Monday, September 15, 2014

Jeans: A Mini-Philosophy

Fashion guru and former Parsons faculty Tim Gunn once wisely, but controversially, stated that the American obsession with comfort is somewhat overrated:

I get very impatient with this whole "comfort issue" with clothing. Yes, you don't feel as comfortable in clothes that fit you as you do in your pajamas and robe. That's a good thing. You're navigating a world where you need to have your wits about you. If you're in a lackadaisical comfort haze, you can't be engaged in the world the way you need to be. [...] Does grooming take time? Yes, it does. But we need to make a commitment. ("Gunn's Golden Rules," p116 & 124)

Some people have taken this to mean that Gunn is absolutely against any sort of comfort in fashion and favors a "constantly buttoned-up" approach. This is not accurate, which Gunn himself points out; a suit is too much for a grocery store when a t-shirt and slacks will suffice. Rather, there's a time and a place for everything. It's just that some people have become completely lazy when it comes to dressing themselves for a day out in public. And I have to agree that it's mildly appalling.

Yes, the August 2014 issue of InStyle included an entire article on "designer sweatpants," comfy clothes made to look a bit more presentable than the standard drawstring fare. And I cannot deny that some of them looked very pretty and, well, comfortable. But at the end of the day, they're still pajamas and yoga pants. What makes me leery is the fact that I know many people who are so obsessed with comfort that they will go out of their way to wear sweatpants and ratty t-shirts 24/7, no matter what the situation, and this designer sweatpants trend might add fuel to the fire. "If Heidi Klum can wear them to the gym, why can't I wear them to my interview?"

Let's put it this way: when I'm enjoying an autumnal day at home, I wear my Super Mario pajamas, or a pair of Merona cotton yoga pants that are so comfy, I could cry tears of joy. But if I'm going further than our house's mailbox? I'm putting on a bra and a pair of jeans. Unless I'm sick, dying, or do not have any other options (a legitimate issue for some people, let it be known), I'm not going to walk out of my house looking like I just rolled out of bed and couldn't be fussed. This is not the case for some people, and I've seen many-a-student waltz through the college halls in polka-dot pajama pants and a hoodie at noon. NOON. I know it's an unpopular opinion, but I also know that most of those students are not deathly ill or lacking for clothing options, so the choice of "pajamas in public" strikes me as downright inappropriate.

 "And please, put on a clean shirt when you step outside your door. It's an affront to the very delicacy of my nature."

Here's my point: modern denim is incredibly comfortable and affordable, but still perfectly presentable in a wide variety of situations. Yet some people cling to the idea that anything conforming to their body is inherently uncomfortable, even flowy sundresses or loose slacks, and they cling to their pajama pants. At the end of the day, jeans are meant to conform to your body. Really, most clothes that fit you will conform in some way. They're not going to feel like pajamas, no, but for the zillionth time, only pajamas should feel like pajamas!

That being said, jeans also shouldn't feel bad. They should conform to your body, and you should be able to feel them, but they should not rub, dig, cut off circulation, or make you feel uncomfortable insofar as you think you look bad/weird. Think of it like a suit of armor: it's tangible, but it makes you feel protected and prepared to handle any situation. It's not a pair of sweats, but it's also not uncomfortable.

A good jeans brand will include a decent amount of stretch so you can sit and move. (Trust me, this is a modern development: jeans were originally designed for folks working in hard jobs, like down in the mines, and the stiffness and roughness of the fabric was a testament to that.) You need to find a brand that feels especially good on your body and almost always fits you right, and in my personal opinion, you need to stick with it 90% of the time.

Don't get me wrong, it's fun to try new things! But have you ever been that person who spends two hours pulling out every single pair of jeans, from every single brand and in every single cut available, trying to find just one pair that fits you right? (Clearly, I've been that person. Ugh.) If you find a few brands that work for you, all of that guesswork goes away, and you can search the racks at consignment shops, or head straight to the right corner of Nordstrom's, for stuff that will most likely work. For example: when I go shopping, I can flip through an entire rack of jeans in less than 5 minutes. That's because, after years of trial and error, I've found a few brands that look great on me, and I stick with them. I wear Citizens of Humanity (my top choice for curvy ladies) or 7 For All Mankind in a 29 or a 30. They fit me perfectly, they have the right amount of stretch, and they come in styles I like. Everything else gets passed over, unless I'm in the market to try something new or a 29 in another brand has a particularly interesting style.

There's also a range of cuts/styles for you to choose from, leaving you with plenty of options. That's something else people forget: jeans can be dressed up or dressed down. I recently got a simple black blazer, and my mother and I gushed over how great it would look with a nice t-shirt and a pair of straight-leg jeans for a business casual workplace. On a day-to-day basis, I wear super stretchy boot cut styles with A-shirts or ripped up tees--I'm dressed, but I'm still me, and I'm still comfortable. And if I'm going out to lunch? Skinny jeans work best with most of my boots, since they'll tuck in without looking baggy. I have a friend who looks fabulous in high-waisted jeans, and another friend who's big on the 70s and loves a flared leg. Whatever your style or preference, there's a pair of jeans waiting for you.

And remember: tailoring is always an option. I learned this the hard way. For years, I would see size 29 Citizens of Humanity jeans at Salvation Army or Goodwill for $5. I'd try them on, and they'd fit perfectly in the waist, the butt, the thigh...and then they'd be too long. So I'd pass them up. This past month, I obtained a pair of 7 For All Mankind jeans that were way too long for me, but were in such a pretty wash and were so freakin' cheap (less than a cup of coffee!) that I decided I would just roll them up. My mom's response? "You know, your aunt could just hem them for you."

My aunt is a professional tailor. Most professional tailors have equipment that lets them work on embroidery fabric and wedding gowns, so denim is really Not a Big Deal to them. And they'll hem your jeans for less than $10 a pair in most cases. I'm not sure how I missed this, but I did.

Look, I'm not saying you have to wear jeans. There are people like Dita von Teese who pretty much never wear pants. But people like Dita von Teese still manage to look put-together and feel comfortable on a day-to-day basis. The jeans market is so full of options right now that I think most people can find something suitable to their tastes, and also suitably comfortable. It just takes a little searching...and yeah, you gotta relinquish the sweatpants for a day. Don't worry: they'll be there when you get back.


  1. Don't even get started on the leggings trend! I love them when my bum is tastefully covered, but some seem to think that see through and sheer fabric + thong is an acceptable look in public and worst, at the workplace!

    1. Agreed! I have no problem with leggings under a tunic or a dress, but I can't stand walking around and seeing everybody's everything!