I think my Dad still calls them dungarees. A sartorial staple as dear to the American consciousness as apple pie and baseball, it’s a wonder that the blue bits of the American flag aren’t stitched from swatches of denim. Blue jeans receive reverent homage in country songs and on runways. Fashion magazine editorials and even entire issues are dedicated to denim.
Denim is America’s favorite fabric and a cultural staple. It is perhaps the only thing that cowboys, Brooke Shields, and suburban moms have in common. The stuff of Lana Del Rey’s dreams, denim is so adored that denim-on-denim is allowed to happen and is actually even kind of iconic. The sheer amount of cultural references I have ever-so-subtly packed into just a few sentences is proof of its societal ubiquity.
But here’s the thing: I hate wearing jeans. Like coffee and Full House reruns, I know that I’m supposed to embrace them like a beloved emblem of the past and present. But akin to my disinterest when people are suddenly overcome with the need to abandon current conversations and get swept up in singing every lyric of “Don’t Stop Believing” when its familiar tune suddenly infiltrates a perfectly pleasant car ride, I have no interest in chiming in when people sing the praises of jeans. Less of a blue jean ballad and more of a denim dirge, I mourn my adverse relationship with this favored fabric. I despise denim. When confronted about it, people look at me like I’ve slandered Betty White or scorned Netflix.
“I notice you never wear jeans.”
“Why don’t you like jeans?”
I can feel the hot desk light of interrogation shining on my face and drawing beads of sweat. “I don’t dislike them,” I stammer, thinking up a quick alibi, something about how hard it is to find the right fit, or how expensive a nice pair is, or try to remind them about that one time months ago when I did in fact wear a pair of jeans.
I’m not a bad person. I recycle and I drink plenty of water, I phone my grandmother regularly and I like a patriotic firework display on the Fourth of July. But I can’t make myself love a pair of jeans.
In kindergarten my mom always dressed me in overalls, long before their cutoffs comeback. That was when I first asserted myself as someone who could make their own stubborn decisions. Resentful of this nineties playground staple and likely tired of always matching my little brother, I told her I could no longer wear them every day.
Later in elementary school, I had the silly idea to use pockets for practicality—tubes of lip gloss, loose change, notes exchanged in class. But the sadly shallow pockets of girls’ and women’s pants are not actually conducive to storage of any kind. Maybe it’s this initial disappointment of the deceit of faulty pockets that has always made me feel a little let down by jeans.
Once I even tried customizing them. And in what I thought was a brilliant burst of Jackson Pollock-esque artistry, I splattered flicks of pink green, and blue acrylic paint across the front of a pair of flared Limited Too jeans. But being a walking work of art isn’t easy—it’s stiff and scratchy and for a while you’re scared to use the washing machine.
Not since deliberately destroyed denim duds have I felt an affection for a denim garment. Along with the youth’s addiction to cell phones and loud music, parents and their peers used holy jeans as an example of the folly of my generation. But this was when there was an unspoken middle school uniform. So I had to wear them too. Sometimes they were so torn that my toe would infuriatingly make a premature appearance shoving through one of the wide slits when I groggily dressed before school, leaving me almost as distressed as the jeans themselves. But they were edgy and angsty, or sometimes laidback and sexy, and just generally pretty much everything I was not.
I’ve tried bootcut, skinny jeans, acid wash straight leg, and many a shameful pair of tourist capris. The fabric bulges at the knees, the material feels stiff and icy, the bottoms fray on grainy concrete sidewalks, the color warps after a few washes and they’re not as easy to dance in as leggings or dress-skimmed bare legs. While skirts and dresses come in endless patterns and prints, despite the insistence of different cuts and hues, blue jeans are just blue jeans.
I know I sound like an elitist. An Elle Woods or a Regina George with strict lunch table fashion rules, too good for the fabric of America. Not laid back enough to be a t-shirt and jeans Cool Girl.
An existence void of denim isn’t all frilly skirts and pink pant suits. There are some who say it cannot be done, but it is an undertaking reserved for a brave select few destined to be deprived of denim. I will never find myself amongst the ranks of those who willfully elect to don denim for a Chopped marathon on the couch, that’s what pajama pants and oversized T-shirts are for. Rarely do I partake in the jean jig, in which the dancer methodically jumps and shimmies to maneuver into a pair of form fitting jeans in the morning chill of their apartment. Instead, the winter months are an amalgam of tights, leggings, and yoga pants.
Maybe I’ll never be sworn into a traveling pants sisterhood. Which is a shame because it’s the only way to go to Greece, meet like four cute guys, go to soccer camp, and film a documentary in a two hour time frame, all while bonding with your best friends. Jeans bring people together and unite Americans with their country. They’re classic and edgy and according to every issue of every fashion magazine ever, you can dress them up and down. They’ve bred imitations and hybrids and a few years ago my TV decided people could and should also wear them as pajamas. But I still prefer sweatpants or no pants.