Why a great piece of denim is worth fighting for—literally

It's the most versatile, chameleon-like textile in your closet

May 17, 2016

By Amanda Ross

Oh mon dieu, you could make a gorgeous vest with this ,” the stylish French gentleman beside me gushes as he strokes the denim offcut I’ve found. It wasn’t easy to dig out from the deep recesses of a jam-packed bin, but such is the system at the frenetic Coupons de Saint Pierre in Paris’s fabric district. I had been wondering whether it was worth hauling these heavy three-metre panels back to Vancouver, but the man’s charm had an envious tone, so I held said fabric in a death grip and bolted for the till.

The irony is that after visits to Colette, Le Bon Marché, and those high street shops for inspiration (Goyard, Céline), the most covetable gems I snagged in Paris were simple scraps of 20-euro denim fabric. Whether I’ll make a knock-off couture vest out of the stiff, dark cotton twill remains to be seen. Maybe I’ll just use it to recover the Adler-esque stools I picked up on Craigslist. But herein lies the beauty of denim. It’s the most versatile, chameleon-like textile in your closet—high or low, classic or trendy, it can be all things to all people.

It didn’t start out this way. Denim’s lowbrow provenance can be traced back to Middle Ages-era Genoa, Italy, when it was standard-issue sailor gear. Fast forward to 1873, when Bavarian immigrant Levi Strauss and tailor Jacob Davis cleverly fashioned the sturdy fabric into the first blue jeans, the dependable uniform of miners and cowboys. Embraced by greasers in the ’50s, hippies in the ’60s, and punk and metal in the ’70s and ’80s, jeans were finally co-opted by designer labels, where they’ve sat firmly ensconced ever since.

Although fashion is always cyclical, I roll my eyes when people wax on about denim being back again this season. True style is never about slavishly following trends, and in my mind this wardrobe staple never went out. Its inherent beauty—along with the creases, sags, and lines that evolve each time you wear it—is in the fact that it’s the most democratic garment in your wardrobe, one that’s not subject to the whims and vagaries of fashion’s rigid dictates. So let the headlines laud the latest Pharrell gig at G-Star, or Danish menswear maker Soulland’s collaboration with American heritage stalwart Lee. You can rest easy knowing that, brand name or no-name, your jeans are always a place on which to leave your own mark.

PICTURED: Local athleisure jean brand Dish & DU/ER’s new women’s lightweight water- and dirt-resistant anorak ($189), available at their new Gastown flagship.

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