denim might start off stiff, but if you want to break it in you need to commit to throwing your jeans in the freezer (to kill odours) and washing them as little as possible. If you’re wearing very stretchy denim, washing it might give you a satisfying tighter fit at first, but over time the plastics that give you that strength will breakdown. I’d love to buy a pair of raw denim jeans and commit to wearing them every day for six months but (a) not sure I could cope with wearing the same thing every day for six months and (b) apparently the chafing is quite bad. Nobody needs to chafe for fashion.
Apart from helping your denim to last longer, cutting down on washing it will also reduce the insane amount of water that goes into making a pair of jeans. Denim is, unfortunately, a total suck fest when it comes to environmental concerns. Raw denim is rough and rigid, so almost all the denim we wear nowadays is treated to relax it and to give the blue denim we favour a worn-in look. Those treatments are massively resource intensive and in addition, of course, denim is made of cotton, which is a notorious water waster. All this to say – if you must buy denim, buy the most environmentally friendly denim you can, or buy second hand denim. I’ve bought my fair share of second hand denim, and earlier this year I purchased these red numbers from Kowtow. Really, if you buy a pair of jeans you should do your absolute best to wear them into complete ruin.
I have a pair of jeans that I must have bought over a decade ago – slightly grey in tone, from Levis, the Bold Curve style they used to do and which I still miss. They are slowly falling into ruin. The rips at the knees, which are the result of flaws in the fabric and weak spots, not me getting into it with a pair of scissors, are growing larger and larger with every wear. I can’t wash them now, or they’d rip from hip to ankle and I’m not ready to let go of them just yet. Conversely, the super wide legged Levis I bought 15 or so years ago in my second year at Uni, which I thought were so cool (they were) and which I still have and wear now, are in near perfect condition. There’s no rhyme or reason, but I think they both illustrate that good denim can last a long time – one way or another.