“Karen, where are your me-made jeans?”

"Karen, where are your me-made jeans?"

Today is the start of Fashion Revolution Week (yesterday having also been Earth Day) and I thought it seemed like a good time to answer a question I’ve been hearing a lot, not at all surprisingly, which is always some variation on “Karen, do you wear the jeans you made?” Of all the old fast-fashion habits that have posed assorted challenges as I’ve rewired my brain these past few years, jeans have been one of the biggest hurdles — and victories.

In January of 2016, I bought my first pair of jeans since the decision to try to create a more responsible wardrobe. They came from J.Crew’s made-in-LA line called Point Sur, and at something like $125 (I think I got them on sale), they were a big leap for me, as I’d always bought a lot of jeans, cheaply. When I gave in to stretch denim for a few years, I bought the $45 kind at the J.Crew outlet store, and for real denim I would buy $20 men’s jeans from Old Navy. Neither of which would last very long — so how much was I really spending to feed my jeans habit, right? I just checked that great closet clean-out post that set me on this path, and at that time I had 13 pair of jeans, which was probably fairly average, and I would guess most were less than 2-3 years old. They were donated or taken to the consigment shop at that time, and only two pair made the move from CA to TN — the two ultra-faded pairs you’ve seen me post about mending over the past few years. One of them (made of good denim) is now 15+ years old, and the other (the cheaper Old Navy variety) more like 5 or 6, but neither of them is reinforced enough to be wearable at the moment. So back to Jan 2015: I needed jeans, could not imagine making them or investing in even more expensive jeans with even more transparent origins, so I went with the Point Sur pair. And I made the commitment to wear them for weeks or months between washes and really make them fade in a very personal way, and more important, really make them last.

In January 2017, having not bought another pair of jeans in the year since, I made the bigger leap and bought a pair of men’s jeans from local brand Imogene+Willie, whose jeans are now sewn under their supervision in LA rather than still here in Nashville, using Cone Denim from North Carolina. (Cone NC has recently closed, sadly — so I’m not sure what happens next.) These were a whopping $235, but with them came a discount code for another pair at 40% off, so I reasoned that if I averaged the costs of two pairs, another year apart, I could do it. Same thing: Wear without washing as much as possible, making the fading and degrading process a slow one. (A year later when the discount code arrived, I decided it was counterproductive to buy another pair just to get the discount, when I didn’t need them. Such a grownup!)

Then in September of last year, I sewed my own jeans, again out of rigid dark denim. At that point, I realized — because I was taking such good care of the other two, they were both still quite dark and new looking — that I now had three pair of dark blue jeans, and no faded old friends to wear. I want each of these three to last me for years — remember I have a 15-y-o pair awaiting another round of mending, so that sets the bar — and I don’t want to be in the position again where my jeans are all at the end stage at the same time.

So I decided to phase them in. This winter, I basically only wore the first pair, the Point Sur, wearing them any time I was in the mood for jeans, and washing them next to never so they could start to take on my personal wear pattern. Which they are! They’re starting to get good, and are no longer that stark, dressy blue.

The I+W’s have been worn enough in the past 15 months that they’ve softened a bit and are starting to feel more like mine, but are so far showing no real break in the dye at all — they’re still a perfectly even dark blue, just not quite as dark as they started out. So as the Point Sur pair continues to lighten up, I’ll start to wear the I+W’s more. (I did choose them for my 10×10, you may recall.) And not until they start to show some wear and some fade, probably another year from now, will I really start to phase in my handmades. So that’s why you haven’t been seeing them in my wardrobe planning or outfit posts.

They’re in waiting.

The other day, Bob came into my little workroom holding a pair of rigid denim jeans he had bought from J.Crew a year or two ago. (As I recall, they were actually made in the US, of Japanese denim.) “Do you want these? They’re too small for me.” I exclaimed that I most certainly did not! My three pairs are feeling like an embarrassment of riches to me — more than plenty. But he knows me. “They seem like they’ll fit you, and they need a new owner … .” So I tried them on, and omigod, they fit EXACTLY like my beloved old 15-y-o mended pair do, my all-time favorites. Like replicas. So of course I agreed to give them a home in my closet. But they’ve been added to this slow-rotation plan of mine, so it may be a couple of years before they start to see the light of day …


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion: 10×10 Challenge: Lessons learned