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an ode to denim


As a high school junior, I was briefly friends with these two cooler seniors in my poetry class. Very Perks of Being a Wallflower. One of them was Beth Slutsky, a girl who delivered thrilling details about her weekend matter-of-factly from behind her snarky valedictorian glasses. The other was Jono, a kind giant always wearing a messenger bag, always straddling a bike. I remember the two of them talking about how infrequently they did laundry. There were articles of clothing you didn’t have to wash after wearing once?! I was riveted. Anyway, both Beth and Jono were agreeing that jeans required less laundering than other articles of clothing. I must have been absorbing their conversation off to the side like someone on the bleachers at a tennis match. “Yeah, I mean, jeans are like jackets,” I remember Beth saying. Jeans are like jackets. In my mind, doors flew open. Jeans were so much sturdier than other articles of clothing, weren't they? And I certainly felt the way about my jeans that I felt about jackets: I only needed a few. Jackets were sometimes even made of denim. It wasn't like jeans every smelled, like the crumpled clothes in my gym locker always started to. My life could be a lot easier if I didn’t wash my jeans so often. Was Beth Slutsky a genius?


It sort of snowballed from there. A decade later, I had started to adopt strict philosophies about denim. I believed a person only ever needed to own two pairs of jeans: one black pair and one dark denim. I wore skinny jeans then, because they were what was in style. And I was fully operating under the principle that jeans did not need to be washed with every load of laundry, a la Beth.

It feels so good sometimes, especially in your 20s, to establish a firm philosophy about something. It felt like standing atop a mountain, hands on my hips: check! I had fully conquered jeans.


I like jeans. They’re durable as all hell, and they match with anything according to the rules of our society. Pulling on a good pair of jeans can feel like pulling on a well-loved leather jacket for the first time in the fall: it remembers your body, has kept its shape. That sensation is what I imagine Peter Pan felt after Wendy sewed his shadow back on. But after the first eight months or so of quarantine, after I hadn’t pulled on a pair of jeans once, I could no longer outrun my responsibility. I had to revise the theories I’d formed a decade ago about denim. Somewhere in there I had another mind-blowing conversation about jeans, this time with my friend Dana Jaye. Why do jeans have to be boring? we wondered. Why does the workhorse status of denim pants translate to them looking so uninspired? Remember Britney and Justin’s matching Canadian tuxedos? What about painted jeans, colored jeans, embroidered jeans?

I took a hard look at the jeans I owned. They were tight. They restricted movement. The pockets were too small. I couldn’t see myself ever getting into either pair again.

So when things began to open up again, I dropped my jeans off at my local consignment shop and went back to the drawing board.


After I got vaccinated, a pair jumped out at me in a thrift store. The dressing rooms were still closed so I didn’t try them on, but when I pulled them on at home, they felt really comfortable. They were oversized. Maybe too oversized? Well, they weren’t falling off. Roomy! And they were so much more comfortable than any other pair of jeans I’ve worn.

One Casual Friday several weeks later, a female coworker remarked to me, “I wear men’s jeans too!” I froze. Were these mens’ jeans? I have no qualms about wearing mens’ clothes, but I prefer to do it intentionally. (Also, would men’s jeans really feature a button fly?)

But then while I was chaperoning the literary magazine’s open mic that night, a student directly counteracted this comment by exclaiming, “Pal, I like your fit!”

I beamed. After all, every adult knows it’s not “imitation” but “praise from teenagers” that is the highest form of flattery.


The new jeans are not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, though, and I know that. It’s the little things: I took the waist in a tad and did a sloppy job, and I think the button fly is ultimately unflattering. (Though does every item of clothing need to be flattering? I had a boss once who routinely had her pockets sewn shut by a tailor because she said it was slimming. She always looked great, but I imagine a closet full of useless pockets and can’t help but shake my head.) I know exactly what I’m looking for; I just haven’t found it yet.

The first time I went to Paris, I emerged from the metro and nearly bonked right into a stall selling denim cutoffs. No, that doesn’t quite do it justice: several full racks of gorgeous vintage cutoff shorts, old Levi's in perfect faded colors and all kinds of sizes. I had somewhere to be, and I was starving, but I had to stop and try some on.

I still have the pair I bought: they’re loose but they fit snugly around the waist and hips; they make my butt look good; they’re broken in and soft, always one summer away from starting to disintegrate. The kind of shorts you can wear to go grocery shopping in and hike in and read on the dock in and then wear to the diner.

My therapist cautions me, tries to remind me that perfection is an illusion. Still, I reach for my denim cutoffs almost every morning in the summer, and when I pull them on, I can’t help but think: this is it. They’re perfect.

My favorite shorts at the dog park and the funhouse this summer


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