I have an aversion to looking overdressed. My solution? Denim.
Whenever I think I’ve overdone it, I swap out my bottom half and pull on a pair of jeans. Denim takes it down a notch.
“If I wear black trousers with a black jacket, I feel like a waiter,” agreed a friend. “But a pair of black jeans makes things less matchy-matchy, less grown-up.”
Using a high-low blend is common fashion practice. Take it from the top: look at the new Chanel ads selling the iconic chain-strap handbag. The accessory – a thousand-plus dollars of quilted leather and interlinked Cs – might be the last word in bourgeois chic, but the trousers worn by the model carrying it? Worker’s denim.
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My grandmother might have raised an eyebrow at my denim-for-all-occasions habit, but like most women under-50, I’ve worn denim since I was old enough to choose my own clothes. It’s a habit that’s hard to shake.
Many of my friends have a denim wardrobe of sorts: jeans for days you feel good, jeans for days you don’t, smart jeans, slopping-about-the-house jeans. I have jeans that pull me together – literally and figuratively – like a comforting corset.
Dark denim, mid-denim, whiskered or faded – washes change but jeans remain my neutral.
I never chuck them out and for good reason. Not only do we know that jeans are one of the fashion industry’s most polluting garments (savvy companies like Levi’s have initiated well-publicised sustainability drives) but also, hang onto them long enough, and they’ll come around again.
I still have the Levi’s 501s I bought second-hand in London’s Camden Market when I was a teenager: palest blue, lovingly worn, threadbare in places and soft as velvet. I did have to say goodbye to one pair of skinny jeans after I overestimated their stretch-factor before turning an ambitious cartwheel, but I won’t be missing them.
There’s a new kid on the block: high-waisted and wide through the leg. These issue a fashion challenge the way skinny jeans did when Kate Moss and her ilk first made them look darkly rock’n’roll glam.
High waists and wide legs offer a whole new proposition. Your rear end may look longer, but on the up-side you have a waist once more, along with a smooth line running down to your hips, plus, you can tuck something in and – ta da – there’s the instant visual trick of elongated legs.
Versions on the trend abound: the baggy barrel or peg leg are perhaps the hardest ones to get your head around, so naturally they’re considered the coolest.
I discovered a wider, lopped-off pair in my local designer recycle store which helped me adhere to my recent resolve never to buy new denim again. This not only cuts waste, but also helps sidestep what seem to be ever-increasing denim price tags.
While I can usually convince myself that pretty much anything is worth buying if the craftsmanship demands it or the cost-per-wear figures add up, I can’t help feeling there’s something contradictory and increasingly wrong about spending crazy money on unsustainable, workaday, utilitarian denim.