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The Tao of Denim: If It's Not Worn, You Have Nothing On

Measuring Jeans Length
Don't mess with imperfection: Mauro Farinelli at his Denim Bar in Arlington. (Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

People who come to Denim Bar want their jeans to be the perfect length, so Mauro measures customers with jeans on. Sometimes he sends the men home to get the shoes they plan to wear with the jeans, or he lends the women high heels, like bridal shops do. He marks the right length, so that the jeans nearly touch the floor in back. Then he gives them to a tailor who stitches them so the original hem stays on. This is key. If you're paying big money for jeans with frayed hems, you don't want to mess up the imperfection.

Sometimes Mauro does more. One day a woman named Angie Hegazi comes in. She is 26 and has been a customer of Mauro's since his time at Saks. She asks if her jeans are ready. Mauro goes into the back and comes out with a pair of jeans that Angie bought at another store, and then brought in for Mauro to perfect.

"They were slightly distressed," she explains later. "I wanted them distressed a lot."

The jeans have various holes and worn spots that Mauro has designed and executed through hours of labor with a palm sander, stitch remover and dental pick. Angie is pleased. She takes them home and wears them out at night. She says they look good with sequins.

* * *

Mauro is a slender, curly-haired guy in his early thirties with a knack for blunt talk. His favorite word is that elegant three-letter word for rear-end, and he often will compliment a customer on hers if it looks good in a pair of jeans she's trying. He will also tell her if it doesn't.

Sometimes, in an attempt to explain the complex science of denim, Mauro will say things like, "You can have a girl with a huge ass" who looks good in one type of jeans, while "another girl, equally titanic," looks better in a different pair.

"Pocketless jeans are the worst, though," he says with disgust.

These days, Mauro is extremely fond of "raw" jeans, made from virgin denim that has never been washed or treated. Four to five days a week, he wears a particular pair of raw jeans. He has been wearing them like this for more than three months and won't even dream of washing them till it's been half a year.

Raw denim is really dark blue and stiff when you first put it on, and in the beginning it tends to bleed onto white sneakers and light-colored couches. But after six months of near-constant wear, Mauro says, the jeans will fit him perfectly and will have faded in all the right places. There will be "whiskering" around his crotch and "honeycombing" behind the knees.

"This jean will be unique to me," Mauro says.

"They kind of show your soul, you know?" says a woman who represents a raw jeans brand.

Such revelations don't come cheap. An 18-year-old named Mike Zima buys a pair of $278 raw jeans from Mauro. "It's not my money so I don't really care," he says as he checks out. The money is coming from his parents' account. "I guess they'll find out," he says.

Mauro has given a lot of men his pitch on raw denim. He says men are more receptive to breaking in raw jeans because they're more "patient," though it also could also be that they're less turned off by the notion of wearing dirty pants. (On the Web site for a raw jeans maker called Nudie, men ask what to do if their jeans start to smell. The site advises them to put them in the freezer.)

If a stitched logo can tell the world how much you spend, a pair of raw jeans show the world how much you care. Raw jeans are a sacrifice, and not only for your white couch.

Victor Fonseca, a friend of Mauro's, says he's been trying to break in his raw pair on weekends, since he can't wear them to work. Two months ago Victor bought a different pair of jeans for $330, but hasn't permitted himself to wear them yet. Every time he wears jeans, he must wear the raws. His butt is reserved.

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