A Memoir About Making One’s Own

Back in the day when soft denim jeans weren’t really available to buy – but for an occasional pair of stone-washed (read: $$$) or recycled denim (ditto) – a worn pair of jeans was a coveted and beloved item. (Say, beloved with three syllables, please.)

I once listened to famed costume designer Anthea Sylbert whose brilliant eye informed “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown,” “Shampoo,” to name a few, proudly explain in detail, the great lengths she’d gone to stone-wash by hand herself a pair of jeans for, I can’t remember whether it was Warren Beatty or Goldie Hawn’s character in “Shampoo,” so the blue jeans would look as if they belonged to the character. Translation: hard worn, form-fitting, and definitely not just off the rack!

Sort of like a pair of cowboy boots, blue jeans had to be “worn in,” the material softened from a quick run down the subway steps to catch a train; the subway ride itself; a long run through the airport to catch a plane before the gate closed (in the days when you could run down an airport to catch a plane); nights spent watching the waves on a beach; long drives home at 2 a.m. when no one in their right mind should be on the road. The thread-bare look was earned and the holes were a badge of honor.

But there was always that day when your favorite pair of jeans sported a hole in a place where there wasn’t supposed to be one, a little too high up on your inner thigh.  And then what? It was too hard to throw them away. Jeans aren’t just about jeans, they’re about all the things you did when you wore the jeans. Throw them away? Not happening! Hopefully, it was almost summer and the hole wasn’t too high up on your thigh, or even if it was! Cut-offs.

I needed a new pair of shorts, anyway. It never occurred to me that you could go to a tailor and have them made. It always seemed so simple. The length of the cut-offs was determined by the placement of the hole. Simple. Whether you could roll them or not was also determined by the placement of the hole, but personally I think cut-offs look just as cute not rolled (sometimes cuter), than they do when they are rolled.

Okay, so I can’t sew. This didn’t seem to be a process that was about sewing. Lay the jeans down on the bed. Find the offending leg and hole. Take your best pair of hair-cutting scissors, the ones you keep for bang trimming emergencies, and cut the one leg with the hole in it, right above the hole in a straight line, i.e. both sides of the one pant leg at once. Then, fold the jeans over – this is simple, I thought, sort of like folding a piece of paper in 1st grade and cutting it in half – and cut the other leg exactly the length you cut the first one. Bingo! Cut-offs.

Cut-offs are back. They’ve been back for awhile but now they’re definitely trending from the streets of Paris to the streets of L.A. I saw an adorable young woman the other day at the market pushing a baby carriage and simultaneously pushing a cart wearing a perfect pair of cut-offs – dark blue, the white fringe strangely exact. I timidly introduced myself and said, “Can I ask you a really weird question, did you make your cut-offs or buy them?”

She laughed. “Neiman’s,” she said.

“Do you know what brand they are?” I asked.

An intimate moment ensued where she showed me the label because she couldn’t rememberJ Brand.

“I thought so,” I said, “they’re a little too perfect.” They were, however, absolutely adorable and very short. Rag and Bone also makes a very cute cut-off that’s available at Saks online. But, if you do happen to have a favorite pair of jeans that has a hole where there isn’t supposed to be one (or not), you can always make your own.