Denim has pretty much been ruined by individuals who, if an aspiration to be in fashion hadn’t intervened, would be down Games Workshop banging on about orcs and invisibility capes. The joy of denim is its resilience and unfussiness, yet people want to muck with the formula. They want to up the weight of jeans to the point where they stand alone without being filled with a human, stood near your bed, plotting your downfall as you sleep. They want to studiously look at the chemical makeup of the detergent you use if — god forbid — you ever wash them.
They want you to stand over a bath containing your jeans, partially submerged in a couple of inches of light blue water and sodium solution to seal in the leaking dye. To be honest, they just seem to be making it up, smirking behind their Superfuture accounts. Jeans are jeans. Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss would be perplexed to look at how seriously folk take denim preservation. Beyond all the nonsense, the aim is simply to wear out a pair and move onto the next ones. I’ve annihilated Levi’s, visvim Fluxus, 101Bs and Rescue Raws — not to the point where they looked charmingly worn-in, but far beyond that, to the point where they simply made me look homeless.
One of my first copywriting gigs was to write a guide to denim preservation for a big brand. It was called ‘Let It Bleed,’ which I thought — barring the Rolling Stones unleashing their legal team — was a very clever name. I studied and studied the art of denim preservation, pored of Mister Denim in ‘Lightning’s do’s and don’ts and read page after page of internet debate. There was the aforementioned, plus a million other rules and theories, but the quest for validation via a “Cool fades bro” on a message board seemed to be the eventual aim. People talked about the glory of “whiskering” too, and after reading it, I realised that it’s all bollocks. Just disrespect your jeans.
The never-wash theory in the quest for the perfect finish is by far the most bizarre — to break the no-wash rule was as frowned upon as being the first to visit the toilets during an all-dayer with particularly boisterous friends. There’s encouragement to discourage dirt by hanging jeans outside or freezing them or — best of all — just to Fabreeze them in order to mask the scent, effectively creating the sartorial equivalent of a baby-wiped whore’s bath. The selvedge preoccupation is nothing new either — broadcaster and occasional irritant Robert Elms managed to annoy Geordies by calling them, “northern scum” on ‘The Tube’ in the 1980s for being ignorant to the sacred strip’s aura.
To cut through the conjecture, here’s a fact: If you wear denim all year round and never wash them, they will smell of piss and sweat. That’s fine behind an artfully shot jpg, but women won’t be seduced by your manly scent. You simply have the lower half of a local oddball. Just with nicer shoes. I wear jeans every day. I’ve only worn Levi’s Vintage for its unfussiness. I trust Levi’s. I also buy into one notion of the denim realm — it’s a fabric that works with the wearer, taking on shapes and characteristics and pleasantly mutating with every wear and wash. I’m also very lazy, and if there’s an excuse to live in the same jeans, I’m all for it. Putting on a new pair is irritating, because the break-in process has me walking like an android and giving sofas a navy hue wherever I choose to sit. It takes me out of my comfort zone, both literally and figuratively. But while I’m not participating in rodeos or working on a ranch like some kind of Lipschitz fantasy, I seem to wear a pair to destruction every 24 months through the most mundane of tasks.
I’m about to retire these 1933 501s due to damage. Not cool damage – motorbike seat wear and tear or oil marks. Just mundane contemporary scuffing and ripping. This isn’t Minoru Onozato or Doug Bihlmaier’s discerningly sloppy clothing-with-tales timelessness. I’ve simply rendered them hard to wear and given them an aura of poverty. Using the coin pocket to carry notes rather than a wallet caused some wear, two BlackBerrys (one in either pocket) over a prolonged period — even when sitting — caused two strange, holster-like markings that look like a smartphone Turin Shroud. Sitting between train carriages, cross-legged on the floor during an overcrowded commute wore the cinchback strap away to the point where it simply fell apart and it made the keys in my back pockets cause holes that rendered them unusable.
Deadliest of all, the regular rubbing of a bag on a daily walk from station to office caused the pocket area to rub away completely, exposing both my pocket and boxer shorts — cotton denim met cotton twill for a daily confrontation and twill won, emerging entirely unscathed, bar a permanent blue bruise where they made regular contact. The 1933 cut’s one of my favourites, eschewing any semblance of fit with that almost-exaggerated seat (which proved functional from all that sitting) and offering a slightly lighter, softer denim in its raw state than some later models. It served me well.
But when it comes to the thorny subject of pre-distressed denim, how many commercially available washes come close to real wear? Who gets that contrived and controlled pocket and ankle fray, with the lines symmetrically appearing at the thighs? It’s tethered destruction. The real thing’s much more freeform. I’ve got more respect for the patchwork creations, merging sloganeering with faded and dark denims that one might see in a provincial nightclub than the cop-out wash imitations feigning the look of a month on the body.
I actually got these jeans after the denim guide was completed a few years back. In retaliation for the information overload, I didn’t listen to a word I wrote. So these jeans tell a story. It’s just a shame it’s such a dull one. Still, at least they were partially destroyed on the railroad — even if it’s not in the manner that Strauss and Davis might have envisioned.
I’m feeling this raincoat by London’s UTILE crew a great deal for all-out cleanliness. No fussy business, dumb branding or irksome points of difference for the sake of it. It’s the right length and it’s made by people who know. www.utileclothing.com
If there’s one good thing to come out of our preoccupation with the past, it’s the creation of amazing merchandise like this homage to Greek Street’s legendary and long-gone Groove Records (as seen in ‘Bad Meaning Good’). Based on the shop’s carrier bags, it’s appropriately yellow. Style Warrior UK is putting out some unlikely but admirable British hip-hop designs. www.stylewarrioruk.wordpress.com