March 31, 2005

Pre-Owned Jeans

ONE OF THE SMALL ECONOMIES about living in New York City for years and relocating to Southern California is to be had in clothing costs. If one of your jobs in New York was being a men's fashion editor for a magazine, you find that you don't buy clothes so much as have them.

In any case, I dumped clothes by the cartload before I moved, and I still had far too many when I arrived. Since I don't ski, the usefulness of items that would put Nanook of the North into a sweat during January in Greenland are pretty dubious when every day can be a day at the beach. As a result, I've been pretty much out of the clothing shopping cycle for years and I find it, to say the least, refreshing.

In Laguna Beach if you hold two pairs of shorts, a couple of swim suits, a few Hawaiian Shirts and two pairs of jeans for "formal occasions," you're pretty much done. But "wear happens" and I've noted that my Levis have been getting -- even for Levis -- fairly grotty in the last couple of months. Yesterday, I decided they about to be redefined as "rags," and I so set off to purchase my first new pair of jeans in at least six years.

Since I'm a hit-and-run shopper I did what any American male in search of jeans-to-go would do, I turned left into the parking lot of the first Gap I saw and sauntered inside confident of my mission. Unlike my wife who tends to shop like a wild gazelle grazes -- a nip here and graze there and, presto, six different designer shopping bags -- I knew what I wanted. I also knew how much I was going to spend. Unlike my wife who never really spends any money on clothes, but only "saves" money on clothes. [ Me: "You look great in that new outfit with the shoes and the hat. How much did they cost?" Her: "Would you believe I saved over $800 on this? How great is that?" Me: "That's really great."]

I firmly believe that if you have to spend more than 15 minutes in a clothing store, you don't need what you think you need. My list was short. I wanted one pair of five pocket denim jeans, blue, crisp, and coming in at no more than $50. The Gap was the place for me.

Fool. Yes, fool. For if you want to find a pair of crisp, new blue jeans in trendy deco SoCal, you'd better pack a lunch, because you are about to find yourself trapped inside an episode of "Shop Trek."

It's not that you can't buy some new jeans at the Gap, it is just that you can't buy any new new jeans.

Yes, it would seem that sometime in the last six years, the American people have become so fat and so happy and so inordinately lazy that they no longer want to put their own wear, sweat and stress into their Levis. Nope, it seems

that the entire country will only buy jeans that have already been worn into a shambles, reduced, as new, to the rags I already had at home.

You've got new jeans at the Gap that look like they've had non-union and unlucky sweatshop employees of Sri Lanka of all shapes and sizes stuffed into them and then dragged for miles along country roads. They've got jeans with the off -the-rack look as if they've been sandblasted at a construction site in Tiajuana -- after Happy Hour. You've got jeans that look as if the person inside them was persuaded to talk with a belt-sander. You've got jeans that seem to have been stolen out of a refugee center in Kosovo after a NATO bombing raid went terribly wrong. And you've got jeans that I swear have the finish and light golden color stained deep into the blue that you could only get if you buried them in a Chicago feedlot and let several herds of cattle rain down on them for a month.

Pre-shredded, pre-torn, pre-raveled at the seams, pre-faded, pre-pissed upon and a dozen other industrial or inhuman processes all combined to give me a section of men's jeans at the Gap that looked like the changing room right next to a mass grave. All displayed proudly and marked and priced as "New."

I'd long been aware of a certain market on eBay, Eastern Europe, and Japan among the tragically hip for vintage worn Levis. I'd accepted that as one accepts the fact that there will always be a market real and facsimile shrunken heads. I'd been vaguely conscious of the "stone-washed" process in denim, but thought that was only popular among Suburban housewives of the expanding midriff. But I'd just not caught up with the fact that it was no longer necessary, or fashionable, to break-in your own Levis when you could have a process or a prisoner or a refugee do it for you.

It was once the case that when you bought a pair of Levis they were not only board stiff, they were two sizes large so you could "shrink to fit." The other miracle about them was that they could turn any laundry within two blocks of your house blue for the first five washings. Wear? Wear happened -- slowly, over years, like the mellowing of a fine Bordeaux. Long gone. Where are the Levis of yesteryear? In the Ginzo district in Tokyo selling for $1,110 a pair.

Where are the Levis and Gap jeans of next year? Probably on the ass of some hapless bastards in lock-down at a prison in either Arizona or Bangladesh. After all, if my web host can outsource his service calls to India, surely it is only a matter of time before our Levi pre-wearing is outsourced as well.

Did I buy any new jeans? Of course not. I came home and looked at the two half-rotten pair I own, frayed at the cuff, a hole in one knee, and stained from five years hard-riding. I slipped a pair on, chose an Hawaiian shirt that would be ashamed if it was a tie, and took a turn in front of the mirror.

Ah, that Tropical-Balkan-Refugee look. The very glass of fashion.

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Posted by Vanderleun at March 31, 2005 7:22 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Amen and amen.


Posted by: Eric B at July 18, 2004 9:17 AM

Dude. Get yourself to one of those seedy surplus or second-tier department stores and buy yourself a couple pair of Dickies jeans. They're half the price of Levis and wear a lot softer. Plus, instant street cred, 'cause folks will think you're a plumber.

Posted by: slimedog at July 18, 2004 1:20 PM

Never tried L. L. Bean? $29.50 for a pair of men's jeans. (I think "Faded" and "Stonewashed" refer as much to colors as to anything done to the jeans. "Prewashed" is all I ever noticed.) Bean's stuff lasts, too.

Posted by: Connecticut Yankee at July 18, 2004 1:44 PM

Try Sears (is there a Sears in trendy southern California) or Lands End by mail.

Posted by: Jim in Virginia at July 18, 2004 3:54 PM

Get'm at eBay for lots less than $50. (More like $5 plus shipping, depending on how in-demand your size is.)

Posted by: Alan Cole at July 19, 2004 6:01 PM

Honey, you know how I was so tired last night that I didn't even unpack the suitcases? Well, that's probably why I forgot to tell you about shopping in Oklahoma City with my two sisters! Talbot's was having an end-of-season 25% off the already low sale prices of 40-70% off so even though I wouldn't normally consider myself a Talbot's kind of gal, I decided what the heck, I'll take a quick look. Two hours and 43 try-ons later, I liberated (from those inhumanely packed sales racks) two adorable sweaters; one skirt; and an extremely practical red leather and straw tote bag -- saving our family nearly $200 in the process! Elated, I used part of that savings to buy the complete audio collection of David Sedaris CDs. 24 altogether, I think. And then with the rest of the savings, I treated everyone at the reunion -- and we're talking 38 cousins alone! -- to dinner at the Sonic Drive-thru. Aren't I amazing?

Posted by: Mrs. VdL at July 20, 2004 4:39 PM

Try Costco. You never know what you'll find, but they usually have men's jeans. New.

Posted by: Grumpy at October 18, 2004 3:42 AM

I buy my jeans at Wal-Mart for $12. I'm sure the jeans at the Gap are better quality, but are they four to six times as good? Because they cost four to six times as much. No thank you.

Posted by: Pat Berry at October 22, 2004 2:12 PM

Sorry, I was remembering incorrectly. I checked, and Wal-Mart's price for regular-fit Faded Glory men's jeans is $9.84. No disrespect to Connecticut Yankee, but I just can't see paying three times that for L.L. Bean jeans, no matter how long they last. For $9.84 I could replace my jeans every year and still come out ahead, I think.

Alan Cole is right that you can find jeans even cheaper on eBay, but I tend not to buy clothing on eBay because I can't be sure it will fit. Size labels are often just plain wrong. There's no substitute for actually trying the garment on.

Posted by: Pat Berry at October 24, 2004 8:26 PM

On my planet, pre-shrunk, but unfaded Levi's are still available. They're there... somewhere buried upon the mounds of the pre worn out pants.

Posted by: jm at July 1, 2006 8:24 PM
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