The College Fashionista: Denim and Its Discontents

Out of any item of clothing today, jeans are the most ubiquitous and probably the most versatile garment in modern American culture. They’re relatively cheap (if you don’t count the whole premium denim craze, which is probably taking its last dying breaths in this economy anyway), they somehow match everything, they can be dressed up or down to any extreme, and you can get them almost anywhere. What’s not to love?

Apparently, a lot. While I admit that I often prefer the freeing nature of dresses or the ease of leggings, never has my annoyance with jeans reached such a fever pitch as a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal. In a March 20 article entitled “Down With Denim,” journalist Daniel Akst wrote:

If hypocrisy had a flag, it would be cut from denim, for it is in denim that we invest our most nostalgic and destructive agrarian longings– the ones that prompted all those exurban McMansions now sliding off their manicured lawns and into foreclosure, dragging down the global financial system with them. Denim is the SUV of fabrics, the wardrobe equivalent of driving a hulking Land Rover to the Whole Foods Market. Our fussily tailored blue jeans, prewashed and acid-treated to look not just old but even dirty, are really a sad disguise. They’re like Mao jackets, an unusually dreary form of sartorial conformity by means of which we reassure one another of our purity and good intentions.

Yikes. Who knew your pants were actually the source of all of modern society’s ills?

The editorial levels extreme accusations, but Akst’s tirade against denim is rooted in some concrete (if not absurd) ideas, mainly that:
1. Denim is “hot, uncomfortable,” and very often not flattering (to be fair, I’d say not worn flatteringly) on many people. He singles out fat people.
2. Denim has undermined American “discipline” and the value of dressing smartly, creating a low sartorial standard which we all strive for- he calls this “undifferentiated dressing.” So not only do we all end up looking the same, but we all look bad.

I cannot argue with the fact that jeans increase the odds of people dressing similarly and that they are indeed a more casual item of dress. But Akst paints denim as an evil to which every level of American society has succumbed, at the cost of sartorial thoughtfulness, style and individuality.

I would argue quite the opposite. Jeans have become the chameleon of the fashion world, the material that sparks creativity and never fails to remake itself. Because of their accessibility and neutral styling, jeans can be whatever you want them to be, able to be re-envisioned time and time again. Taking a single material and adapting it in countless ways for every shape, size and season— to me, that is innovation, change, and modernity, not homogeneity, nostalgia or conformity.

If true fashion is about innovation and creative expression, and I believe it is, then there can be no better garment than jeans. Denim is not a fashion cop-out; rather, denim inspires originality, a constant revision of society and what image we wish to project for ourselves and the world. With jeans, anyone has the chance to take a raw material and envision a new reality. I stand by denim. My jeans aren’t going anywhere.

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