Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On deadstock and vintage jeans

I recently read in W magazine about Current/Elliot’s newest line: a collection inspired by deadstock denim. (Photos are from WWD.) What’s awesome about the 10 women’s style and six men’s styles — all based on 50s and 60s era jeans — is that instead of using the original denim, they’re made from soft, thin Japanese denim.

The thing about vintage jeans is that — while they maintain their romantic allure and yes, Virginia, Levi’s are eternal — once the style is passe it rarely ever feels right again. I’m going to stick my neck out here and say it: High-waisted, pegged-ankle pleated 80s jeans. I don’t care if Chloe Sevigny can pull them off, no one else can. AndChloe (the design house, not the actress) needs to come to that realization as well.

But just because, in my experience, most dated styles of jeans no longer suit our contemporary fit aesthetic, that doesn’t mean I don’t still love vintage jeans. I love the way denim ages — the way some indigo dyes fade, like Cat Stevens sang, “faded blue up to the sky.” I love how other dyes patina in gray and brown tones. I love the clean edge of selvage denim and the inky hand of dry denim.

When I was in high school, I’d trawl the Salvation Army for Levi’s red tab jeans. The designer Michael Bastian (who was, back then, just the big brother of my friend Amanda) taught me how to realistically destroy the knees by rubbing them with a piece of pumice.

In my punk period I wore my jeans with the extra fabric below the knees folded tight against my shin and secured with a row of safety pins. In college, I liked my jeans to be several sizes too large and hitched up with an Indian scarf, boho-style. One of the thrift shops I frequented was manned by an older African-American lady who had learned my tastes. ‘You like ‘em with a big rear end,” she’d say.

Back to Current/Elliot. Because of my love of old jeans, I got goosebumps reading the article about their deadstock collection, and not so much because it’s cool that those styles are being remade, but because the very word deadstock is so freaking cool. It makes me think of the old dry goods stores that seemed to linger years, even decades past their heydays in the American landscape. Growing up in rural upstate New York, I used to seek those places out: collecting dust on the back shelves, behind gardening supplies and insulated flannel shirts, were boxes of Converse low tops and stacks of stiff carpenter jeans.

Image of deadstock from

I bought both, making furtive trips back until the stores eventually gave up the ghost. Face it, by 1990 it has been like 30 years since they’d seen serious foot traffic. But despite the obvious coolness of owning such obscure treasures (stuff my classmates in their Gitanos didn’t understand in the least), the jeans were never actually comfortable. Not the way jeans should be. They were too short, the waist band cutting me off across my abdomen and the fly freakishly long.

Wearing Roxy jeans found (for free) at a clothing swap.

I still love old jeans. And the idea of deadstock. If I had the space, I’d collect antique jeans. (According to the Vintage Levi’s Guide, “a collector paid $60,000 USD for a pair of the oldest jeans on eBay, June 15,2005.”) But when it comes to wearing what I want to wear, I like my jeans to second hand (so someone else does the breaking in) but in a current enough model that they fit right. No strangling waist bands, no costume-y bellbottoms. All Goldilocks like: not too big, not too little. Just right.

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