Earl Jeans are something that come up a lot when I talk to women that are, like me, fashion minded and in their thirties. “Remember Earls,” they ask? Of course, I say, because who could forget the 90s’ best low-slung boot-cuts!? Not the women who wore them back then. And not Self magazine’s fashion director Melissa Ventosa Martin, who showed me the pair she’s been saving. “I met my husband [Walter] around the time I was wearing these,” she said. “It was the period of hipster jeans – meaning the hip, not hipster like Lower East Side-ers – so the belt loops are all ripped from me pulling them up constantly. My husband has told me since that he hated them at the time, but I still can’t part with them.” See, here they are:
Melissa is what I call a Jean Stories Dream – a person who uses the pairs she loves most as timestamps. “I chart milestones by the ones I was wearing at certain periods of my life,” she explained. The Earls remind her of when she was first falling in love with Walter. But there are high-waisted Wranglers with front patch pockets that take her back to junior high school, when she’d scour the basements of Andy’s Cheapies and Antique Boutique in NYC (Melissa is originally from Staten Island), and a pair from Liquid Sky that she got for her 16th birthday, too. When she came into possession of the Levi’s she’s wearing here, she was in college and “going to mod parties called Shouts at places like Bar 13, where Jonathan Fire*Eater and Karen O were performing,” she said. “I stole these jeans from a friend.”
More amazing than Melissa’s memory, perhaps, is her ability to bring her long-loved Levi’s into the present day, which involves being a wife, a mom to two little girls, and a top-level fashion editor. In a tissue-weight tee from Crippen and Céline ballets, she makes it look easy. If only the workouts she recommends we do to get denim-ready were the same…
Use one word to describe your Levi’s:
What do you love most about them?
These are my no-brainer jeans. They make everything look better – a designer piece, or a white t-shirt. I always get asked about them and I never regret wearing them.
Is there something about the fit of them that you feel works perfectly for your body type?
I love a high waist and a slightly cropped leg. And I detest stretch.
If they could give us a word of advice – maybe it’s something you’ve learned while wearing them – what would it be?
Casual always wins in my mind. It’s sort of a fashion cliché, but I’d so much rather be underdressed than overdressed. I’ve learned this because I get complimented the most when I wear these jeans – way more than if I’m wearing too much “fashion!”
What do your Levi’s know about you that we don’t know?
They could probably tell you when I’ve been skipping a workout…as well as some other vices.
What’s the best thing you could be doing in your Levi’s right now?
Having a martini with my husband at Roman’s in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
If you could go anywhere in the world in them tomorrow, where would it be?
Maybe Lake Placid with my family – they look particularly good in an Adirondack setting. I need a mild climate for these jeans because they’re sort of heavy, but I also hate wearing them with socks. A sweater and flat sandals is the best for these jeans.
What do your Levi’s and you have in common? Anything?
I don’t think I’d want to admit the things we have in common.
Click on a pic for more…
What’s your favorite way to wear your Levi’s?
With a tucked in crew-neck sweater or a pea coat.
How many time a week or year would you say that you wear them?
Once a week, I would say.
What’s the best possible ending you could imagine for your Levi’s?
Maybe one of my daughters will wear them. My mom had a jean jacket that she embroidered with a Grateful Dead album cover that I inherited, so it would be nice if they thought these were as cool someday.
If you had to give them away, whom would you give them to? Why?
My friend Karla Martinez, because I’m pretty sure I mistakenly stole a similar pair from her.
If you had to wear them forever, could you? Why or why not?
If I tailored the bottom, maybe. But I’m not so sure, yet, what my senior look is going to be.
Click to get closer…
Since you started at Self, have you learned anything new about jeans – about how they fit, about what’s most flattering on certain body types, for example – that you didn’t know before?
Yes, but mostly because one of my main motivations for working out is to be able to wear a variety of jeans and jeans are the best indicator of how my workouts are going. Jeans are a good gauge for what workouts are the most effective.
What advice do you give women who want to wear jeans? What’s the most important thing to remember or look for in a pair?
Think of denim as an extension of your personal style more than wearing whatever the latest trend is. For instance, I didn’t wear denim for years because I basically skipped the whole skinny jean period. There are so many options now – raw, more tailored, deconstructed. Also it should make you feel good, so don’t buy a jean you’re not comfortable in with the intention that they’ll fit better eventually with the right diet or exercise.
How much stretch is too much stretch, and is there such a thing?
I, personally, am not a fan of stretch in denim.
You mentioned at our shoot that at Self you do denim in a body-con kind of way. What does that mean, exactly?
Denim at Self will mean something different than denim at another magazine. We’re not going to shoot every denim trend, for instance. Right now we’re really into body-con denim, meaning, the pieces you pair with the denim more than the jean itself. For instance, a jean and a navy bodysuit from Protagonist – it’s more about denim as a foundation piece. If it’s presented in a tasteful way – the jean can’t be too tight, for example – there’s nothing sexier than a bodysuit and the perfect jean (and right now we all think that is the Vetements jean, btw).
What do you need the denim that you feature in the magazine to succeed at doing, always?
It should succeed in making you want it, styled that way, and motivated to get the body you need to feel great wearing it.
Is there a jean you’d recommend our readers try to make them look and feel more fit, or to show off how fit they are? (For me, I love the GAP Resolution series, which is made of really stretchy denim that holds and has great recovery. I feel like it makes me look like I work out!).
I think there’s a tendency when you feel maybe not 100% confident with how you look in denim to wear a more boyfriend jean and – I know this firsthand because my husband tells me all the time – I honestly think it works against you. Sometimes less fabric really helps. A high-waisted jean can be challenging, but I think a natural, mid-rise is very flattering.
If you had to recommend one fitness regimen to get our readers skinny jean-ready, what would it be?
Pilates, ballet, band workouts like Tracy Anderson’s. Long and lean is the way to go with denim. Running and biking, for me at least, tend to bulk the thigh muscles.
Under what circumstances, if any, is it OK to exercise in denim?
That’s a good question that I really don’t know the answer to. I’m sure someone is tinkering with this idea right now in the world of athleisure. Is skiing exercise? I love old pictures of people skiing in jeans and choosing style over frostbite.
In the (ongoing) battle between athleisure/leggings and jeans, who wins in your book?
Let’s just say if I were to nominate two MVPs in this battle, it would be vintage Levi’s and the Adidas track pant.