When I was a kid there were two new articles of clothing that every kid I knew hated; the first was new white sneakers and the second were new pairs of jeans. I can remember begging my mother to buy my new “school” tennis shoes a month before school started so that I could have time to get them appropriately dirty and “Not new looking.” This concept that white, white, white sneakers were passé was something neither of my parents understood. But new jeans were a problem for everyone.
Jeans were invented in the 1800’s for miners and railroad workers and people who needed clothes that could take a beating and not rip apart. They stayed that way for about a hundred years. A new pair of jeans in the sixties and early seventies was more like a weapon than an item of clothing. They were stiff, and dark and were more like cardboard than cloth.
It took many washings and wearings to get them to perfection that is if you picked the right size to begin with. Knowing your right jean size was a real crapshoot since they were fabricated out of unwashed denim, which would shrink between 5-10%. Learning to judge what 7.5% shrinkage might be was a real art.
For maximum shrinkage you would use hot water and then put the jeans in the dryer until the machine practically was on fire. The only problem is that usually you would shrink them a direction you were not looking for, like if the waist were too big you would shrink the length so you would end up with floods. Once shrunken, you could only stretch them back out so far, and making them longer almost never worked. Really talented new jean owners would start washing their jeans in cold water and gently drying them before trying them on to see if they had achieved the desired amount of shrinkage. Subsequent washings would get warmer and warmer until nirvana was reached.
The other issue with new jeans was the actual amount of indigo dye still in that sturdy fabric. You had to wash the jeans alone for the first few cycles or suffer blue underwear and socks. That dye was powerful. It may not have all stayed in the jeans, but once it migrated to my father’s underpants it was there to stay.
I am thankful that jeans makers finally figured out to prewash the fabric before making the jeans so that all that shrinking and dye removal was done already. Not only does it help us to pick the correct size out, but also we can wear our new jeans out in public the day we buy them without the fear of ridicule.
It is harder to shrink your jeans, which while I am still losing weight I would like to be able to do. I find that I need a new pair about every 12 pounds. If I had jeans of the sixties I would barely get a pair presentable and soft enough for wearing before I would need to start on a new pair. I don’t have time to develop a relationship with a favorite pair since jeans are coming and going on my but these days. I am looking forward to that long-term commitment to a final pair of jeans soon.
I don’t care who you are or how thin you are; I think most of us find shopping for jeans a real pain in the ass. Well, maybe those guys who really only wear their jeans as an accessory to their boxer shorts don’t have trouble. They just go in a store and hold the pants up and if they look like they fit their whole body in one leg they buy them.
Fortunately most of don’t purchase jeans on an approximation, but it does require dedication, time and more energy than I like to spend shopping. I remember the olden days when I bought my jeans at the Wilton Department store. They all were Levi’s and I don’t care what Levi’s advertises now about 505’s or 501’s or all these other 5’s. We only had one kind. It had a zipper, no buttons and there was one kind of blue, dark and rough and had not been washed yet. All you had to do was figure out both your waist size and inseam and buy the pair that had that printed on the leather tag on the back of the waist band. Of course there were two other brands, Lee and Wrangler, neither of which were sold at the Wilton Department store and thus deemed inferior.
Granted I would have to estimate the shrinkage amount since those Levi’s were made of virgin denim. Once purchased, you were not going to wear them for a few days because they required multiple washings to remove the extra dye and not make them look so new. The worst thing you could wear would be a brand new pair of unwashed blue jeans and a new white pair of tretorn sneaker together. You would look like someone from Russia who did not know that you never wore “new” things off your property until they were broken in. or scuffed up.
Granted considerable work went into new jeans back in the 70’s, but most of the work was done at home. Then Calvin Klein and Jordache had to get in the game opening up the jeans world to everybody in the rag trade. That was the beginning of people wanting jeans to actually fit their body. Granted the number of styles was limited. When high waisted jeans, (Now called mom jeans) came in, almost all of them were high waisted. During bell-bottoms heyday the smallest leg you could get was still a fairly wide boot cut.
Today the choices are overwhelming, from skinny to boot cut, curvy to straight leg, dark wash to distressed, ankle to floor length, zipper to button, plain pockets to flap pockets and on and on. All these choices and then you still have to figure out your size, but it is not as easy as your waist and inseam. The worst part now is that you have to really make sure they look good. No longer are jeans that utilitarian pant.
So after my “hitcher’ up” episode at the State fair I finally went to find new jeans. What a god awful waste of my life because they may fit today, but as long as I keep losing weight they too will get to be too big, or I will get to be too small and I am going to have to go do this all over again. My only promise is I won’t wait until these become “pants on the floor” like the boxer short guys.