I would say, probably not. Not that you can’t look good in jeans, but look around, many of us (including me) are messing it up.
After years without them, I braved my fear of the denim trouser and went to the Levi Store in West London. I bought myself two pairs, one size 28 Slight Curve, Classic Rise, Slim in jet black and the other size 28 High Rise, Skinny in blue-black. Arriving home, the jeans and I looked at each other for some time, weeks in fact. Occasionally I would hold them near my legs as I stood in front of the mirror. Once I even read the labels where I was surprised to learn ‘CONTAINS NON-TEXTILE PARTS OF ANIMAL ORIGIN’. That was the least of my concerns I thought hanging them back on my clothes rail, uncertain what these pieces of cloth were going to do to my identity. It was two months before I found the courage to wear them out of the house, and when I finally did, my friends screamed “Grace, you’re wearing jeans! That’s really weird!” And it was. I felt like I’d morphed myself into everyone else and I didn’t like it.
Jeans are, on the face of it, a democratic garment, available to all. However, they are not democratic when it comes to balancing size and fit. A healthy budget can help, but ultimately you can’t buy your way to looking good if you don’t know what you’re doing. Even if lucky enough to understand your own body shape in 3D, know how materials behave before and after washing or wearing, as well as capable of wading through an untold number of styles that most likely don’t go with anything else in your wardrobe, never mind you.
Three shop assistants helped me, somehow, the jeans I bought still don’t fit properly, one gaping two inches out from the waist line at the back, the other awkward around my thighs, both problems I’ve always had with jeans. I’m not a monster but I am a little dumpy, many of us are. What’s everyone else doing to tackle problems like these I thought? I was going to adjust them but instead decided I couldn’t be bothered and chucked on a belt. By the end of the first week, I didn’t care, I’d come to enjoy pulling on my jeans, the cotton twill wrapping around my thighs and tummy was comforting. Even better, since wearing dark blue jeans and a white t-shirt, nobody has shouted “Go back to the Adams family!” or thrown chips at my head from a moving car, refreshing! They’re also proving handy for bike riding, there I could almost be a convert. I’d forgotten my newfound ‘I’m like everybody else-ness’ too, enjoying instead, time now saved getting dressed in the morning. No more frantic cries “What the hell am I going to wear?” Every day, I just pulled on my jeans and vest top, like I did in the 80s; I mean 90s; no wait, the 00s! Oh yeah, that’s why I got bored, I’ve been doing this look for centuries. Some of you have been doing it for even longer. Variations of, but still, I/we should be pretty good at this jean wearing malarkey by now, right? Wrong!
Many people seem to use jeans like Mary Portas’ No-Brainer dress1, intended to make you look good just by throwing it on, no brain required. The trouble is, jeans don’t come with this guarantee. If you don’t get the fit right, and I’m not saying it’s easy, you’re not going to look very good. Important considerations that seem to be largely ignored: Jeans shouldn’t hinder your ability to walk, they shouldn’t cut off circulation or airflow to any body part, male or female – just because you can get in them, doesn’t mean you should wear them. I’m also tired of seeing people’s bum cracks when they bend over to pick up a bag or pat a dog, you’re upsetting me and the elderly, stop it! If you have big or even little love handles, low waisted anything probably isn’t for you, and denim hems that make it out over your trainers and start dragging and ripping themselves along the floor behind while you slouch about has never looked okay, especially if you’re a grown up. This is all basic stuff but when I started watching jean wearers, and wearing jeans again myself, I realised its not easy finding that perfect pair these days, despite the multitude of options.
I’m not down on everyone; I quite like it when boys wear on the bum waisted jeans with boxer shorts showing, and beautilicious girls who wear light blue skinny jeans with fake hair and nails. I like continental men in their 50s who sport a bulging crotch area, along with his girlfriend of similar age in bright coloured, slim fitting and tucked in little butt jeans. As well as musicians who still wear low cut flares. Jeans can be cool. BUT, only if they fit, and not just at the ankle. i.e. don’t need hoisting every three steps, or are over stretched and uncomfortable looking. Jeans should compliment you and the rest of your look, whatever your size or style and combined with the material, colour and texture, make you feel good. They shouldn’t substitute personality but if you can’t yet understand body shape, don’t start getting experimental with proportions for gods sake, not until you’ve received help from someone who’s doing it well. Same goes for ripping and fabric inserts. With help in mind, I went looking for inspiration from people who looked like they know what they’re doing, and here’s some of their good advice.
Rosie is wearing jeans from New Look, £20. She says, ‘Buy something that flatters your figure and find out what suits your silhouette and go with it.’
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Cat is wearing Next jeans, bought from Oxfam. She’s also bought jeans in a charity shop that are originally from Dorothy Perkins, not an obvious choice for her. She advises, ‘It’s good to experiment but you know what you’re comfortable with. It’s really important to get jeans that are comfortable and look good, which seems to be a combination hard to find.’
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Daniel is wearing Levi’s which are £180. He says he always wears more expensive jeans like Levi’s, True Religion or G-Star jeans because they last longer and look better although you can also find jeans in places like H&M and Topman, which he believes sell more like fashion jeans.
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Ludo is wearing £200 jeans bought in Switzerland. He said Jeans are really important to him, and he likes expensive jeans. That’s as far as our language barrier allowed.
Hanna is wearing Nudie Jeans, £89, from the Swedish store open for only two and a half weeks in Central London. She thinks everyone can look good if they get the fit right and to be braver about trying different styles. She doesn’t like it when you first buy your jeans and they are too tight, but after a while she says they are okay.
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Andrew is wearing jeans from Asos, about £50. The hole was small when he got them but it’s been getting bigger and bigger. He also likes wears chinos. The best thing about jeans is that they are easy to wear and there is nothing he doesn’t like about them.
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Tomo is wearing jeans from Uniqlo, £30. He says he can feel the difference when they don’t fit well around his legs. He will wear women’s jeans if they fit well and are the right style. He says he doesn’t look good in jeans, and that’s why he wears black ones. ‘The best thing is you can do anything with jeans, you can get dirty, however, if you’ve got an expensive pair you don’t want them to get dirty.’ He added, he needs jeans that can go everywhere with him and not ‘die’ on him.
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We’ve come a long way since the 1950s when James Dean rocked jeans in Rebel Without a Cause, and young people began adopting denim as an integral part of youth culture. It was simpler then, living in a time when jeans and codes of dress were a lot clearer to understand. Denim was high quality as standard and choice reduced as variables of style, or alternative waistlines didn’t exist as they do now. The rules were simpler, making them easier to follow and identify with. If you weren’t naturally stylish, you had a better chance of turning yourself out more presentably in jeans and a shirt, than many of us do now, as less choice and better quality equalled less chance to get it wrong. In the 00s, things got confusing with a multitude of shops trying to cater for every subculture going, fashion magazines changing their minds incessantly about what and how we should be dressing, and cheaper denim alternatives flooded the market as high street brands cashed in on this global mass fashion commodity. No wonder many of us are struggling now.
Wouldn’t it be great if we bring back the notion of dress codes, not so we can all wear exactly the same style of jeans, instead develop more personalised dress codes promoting individual body and garment awareness, across all ages and taste levels. At the same time banishing men who hide behind a blanket of denim and jersey, so I no longer want to shout “Where did you go?” and women who can’t bend over for being so tightly wrapped up in the fabric duo I cry “Stop hurting my eyes!”. For this article I could find more people getting it right, of broader age ranges, and styles, of course I could. I’m still holding my hand up here and saying these people are in the minority, amidst an epidemic of ill-fitting jean wearers accross London and I’m betting the United Kingdom, and the World!