She bought a pair of Levi’s nearly a decade ago because they were the fashion equivalent of a blank slate. Today, writes Sally, they are anything but.
Jeans may tell stories about us, but, sadly, not always anecdotes. I so wish I could distill my relationship to a single unassuming pair of Levi’s into two neat tales: essentially, how we met and when we fell in love. But my memory is worn and imperfect.
As are my Levi’s. Here is what I can recall. I bought this pair at a shop on lower Broadway a dozen years ago or more. I can’t recall the season but, for all you denim aficionados of a certain age, it was the period when the reign of low-cut/boot-cut was under threat from no-whisker skinny. It was a confusing time for thighs and asses. I must have been looking for a jean that wasn’t trying to be flattering, wasn’t promising to make my legs look longer or my calves more gamine. I didn’t want fashion; I wanted jeans. These Offenders – their Levi’s-given name, not mine – offered a button fly that nodded to boyfriend wear; a rise that was low but not thong-exposing; a leg so ordinary it’s hard to describe as anything except…ordinary. They weren’t distressed but they weren’t stiff. They were topstitched and blue, as jeans should be. When I tried them on they drooped enough in the behind to reference “anti-fit” (how denim folks describe jeans that actually butt up against a woman’s natural curves) without looking self-consciously ugly. They felt a bit like my old 501s, but without the weird natural waistline that makes everything look MOM.
If this all sounds a bit wonky and overthought, please put that on me and not on the Offenders. They are blameless. They are simply jeans, and in all the confusion and fervor of that big denim moment—was it 2001?—they spoke to me like few things have or ever will. I wanted then to own things that referred to my life before I knew of the whimsical flirtations of fashion.
I still have that urge. I am always trying to touch the ground, sartorially at least, in a whirligig life. I like a gold ball post for an earring. I like a gingham camp shirt. A plain windbreaker. And I feel these items buffer me, not just from the extreme aesthetic promiscuity that my career in fashion demands, but from the emotional zigs and zags that life throws up more generally. Is it a banal coincidence that I wore these Levi’s (with a peacoat and sweatshirt) to pace the city when I thought I had lost everything and just putting one foot in front of the other was all I could muster for optimism? That they went hiking with me (and a white guayabera) in Texas when I was as much in love as I may ever be? That they turn up in my suitcase every time I go to Europe for collections, if only to emerge on a Sunday (or that day during Paris that feels like Sunday) when you want to make any other statement except that you are working and it is Sunday? They crouched with me at the playground for the better part of a decade.
Clearly I can’t live without them, yet it’s hardly a model marriage. They tear constantly and I repair them…constantly. The butt has been invisibly mended with all manner of fusible interfacing four times, and every time I have paid the Chinese tailor $15 to sew up my ass, the knee splits; or I patch the knee and there goes the pocket. These Levis so don’t want to be perfect! I sometimes think they have a mind of their own.
And then I sometimes think that, with all their willful rips and worn through bits, my Offenders are trying to keep me wise about the bigger picture of a life. I loved them originally, after all, because they were the denim equivalent of a blank slate. How can anything stay that neutral, that bland and passive? We always want things to be perfect. And yet isn’t it wonderful when our things—our jeans, for god’s sake – keep us ever alert to the inevitability and glory of imperfection?