Friday, January 27, 2023 Jan 27, 2023
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How I Learned to Love Blue Jeans

Maybe there really is a pair to fit every woman's frame.
By Sarah Hepola |

There are a lot of dumb ideas in fashion (see: ’80s hair), but one of the most irritating to me is the idea that jeans fit every woman. Magazines promise a brand for any frame. And if you are the kind of woman who feels defeated by jeans—who has found that a tight swath of denim is like sausage casing on her body’s curves—this promise can stir a quiet rage.

But nearly four decades on this planet have taught me that my ideas about the world can be wrong (see: my ’80s hair). And so, one recent afternoon, I walked into The Blues Jean Bar in Snider Plaza and said, “I’m here to buy jeans, and I’m scared.”

The woman behind the counter had the most radiant smile. “Okay, I’m going to help you,” she said. And then she smacked her hands on the countertop, as if we had a deal.

It’s hard to get more American-iconic than jeans. Invented in 1873 by Levi Strauss, jeans are a symbol of our freedom and our cultural imperialism. Everyone has an opinion about jeans, even if her opinion is that Old Navy is great. Jeans are the source of status consciousness and parenting power struggles. Brigham Young supposedly called them “fornication pants,” and I don’t blame him. Jeans do have a whiff of sex about them. Easily removed and thrown in the backseat. (At least that’s what I read on eHow.)

Everyone has an opinion about jeans, even if her opinion is that Old Navy is great. Jeans are the source of status consciousness and parenting power struggles.

Like so many horrible stories, my jeans tragedy started in middle school. I wore the wrong brand on the first day of class, and as I walked through the halls, enduring what felt like a million jeers, it was like a giant RIP sign got hung on my self-esteem. That moment was so painful that I have avoided jeans for much of my life. 

Culture went the opposite way. Jeans have flourished, even as the economy cratered. Where once we had a few name brands, there are now way too many to list. J Brand, G-Star, Lucky. All for about $200 a pop. (Jeans are still made in the United States, which partly explains their high price tag.) As a woman who buys most of her clothes from SuperTarget, I’m intimidated by all this fussiness. The website for AG Jeans touts their “ozone technology.” Meanwhile, I’m still decoding midrise and boot cut.

But I did not appreciate how far the country’s sophistication had outpaced my own until my 68-year-old mother showed up one day wearing skinny jeans. My white-haired mother, who sewed her own wedding dress. “Jeans aren’t as unforgiving as they used to be,” she told me. “Spandex makes a big difference.” She looked great.

So I went to Nordstrom. I piled up a bunch of brands that sounded like emo bands: 7 For All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity, True Religion. Do you think this is the part of the story where I change my mind about jeans? It isn’t. I looked so dumpy in those things. Jeans are an object lesson in knowing what flatters your figure, and the things I like (cutesy pockets, flared hems) don’t jibe with my zaftig shape. I’d made the grievous error, so common in fashion: I was trying on great clothes for someone else’s body. It was time to reckon with mine.

The Blues Jean Bar carries more than 20 brands. The concept is that a trained professional can help you negotiate between your own frame and the ever-proliferating market. The woman who helped me at Blues Jean Bar was named Jole (pronounced jo-lee). She was super knowledgeable, friendly, and when you go to the Wikipedia page for “1970s-style love goddess,” you will see her picture. (I just added it.)

Jole brought out three pairs of jeans. I remember only one of them, because this is the part of the story where I change my mind about jeans. Here I am, turning with awe in the three-way mirror. Here are the hearts, exploding over my head. Here is the crinkly face I make when I see the price tag: $170. But hell, I’ve paid that much for fancy dresses and (sad but true) bar tabs. I can shell out that much for something I’ll wear every week.

And so, maybe there is a pair of jeans for every woman’s frame. Or maybe there’s just a pair of jeans for mine. I don’t know. Ask Jole. All I know is that my redemption has a name: James Jeans. A high-rise, straight-leg style called Hunter-Seduction II, which sounds like a sequel. They’re sleek all right. Just what I needed: serious fornication pants.