What to Wear with Denim

Solving the trans-seasonal dilemma of jeans

Street style in London. Picture / Getty Images.

Round about this time of year coping with a mercurial climate and coming out looking “cool” is definitely a wardrobe challenge. It’s the time I pull out the ubiquitous denim. And fortunately, given fashion’s current lean towards most things utilitarian, it’s having a revival.

Although, as probably the most versatile and practical of fabrics and beloved of every worker’s wardrobe, it’s unsurprising that it has maintained its place in the sun. I did forgo it for a time after the 70s, eschewing the flares that I realised were a test even for someone with stilt-like legs.

But I do have a few pairs of jeans, which probably will still be alive and well long after my departure, considering denim’s diehard durability. What’s more, having stuck faithfully to the classics (mainly boyfriend or skinny) forgoing anything remotely connected to rips, tears, fraying, dyes, beading or patchwork, I’m pretty sure they’ll still be willing wardrobe contenders in 10 years.

Exactly to which country denim may be attributed is a matter of conjecture. The fabric derives from the French serge de Nimes but there’s no doubt that it was Garibaldi, leading his bayonet boys togged up in blue war pants made of indigo dyed cotton, who rendered the trousers an item everyone worth his or her salt wants to pop their legs into.

Hence the word “jean” — coming from the French for Genoa, Italy (Genes) — where those same trousers were made. So, though many may credit Mr Strauss — the man who seemingly dressed the entire American population in Levi’s — as the inventor of jeans, think again.

It was the US, however, that soon took denim as its own. The Depression depicted denim dungarees, and then there were the denim-clad cowboys, led by Gene Autry, and their squeaky clean image. That soon slipped into the more seamy scene of the rent boys on Times Square (with the somewhat sinister vision of Marlon Brando lurking somewhere behind).

But all ensured denim’s place in the American fashion annals. The Brits briefly took over when Robert Plant led every rocker worldwide into a uniform of skin-tight jeans and not much else. But it swiftly boomeranged back to the Yankee centre stage when Brooke Shields breathlessly announced to the world that nothing came between her and her Calvins.

And the designers took over, Gloria Vanderbilt in particular. She was the first to realise that popping a designer name on a piece of denim — specifically jeans — was a licence to print money, undoubtedly assisted by the endorsement of that style guru, Diana Vreeland, who said, “Blue jeans are the most beautiful things since the gondola.”

Sanctioned by such luminaries of the fashion arena, denim rose from the mines, fields and plantations, where basically it related to the body’s bottom half, to a far more elevated status. Though the roots of denim may rest with blue-collar workers, these days sophisticated styling has shucked off its “strictly for the streets” persona and turned it into a covetable array of classic suits, shirts, jackets and dresses: acceptable wear in even the poshest spot.

And certainly suitable for the office. Adorned still with the typical double stitching and metallic buttons, but given an edge by a smattering of sequins, a burst of shearling or a snakeskin binding — denim is definitely “cool”.

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New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald

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