Finally, There Are No Rules When It Comes To Wearing Jeans

When you’ve lived as long as I have — which is halfway to forever — you see fashion go in and out of style. But the one item of clothing that never changes is jeans. Jeans might not always be a staple, but they will always have a place in your fashion vocabulary. Each year, a slew of new denim options trickle their way into your life until all of a sudden you’re wearing a Canadian tuxedo and you don’t know why.

This is how my mother explains wearing bell-bottoms in 1979. There’s a picture of her and some friends with their glorious pants, billowing around their ankles like extra mutant skin. I was about 12 when I first saw the image, and shrieked in horror. “What are those?” It was 1983 and I was wearing the trend of the season: Guess jeans. They were gray with a white pin-stripe, skinny with zippers at the ankle. My mother bought me one pair and warned me not to “get holes in the knees.” Holes in the knees in the ‘80s were not a sign of avant-garde fashion. They were a sign that you were lazy or dirty — and in that era, these weren’t admirable qualities. If you’ve watched any John Hughes movie, you know what I’m taking about.

“How could you wear those awful things?” I asked her.

“We didn’t have a choice!” she told me. “That’s all they sold.”

Finally, in 2016, it seems that there are no rules when it comes to jeans. Denim manufacturers are selling an array of styles, proving that there is no denim standard. Los Angeles-based NSF, my favorite jean company — I’d buy their entire collection if I had all the money in the world — are selling straight-legged jeans with patches and big-ass culottes. Current/Elliott, whose website is an endless denim merry go-round, has boyfriend, skinny, high-waisted, cropped, flare, wide-leg, distressed, and printed jeans. J Brand boasts 11 different categories of jeans on their website. Sure, denim manufactures have always offered some variation, but they were minimal; there was a time when people would find themselves at The Gap, looking at two different pairs of jeans and wondering what the hell the difference was.

Jeans, for as long as people have been wearing them, have been a symbol of uniformity. Never once in the history of denim, has anyone compared a pair of jeans to a snowflake — each one completely original. Yet here we are, in a fashion fantasyland, where no single jean matches another.

To see if my theory held up in the pop culture world, I investigated celebrity jean devotee Kourtney Kardashian’s denim choices from late 2015 to 2016. The eldest Kardashian wore nine different kinds of jeans in five months: high-waisted, cut-off, straight-legged, and boyfriend-destroyed in May; white, high-waisted, ripped skinnies in March; mid-rise black (on repeat) and boyfriend-tapered with zippers in February; in November and December of 2015 she wore destroyed denim with gaping knee holes and light blue flares.

Obviously, Kourtney owns more than those nine pairs of jeans. I’m sure there’s a separate section of her closet just for her jeans and it’s an endless array of denim that’s organized in alphabetical order by designer or maybe wash. The point here isn’t about how many pairs of jeans she owns — it’s the variety of them. Her jeans are diverse.

Look at Vogue’s recent feature, “The Best Jeans for Every Body,” as another example where 22 different kinds of jeans — cropped straight; engineer-striped, wide-legged; black with side-lacing; wide-legged denim trousers; high-rise, cut-off denim; paint-splattered denim; high-waisted culottes; selvedge skinny jeans—are shown. TWENTY-TWO! How are we supposed to choose with these kinds of options? Even Vogue throws their hands up in defeat, writing, “In this season, your jeans — make that your denim — may come in any form.” It's a free-for-all.

But how did this denim-fashion coup come about?

From 1989 to 2004, the jean world was a bit of a roller coaster, changing its shape dramatically from vintage to boot cut, low-slung to skinny. But then skinny stuck around, throwing a wrench into the style wheelhouse. Kate Moss first wore her skinnies in 2004, yet Women’s Wear Daily was still writing about the domination of skinny jeans in 2010, stating, “There’s anything but [slim pickings] when it comes to skinny jeans and jeggings.” Imagine a trend lasting for six whole years? That’s an eternity in the fashion world. Skinny jeans became a staple, like whole milk or a Lorrie Moore short story — you always go back to it because it’s so fucking refreshing and good. In Elle’sDenim Guide Fall 2013,” 37 out of 100 jeans were skinnies. (The rest were a combination of wide-leg, boyfriends, and overalls; the last 30 were jackets, blazers, and shirts.)

The public didn’t want to give up their skinny jeans — so designers, it seems, let them keep their skinnies and added more styles to the mix, hoping something, anything, would catch on. And many did. Which brings us to where we are now. For the woman who wears jeans (i.e. everyone) this is a liberating moment. There’s no pressure to conform. I’m even thinking about pulling my vintage Levi’s out of the closet. Or maybe my boxy jean jacket. I might even try on a pair of jean culottes — anything can happen.

Sarah Jessica Parker, my favorite jean-wearer of all time — who was recently seen in gray skinny jeans and clogs — said, when asked about her favorite jeans, “Jeans are the most personal thing you can wear, so I say just wear the ones you love and that make you feel good."

Done and done.
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