Back to Basics: The Denim Jean

Let’s chat about the denim jean.  For many it is the staple of the modern-day wardrobe.  A key feature of the casual outfit, it transcends age, gender and culture and transforms an outfit instantly without trying too hard.

Since its invention and patenting in 1873 by Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss, it was intended to be a hard-wearing garment for manual labourers, but over the years it has become subsumed into popular culture.  Throughout the last 70 years or so, it has taken on many forms according to the culture and aesthetic of the time, and you’ll be familiar with many of these types – bootcut, flares, straight, slim-fit, skinny, high waist, low waist, distressed, ripped, boyfriend, girlfriend.  The skinny has mutated into a skinnier form, the jegging, designed for comfort and ease of fit.

Now, I have gone through many, many pairs of jeans in my life, since I started wearing them as a teenager.  I’ve tried the rigid fit denim, the bootcut denim that demanded high-heeled boots, the twisted Levi jeans in the early 2000s, the flared jean and the skinny jean.   I’ve also done the jegging. Whether through practicality, wearability or a particular faddishness, these have never really stood the test of time.  I have a bugbear with the skinny in particular – I dislike the ill-fit of the waistband and the constant need to hike up the waist to prevent bum fall-out (!).  I also hate the gradual wearing down of the crotch area that happens with stretchy material over time, and the loss of elasticity and structure in the waistband and the knees.  I’ve had to throw out many a pair of skinnies, both cheap and expensive, because of the limited durability of stretch denim.

So I was ecstatic to hear that the original fit jean is back, heralded by Julia Hobbs in last month’s British Vogue.   Skinnies are on the way out, so no more cheap imitation denim! Just back to basics with rigid hard-wearing denim.  Hobbs says that the fit to wear right now is ‘a high-rise straight leg, finishing just above the ankle’.

I recently bagged a pair of the original fit Levi’s 501s.  I got these Port Side ones for half price at £45 on the Levi website.  They are a mid-blue denim, with faded knees.  The waistband sits above the hip, with a button-up fly, and is straight down the leg.  The gently distressed hem of the jean sits just below the ankle, which is something I like as it gives the appearance of lengthening my short legs! However, if I want I can also roll up the hem.  I feel nicely held in too!  I could wear these with trainers or ankle boots for a laid-back look or heels if I want to dress it up.

I’ve seen some other versions of the original fit on the high street which look pretty good too.  Topshop has just rolled out their new season of jeans, and I’m quite liking their Mom and Straight Leg ones (note the Mom in Pretty Blue and the Straight Leg in Premium Selvedge) with their high waists and rigid denim.  Gap are also a great go-to for durable denim – check out the Real Straight and Best Girlfriend ones for a relaxed, authentic fit.

So there you have it, a revisit to the roots of denim! A friend once told me that a good pair of Levi’s will never wear out and that they should last you for life. I hope to hold him to that!

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