#48 The Romantic Vintage Jeans

Denim has been on my mind lately. After reading an article about a man who hunts for 1800s jeans in abandoned silver mines across the southern United States, I’ve become fascinated in its history and how it’s made.

Jeans are not among my favourite garments to wear, unlike the millions of folks who consider it their go-to uniform. I usually keep a few pairs in my closet that I wear semi-regularly, but I’ve never thought of them as a hallmark of my personal style. On a practical level, I don’t find jeans very comfortable – at least not the non-stretch pairs that appeal to me tactilely. Yet, I appreciate the durability of denim. I like the idea of having a pair of pants that slowly moulds to your body and could last (in theory) a lifetime, with some patching here and there. There’s a romanticism to old denim: it embodies slow fashion and gradual transformation, the quality of the material evolving as you wear it in and eventually out

Vintage Blue Jeans

Purchased from: Black Market, 2018

Cost: $11.80

Material: 100% cotton

Wears counted: 20

After many failed experiments with jeans that were the wrong colour or cut, that were too tight and too cheap, I finally found my current favourite jeans: a vintage Pierre Cardin pair from a secondhand market. I hadn’t had much luck with secondhand denim before – most of the stuff I see in thrift stores is elastic fast fashion junk – and after trying on numerous pairs of ill-fitting Levi’s at the mall, I was convinced that jeans were just not for me. I bought these jeans around the same time as my “vintage-looking” Topshop jeans, but these take the win in fit, quality, and style (in fact, I’m really considering parting with that other pair). When I tried these on, they felt fitted, but comfortable. The fabric was sturdy, but not too stiff. These Goldilocks-jeans were just right.

What makes them work for me is that the fit is snug across my hips, but not at the waist, where there is a good inch of extra fabric. This still creates that elongating, high-waist look everybody wants, without making me suffer. In comparison to the Topshop jeans, it doesn’t accentuate my shape as much, but I’m definitely willing to trade “looking snatched” for comfort and good digestion. When I first bought these jeans they were about five inches longer at the bottom. I cropped the legs and left the hems raw, which is a look that I like. The mild fraying adds a little more toughness to the denim, fitting with the white spots that look to be caused by bleach and the faded seams and whiskers. I like the juxtaposition of the classy, straight leg shape with the areas of grunginess, which take these jeans far from the classic Gap campaign feel. Although I typically like darker denim, I’ve grown to enjoy the true-blue shade of these pants, which signals a more casual, carefree vibe. 

I tried to do some research on the make of these jeans, but couldn’t find much. The label says it’s made in the “British crown colony of Hong Kong, so it has to date pre-1997, though I have a feeling it’s much older. The denim is thick and sturdy, while the stitching on the inside looks nice and neat. The attention to detail in the construction and embellishments – the logo embossed on a piece of leather and stitched to the back pocket is a nice detail – make me believe this is a good quality item. Being pure cotton, there is a bit of crotch tightness; it’s not the best pair of pants for a bike ride or sitting all day at the office, that’s for sure. But as far as jeans-without-stretch go, they’re fine.

To be honest, I haven’t worn my jeans often during this pandemic year, but as the weather is cooling, I’ve been reaching for these a little more frequently. After wearing soft, comfy things all the time, a little structure is nice – it makes me feel like less of a potato. I like the way these jeans complement what I have in my wardrobe, like making fancy silk shirts look more dressed-down. The white splotches remind of of paint on old pants, which further adds to the romantic quality for me. These days, I wear them most often with grey or black sweaters and fitted long sleeve shirts. In warmer weather, I like showing off my ankles with some loafers, When it’s colder, I’ll swap them for boots and fun socks. They’re great for the fall-spring stretch and can be worn on frigid winter days when layered with tights underneath. I know I give jeans a hard time, but I can’t deny that these are chic and practical for everyday use.  

I want to wear these jeans for years to come, which seems feasible based on the quality (and the extra room up top). What’s certain is I definitely won’t be needing any new jeans for a while. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time trying to find quality secondhand jeans, instead of wasting my money on trendy styles from high street stores. These jeans definitely bear the markings of time and I look forward to seeing how they further evolve in my hands (or rather, on my legs): the new fade marks it will acquire, perhaps some sashiko-style mending when it needs repair someday. Making denim is such a resource-intensive process, it’s a good practice to make them last as long as possible or look to buy them secondhand. There’s so much old denim out there, in good condition, and you don’t even have to dig into an abandoned mine to find it.

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