Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Jeans - By Steve Anderson

Naked and Famous Denim

I have a tendency to get really into esoteric things. I think it helps me feel knowledgeable and hip. Something about being a little bit of an expert on something slightly out of the ordinary has always done it for me. I don’t think I’m alone. This is basically the foundation on which any perception of oneself as “alternative” is based. For me, it started innocently enough with a high school obsession with the Grateful Dead. Not really that esoteric but alternative for my high school. My interests got more obscure from there. My college years were spent listening to and trying to learn an unlistenable subgenre of hip hop called Turntablism. My mid-twenties were spent searching for the emerging sound of mid-Atlantic club music. Then came sneakers. Now I’m onto jeans. Well, I should say denim because that’s what people that are into jeans say.

In defense of getting into weird things are that aren’t entirely explained by a casual google search, the process of learning can be a lot of fun. I bought my first pair of dry selvedge denim in December of 2007. I was with my sister who is a total clothes horse and she convinced me that the price was worth it based on how they looked. The guy at the store was a big fan of them and told me that the denim itself was Japanese and of the selvedge variety. They were a blue that was so dark, it almost looked black. He said Japanese denim is the best quality. I didn’t ask what selvedge meant. He also told me they’d look great if I waited at least 6 months to wash them and that they would distress really nicely that way and not to worry about the tightness as they were unsanforized and would stretch out at least a size. Cool, my very first pair of fancy denim.

They were stiff as hell for like 4 months, and basically uncomfortable. I thought they looked cool though, and I was happy because I never really like the way jeans looked on me before. I tried to avoid wearing them in the rain because they would smell afterwards. Putting your jeans in the freezer for a while is the best way to get rid of this smell, as I learned much later. That next fall, they had stretched out and light blue whiskers had begun to fade around my crotch. I finally washed them in the fall by hand in my bathtub.

Maiden Noir Denim

It was kind of gradual, but by the next December they had kind of gone from an uncomfortable project pair of jeans to a super comfortable pair that had broken in to fit my body in particular and they looked ill. At one point it all seemed worth it. I bought my next pair the next February and I’m wearing them right now. I’ve washed them once and they have stretched out two sizes.

I realized that I was verging into a weird space when my wife walked in on me in the kitchen one day while I was shirtless, wearing wet jeans and standing on a towel. I had ordered Levi’s Shrink-to-Fit jeans and was shrinking them to fit. It seemed ordinary enough until she walked in and everything was taken out of context. It didn’t work anyways. When the Levi’s dried, one of the pant legs twisted and won’t twist back.

I will soon have to find something else to make me feel young again. In reality, this dry denim trend is full on mainstream at this point. There are entire online communities that revolve around discussions of dry selvedge denim. J Crew is also selling it at this point. That said, most people don’t understand much when it comes to denim and the following is for “you people.”

What is Dry Denim?

Unwashed (dry) jeans are made from denim that is unsanforized. Basically it hasn’t been pre-shrunk of stretched. The dyes have also not been set. Unwashed denim will bleed out over time and give the jeans a nice distressed look. Some people don’t like the distressed look so they wash this denim as soon as they get it to set the dye.

What is Selvedge?

The selvedge edge is the end of a bolt of fabric that is woven in such a manner that it won’t unravel. All fabric is woven with a selvedge edge. It used to be that a lot of jeans came with selvedge edges matched together on the outside seam of your pant leg. These were the days before sanforization. If the selvedge edges were matched, the pant legs wouldn’t twist when the jeans were first washed. Once sanforization became common, jeans makers could cut jeans with the economics of the fabric in mind as opposed to how the jeans were going wear over time. This basically translates into larger looms and mass production. You can check to see if jeans are selvedge by looking at the outside seem the leg. If it looks anything like this, it’s selvedge:


Why is Japanese Denim so Popular?

This gets at why Japanese denim tends to be superior. The U.S. wanted to help the Japanese develop their economy after World War II, so we sent them a bunch of our old manufacturing equipment. This included old denim looms. We moved on to mass production techniques before finally just off-shoring everything we consume. In the meantime the Japanese mastered the craft of producing heavy denim on short looms so that it lasts forever and dying it with natural indigo so that it fades oh so well.  A lot of Japanese denim manufacturers have purchased licenses to replicate old-school American styles. So it’s not uncommon to see jeans like Blue Bell Wranglers made in Japan.

How to Get Started.

I recommend buying yourself/ your boyfriend/ your husband a pair. The gold standard of dry denim jeans is the A.P.C. New Standard. You can find them for about $165 and they stretch out two sizes so buy them small. I think the inseam is 34 inches. There are a bunch of other brands out there. A few include: Nudie, Naked and Famous, Maiden Noir and Uniqlo. You might avoid J Crew as they are a little expensive and will still manage to make you look like kind of an idiot.  You can find lots of slightly used stuff on ebay which I probably wouldn’t buy given that you are looking for something that is unwashed.

It’s important to find out how much the jeans will stretch and size appropriately. If they are way too big or too long you can try soaking them in cold water for a few hours and they’ll shrink down a bit. After that, wear them a lot and don’t wash them. Avoid rain. Put them in the freezer for a while if they get smelly. Hand-wash them eventually.


Whether or not you want to buy a pair of raw selvedge jeans, here are my key take-aways on men’s denim in general:

-Don’t buy men’s versions of women’s designer jeans. This is taking a masculine product (jeans), making it feminine (Citizens of Humanity jeans), and then making a slightly more masculine product out of that. Do you see what I’m saying? Don’t get me wrong, you’ll catch me in tight jeans and purple Vans. But still, a guy wearing Sevens looks both lazy and corny.

-Don’t buy pre-distressed jeans. They look fixed gear and they won’t last nearly as long. If you want fades, the best thing to do is buy dry denim and wear them a lot. I could write an entire blog post about how exactly pre-distressed jeans don’t look real but I’m not sure anyone would care. Either way it looks stupid.  

-Beware of unsanforized denim that is not selvedge like Levi’s Shrink-to-Fit. You may be in for a surprise after your first wash.

-Don’t hem your jeans. You just can’t get the same hem at the tailor that the jean manufacturers can get. Nice denim usually comes in a uniform inseam that is typically 34 or 36 inches. People started flipping their hems up to avoid dragging the hem on the ground. This also shows off the selvedge edge if you’ve got it. I see guys everyday now flipping up their non-selvedge jeans that don’t have selvedge seams. I guess they think it looks cool. If I were buying those kinds of jeans, I would have just picked out a pair that fit me.

-When you wash dry denim they recommend dry cleaning for the first wash, but I’ve never done that. I turn my jeans inside out and soak them in cold water with some Woolite Dark for about two hours. Then I ring them out and hang them to dry.

-If you machine wash any pair of jeans, turn them inside out.

-Unless you are actually wearing boots, don’t buy a boot cut.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I'm learning to be the rock by the river... or am I?

"Mama said there'll be days like this, there'll be days like this mama said." -The Shirelles

Not me, but a girl (like me) who looks twenty times better than me.
When I lived in Portland, Jaime and I went to a yoga class that absolutely, positively KICKED MY ASS. More nazi than yogi, Nick, the instructor was infamous on the west side of P-town. Girls flocked from far and wide to stretch and tone their west coast booties.  Most of them couldn't decide if they wanted to have hate sex with him or just hate him.  Jaime had promised that that class was huge and he would leave me alone.  She knows how I feel about confrontation. She swore that he wouldn't single me out and draw attention to my lack of zen.  Five minutes into class I felt a tapping on the back of my head (followed by Jaime's stifled giggle).

"Helllooooo, I'm talking to you.  YES, YOU.  RELAX. YOUR. HEAD."  I was folded in half and staring at the floor. Apparently I was supposed to be staring at my shins. He kept tapping the back of my head, repeating the word relax until the tightropes of muscles running from my shoulders to my neck finally let go.

"That's right," Nick said as we all collapsed into Dead Man's Pose at the end of class, "Be the rock by the river.  Let everything that's stressing you out, everything chaotic just float by.  You are the rock by the river."  He was playing Nirvana that day.  Such an unconventional yoga class that asshole Nick taught.  Instead of leaving renewed, I left feeling uptight.

Some days are fun in my world.  Some days, not so fun.  Some months are worse than others.  Some mornings start out like the pathetic sputter of old lawn mower.  Take the other morning, for example: I threw on my "boyfriend sweater" only to remember it was courtesy of my best friend's boyfriend's thrift store pile.  While wearing my "not my boyfriend, boyfriend sweater" I spotted my almost empty wineglass from the night before.  I wanted to drink it.  At 8am.  I didn't, but I wanted to.  Does that make me an uptight alcoholic?

The only reason I am wearing the baggiest clothing I can find is because somwhere in between the time I turned thirty and returning from Spain, I gained twelve pounds.  I laughed at first.  Ha ha.  Like baby weight: worth every celebratory toast and nibble.  How could I not turn thirty without carb-loading on cupcakes for the entire month?  How could I not travel to Spain without trying the bread and aoli at every single restaurant we went to?  Great.  I'm an uptight, fat alcoholic. 

I've been back two months and I am not laughing anymore.  I am here to tell you that being 5'3" doesn't leave a whole lot of square footage to work with.  Now I have this horrible impulse to tell everyone I've met in the last two months that this is the fluffy me, not the real me. I want to wear a sign around my neck that says, "No need to panic folks, just a little Spain/birthday weight.  Check back soon."  That's pretty narcissistic of me thinking anyone gives a rat's ass about the twelve pounds I gained while having the luxury of jet-setting across the globe.  Narcissistic, uptight, fat alcoholic.   

I'm walking around without a boyfriend in a boyfriend sweater, staring longingly at last night's wine, wondering if I really need to start considering myself a fat alcoholic.  Wondering how long until Type 2 Diabetes and family interventions kick in.  And of course, instead of hitting the treadmill, I decide to spend my time obsessing, without actually doing anything.  What the fuck.  Who does that?  Instead of sweating it out, I am apparently content just thinking it out.   Instead of actually doing cardio, I'm silently threatening to "de-friend" anyone on Facebook who mentions any activity that burns calories or worse, shows a picture of them looking hot while burning calories.  It's pathetic of me.

Last Sunday I announced I would be doing a juice fast.  I went to the store and bought juice.  I also bought coffee and wine, promptly changing the title of my fast to "weeklong liquid diet".  On Wednesday I remembered that I was supposed to be fasting and that I had a refrigerator full of juice.  I remembered this halfway through my steak fajitas.  This made me feel like a fat alcoholic failure. An uptight, narcissistic, fat, alcoholic failure.  Raise your hand if I'm sexy now.

I wanted to write about it.  Tell you all how pathetic some days can be for me.  I thought, No, Sarah, go with the age old... if you can't say something nice don't say anything.  So I didn't write and then I started getting shit from everyone for not blogging anymore.  I couldn't blog because all I wanted to blog about was boyfriend sweaters and liquid diets that mostly consist of wine.  And lattes.  I had nothing nice to say.  I had nothing to say worth saying at all.

Then something happened.  I woke up Thursday and I made good decisions all day.  I decided to stop talking shit to myself even if I was a failed, fat, alcoholic, uptight, narcissistic, shitty writer.  Oh fucking well, there are worse things I could be. I ran and I drank a lot of water. I worked hard at the job that feeds me and found a way to work hard on the job that feeds my passion.  
It's not always easy to be the rock by the river.  In fact it's almost impossible.  Sometimes I feel more like the rock in the river, slowly worn down over time by the repetitive current. I get lonely just watching it all go by.  I want to jump in.  I want to be the chaos.  I want to be the current.  I guess that's going to have to be okay.  I didn't come here to sugar coat, I came here to tell the truth and that is that.