Distress Signals: The New Jeans
When it comes to symbols of classic Americana, bluejeans have found a niche located squarely between baseball and apple pie. James Dean and Marlon Brando oozed cool in their loosely cuffed pairs; Brooke Shields channeled a leggy Lolita in her skintight Calvins. There's no denying it -- the wardrobe workhorse made popular by Levi Strauss has graduated to a stand-alone fashion statement.
That statement may seem a bit off-topic today, though, as the ultra-dark, uber-skinny jeans of the past few seasons are shelved in favor of ripped, abraded denim that runs the gamut from slightly distressed to downright destroyed. Now, the wash is light and faded, as if the owner has worn them for years under the summer sun; the fit is loose, relaxed, as if they were snagged from a boyfriend's closet. The look conveys comfort and authenticity, but it raises the question: Why? In a new era of tightened purse strings, how can a consumer justify buying a product that's falling apart before it's even been rung up?
"There's a huge rebirth of heritage and vintage fashion right now, this kind of throwback to the 1930s, Depression-era kind of dressing," says Alison Sokolove, a fashion editor who specializes in premium denim at the Tobe Report, a fashion merchandising consulting company. "Authenticity and heritage are the big themes going on in fashion, so jeans that you've had for many, many years, that are very worn in -- that's what in. It's a reflection of what's going on in fashion and the economy."
All these abrasions, washes, tears, contrast stitching and patches allow a retailer to tailor its product for a specific consumer. "All the retailers are doing it, whether it fits with what they've done in the past or not," Sokolove says. "They can have just a little wear on the pocket, or rips all the way down the leg. There are so many different denim customers, which is why there are so many opportunities to create different versions of the trend."
Perhaps most important, the trend allows for more self-expression than the standard-issue skinny jeans. "I think there's now a phase of individuality and unique, one-of-a-kind looks," Sokolove says. "Even though the economy's tough, those kinds of items are definitely selling."
-- Holly E. Thomas