Saving Your Jeans. Saving The World.
As a teenager, I had a penchant for fashion. I sought out the perfect flannel where the pattern of colors blended together nicely. I searched for the shoe with the slim silhouette that the cuff of my pants landed on just right. And I loved a good pair of jeans.
When I was 13, my favorite pair of jeans was a nicely fitted medium blue pair of jeans. The length was perfect. They fit comfortably. The denim was thick and they always had that nice starch to them. They really were a perfect pair of jeans. They were the first pair that I would wear when they came out of the laundry. I selected them for my most important occasions, and if I wanted to impress someone, these were part of my go-to gear. They only had one problem.
There was a hole in the seat.
Disposable income was a foreign concept in my house, so we had to rely on the inventory of second-hand stores where their inventory was the donated goods retiring from another person's wardrobe. To the donor, it wasn't even something worth selling for some spending cash at a consignment store. The second-hand store was basically a place to put your trash without feeling guilty. For the customer, the inventory was what you had to work with, and if you found something good, you snagged it. If you ended up with some slacks with an ass hole that were otherwise pristine, you dealt with it.
I could accept the blemish. I didn't want to flash my underwear to my colleagues and neighbors, but these jeans were ideal otherwise, so I figured out a solution. I cut out a small patch of scrap denim inconspicuously located inside the pocket, I placed it over the exposed hole from the inside, and I duct taped the piss out of it to hold it there. It solved my indecent exposure issues and kept me in a decent pair of pants.
There was one problem, though. Every time I washed these Jeans, the tape would get wet and loosen, and the patch would have to be redone.
It doesn't really matter that I could have sewn this all along. I didn't really have the skill or the resources of a seamstress, and I'm pretty sure my parents were either unaware or thinking about something else. I might have to write a totally different article (or perhaps a whole book) about why I wasn't able to find a way to sew the patch on permanently so that I could wear the pants without all the extra workload. The point is, I was affixing this patch of denim again every week on laundry day. If only I had known what I know today, I would have saved myself some time and frustration, not to mention my parent's supply of duct tape.
At some point in my life, I began to evaluate why I believed what I believed and why I do what I do.
Evaluating your life. Finding your truth.
As you begin to take stock of life, important factors like daily and weekly habits need to be considered. Why do you eat bread? Why do you shower daily? Why do we use fabric softener? Why is it that there is a five-second rule for dropping food, but if you spill the cotton swabs on the floor, you have to immediately throw them all away? Lastly, why do you wash your jeans?
We can't address all of these questions in one article, but what we can do as planned is address the laundering of denim. I have become somewhat of an aficionado of denim over the last few years. I've learned a lot about the history of denim, the manufacturing process, and the subculture that worships its glory. For this subculture known as denim heads, washing jeans is not a given. Denim heads are (you might say) enlightened in a sense. The denim enlightened has determined that clothing should not be disposable, and it should last for a long time. They believe that it is a worthy choice to invest in craftsmanship. Furthermore, the lover of fine wares knows that washing your jeans after every use is ludicrous, but even a weekly wash is not necessary. If you respect your jeans, washing them is more like a ceremony. It is done with care, and it happens somewhere between once or twice per year, and not until you have worn them for at least a few months after purchase.
After you get over the cringe factor, take a moment to think about why you wash your jeans. Let's talk through each one of the common reasons, and I will effortlessly debunk them one by one (on a site where I am the moderator and owner of all content).
Reason number 1 - "Because I might get dirt on my jeans."
Oh no! You might get dirt on them?! If we are honest with ourselves, we all know we try to avoid getting dirt on our clothes. That means that you are already practicing care without thinking about it. When you do get a spot or two on our pants, since you practiced caution, it is likely that the mess is small. The best thing you can do is address the problem and only the problem. Much like a jacket, you can't place it in the washer every time you wear it, do you? No. You spot clean it carefully, and then you move on.
Reason number 2 - "Because I sweat in my jeans!"
You are correct about this. When you wear jeans, you do sweat. Do you know another time when you sweat? You sweat when you are not wearing jeans. Also, you sweat all other times. Sweating is a vital function of a healthy body. If you did not sweat, you would die. Since sweating is table stakes for personal vitality, that means that you are also sweating on other things that you are not washing. I've noticed you have not replaced your couch or shampooed it weekly, like you do your jeans, even though you sweat on it constantly with daily use. Perhaps you can overlook trace amounts of your humanity, since it is part of your lived experience 100% of your life, no matter what. The good news is, you will not accumulate any increase in bacteria or other human byproducts by wearing your jeans without washing them.
Reason number 3 - "Because my jeans might start to stink."
This sounds like a reasonable concern to me. I know you don't want to walk around smelling gross or be the butt of a joke to your acquaintances with more frequent laundry campaign schedules. I have a solution. Walk over to a chair in your home that you use often (open this article on your phone to make it portable), find stable footing standing next to the chair, lower your nose to the seat, and take a deep sniff.
What do you notice? I'll tell you what you notice. You look like an idiot! That's the same thing people will think when your colleague at work leans in to take a snort of your fancy right-hand twill denims! Do not hang around people that do this. You can rest assured that a good friend will respect your personal space. As a result, any aroma if there is one to begin with, will not be noticed by them, or you for that matter.
Reason number 4 - "My jeans get stretched out when I wear them."
Well, your problem is not that your jeans stretch. It's that your jeans don't fit. It is true that all denim stretches with wear, and shrinks with washing. Buy a pair of jeans that fit. This means if you want some loose-fitting jeans, you'll need to buy some that are "kind of" loose. If you want slim-fitting jeans, you may need to take a queue from Kramer for a day or two and stretch them to a comfortable state. You know what works for you, so this is a journey you are going to have to navigate.
The lifestyle of a good pair of jeans.
So now that you know that your reasons for frequent washing are moot, let’s talk about the alternative. What are the reasons NOT to wash your jeans?
An everyday department store pair might be everyday replaceable. The fact is, that day will come sooner the more you wash them. But for something that many of us wear every day, why not consider an investment in longevity? I’ll explain.
The fabric for the best jeans is made on shuttle looms. A Shuttle loom is a vintage loom that is smaller and less efficient than the industrial looms of today. The machines are in limited supply due to "fast fashion", the industry efficiency practice that leads to the disposable nature of clothing. These early looms produce a fabric that has a finished edge, known as a "self-edge" or "selvage," as opposed to the frayed cut edges of fabric from higher volume production. Because the product is made in smaller quantities, it is valued by people that are interested in producing a high-quality, lower-volume product that will last. The wearer seeks the mark of quality that is displayed in the selvage showcased at the cuff of the jeans.
The best thing about buying a more select pair of jeans is buying them raw. This means that you are buying jeans before they have been washed or pre-faded for you. The fading and creative lines that are found on your typical fashion store jeans are a manufactured version of what happens naturally, essentially wearing out your jeans before you ever purchase them. Do you know what made this aesthetic popular? People wear their jeans from raw to faded, sometimes for months without a traditional machine wash. Eventually, in the eighties and nineties, it became popular to produce wear patterns and fade jeans using stones, washing machines, and robots. This reduces the usable life of your jeans.
When you buy a raw pair of jeans, you are creating something that expresses you, and only you and no one is using up some of the life of your jeans for you before you get them. Every fade, every crease, every whisker, every honeycomb is produced by yours truly (or mine truly, as it were). Because of this, you are personalizing your slacks to match your own unique personality and lived experience. The denim devotee is invested in seasoning their quality denims. The journey toward earning some sick fades is one that completes the experience of owning quality crafted jeans.
To top it all off, by buying a lasting product and caring for it; you are reducing your carbon footprint by getting the full life out of your denim. This means you keep clothing longer. If you are truly committed, you will repair them to extend the life of your jeans even longer. Not only are you saving money, but you may be saving the world.
Enjoy your jeans. And if you are interested, enjoy a feature story about mine on Heddels at this link.