In 1853, people from all over the world headed west to the California Gold Rush with hope in their hearts and dollar signs in their eyes.
But those who really struck it rich were the ones who provided food, lodging and equipment to the miners. Two of those people were Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss, who cut and stuck rivets in cotton cloth to make a sufficiently sturdy pair of pants and unknowingly devised one of the most iconic pieces of clothing of all time.
Jeans are as American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t own a pair of jeans. If you walk down the street, the majority of passersby will be wearing jeans.
Jeans are wardrobe workhorses. You can dress ’e’m up or down; you can wear ’em at the office, to the grocery store or on a first date.
But, in reality, jeans are ugly, unflattering and unattractive.
OK, hear me out. I’m not broadly condemning all jeans; my gripe is mostly with the super skinny jeans whose popularity skyrocketed in the early 2000s. Plus, in the interest of full disclosure, I do actually own two pairs myself: one from AGOLDE, with a boyfriend fit and criss-cross fly and one from APC that I altered to add tulle to the hems.
I made an exception for these two because they are high-quality, well-made and long-lasting, but most importantly, they are statement pieces.
When I wear them, they are the focal point of my outfit. However, I believe the vast majority of people consider jeans to be a sort of blank canvas — a safe, bland, boring option that’s nonexciting but non-offensive. They wear jeans because it’s the universal basic staple. And that’s a mistake, for two reasons: They don’t look good on anyone and they don’t look good with anything.
They don’t look good on anyone
Jeans are the most stressful clothing to shop for, second only to swimsuits. We try on 50 pairs in the dressing room, twisting this way and that, wondering if our butt looks too big — or in the age of the Kardashians, if our butt looks too small. Why is it so hard to find a decent pair of jeans?
First of all, jeans are not forgiving. Denim is a stiff, uncompromising fabric — just ask any Japanese raw selvedge enthusiast. But even for jeans with added stretch, it’s hard to wriggle your way into them. There’s a fine line between “sexy, so tight they look painted on” and “my legs are sheathed in sausage casings.”
Jeans are often too constricting around the rear, smushing your ass down and making it seem flatter and wider than it is. High rise jeans have emerged as a solution, but all rises have their drawbacks.
High rise: You’re taut, you’re cinched, you’re snatched … but you can’t breathe.
Mid rise: Hits right below the belly button, creating the perfect muffin top situation.
Low rise: I promise you, no one wants to see your thong.
Jeans can also shorten your legs. When you wear black pants with black shoes, the line of your leg is unbroken, creating an elongated silhouette. But I don’t know anyone who owns denim shoes, so wearing jeans with, for example, white sneakers, abruptly cuts off your leg. Plus, most jeans are already too long for the average person, so the excess fabric puddles around the ankle — not cute.
Thus, jeans only look good on certain body types: 6-foot models with mile-long legs, or the apple-bottomed shawty in the club hypnotizing T-Pain. For those who are more short-legged and flat-assed — such as myself — jeans are a one-way ticket to schlubville.
They don’t go with anything
Blue is finicky. It doesn’t play well with a lot of other colors. Its opposite on the color wheel is orange, which definitely doesn’t do anyone any favors.
Black does not, in fact, go with anything; because blue is so subdued, wearing blue and black together will wash you out. Blue and white is the most attractive combination — think of the classic white T-shirt paired with blue jeans. But once you add other colors into the mix, things can get a little dicey.
But Kitty, you say. What about white/black/colorful jeans? All well and good, until you spill red wine on them or run them through a rinse cycle. All of a sudden, your inky black jeans have turned a sickly shade of grey. I can tell you from personal experience: The dyes used to color denim fade and bleed unbelievably easily.
Also, let’s talk shoes.
No shoes look good when you’re wearing jeans. Sandals are a summer shoe and should be paired exclusively with shorts, skirts or dresses, but never pants. Sorry, nothing will sway my mind on this.
Flats are a personal pet peeve of mine, as they provide zero arch support and make your legs seem stubby: If your shoes don’t have a heel to contribute some extension, your inseam is gonna appear three inches shorter than it actually is.
As for boots, have you ever tried to stuff five inches of denim into tightly-laced Doc Martens? Everyone knows that’s a recipe for severe bunching. (Bootcut jeans are an exception, of course, but who wants all that loose fabric flapping around their ankles?) And if you decide to wear them with sneakers like adidas or Converse, you might as well throw on an Aéropostale hoodie for good measure because voilà, you’ve instantly transported yourself back to middle school.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the environmental impact of jeans. They are one of the most resource-intensive clothing items to produce, requiring almost 2,000 gallons of water to make one pair. Factory runoff containing chemicals used in indigo dye pollute and contaminate rivers. Why unduly burden the planet for something that’s ill-fitting and uncomfortable?
Save your time, money and the earth by investing in some solid slim-fitted trousers, which I absolutely swear by — but that’s another column.
Kitty Guo is a senior writing about fashion. Her column “Tongue in Chic” runs every other Wednesday.