At Culture11, I nearly wrote the most thorough defense of George Will ever penned, but got busy and didn’t. I later sat out the global warming column controversy. But I cannot stay silent having read Mr. Will’s atrocious column on blue jeans. I say that as someone who is inclined to like quirky, contrarian tirades — but if you’re going to pen one of those, you shouldn’t be so uninformed as to write something like this:
Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy’s catechism of leveling — thou shalt not dress better than society’s most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism — of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.
Denim is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances.
In the America where I live, men and women pay a hefty premium for designer jeans that communicate fashion savvy, aesthetic sensibility and wealth, a trend overstated but nevertheless documented in this 2005 Forbes piece:
While many women—and some men—are willing to pay as much as $145 without giving it a second thought, increasingly, designer labels are offering jeans ranging from $300 to as much as $4,000. For those who want exclusivity, there are custom couture jeans with prices that are even higher. “For the most part our jeans are in the $150 to $225 range, but there are, in designer, some very expensive jeans, and it’s because they’re highly embellished and have treatments that really bring the price point up,” says Colleen Sherin, fashion market director at retailer Saks Fifth Avenue.
Regardless of whether they are embellished or embroidered, covered with beads or precious gems, to many people, even those who could easily afford it, the notion of paying thousands of dollars for jeans—they are still jeans, after all—is ridiculous. For others, though, having a signature label in the back is as much a status symbol as the hood ornament on a Mercedes. These are people who “want the look of the moment, hot off the runway and regardless of the price,” says Sherin.
….It is not just the age, the label or a flattering fit that drives up the price of today’s most expensive jeans. Much of the added cost comes from the decorations and fixtures, such as 14 karat gold or silver rivets and diamond buttons. The jeans that top our list come from Escada’s couture line. They start at $7,500 and have no price cap. So far, the most expensive pair they have made cost $10,000 and were studded from top to bottom with Swarovski crystals.
Is this willingness to spend thousands on denim a sign of decadence or a relaxing of the barriers between high fashion and comfortable clothes? Marshal Cohen of NPD says, “We’ve reached the point in that, number one, denim is being viewed as an investment like jewelry and hand bags, and that number two, like women with a shoe fetish, there are now women with a denim fetish. Everyone, woman and man, is in the quest for the perfect jean and will be for a long time.”
As I said, Forbes overstates matters — I am not in the quest for the perfect jean, nor will I be for a long time; but nor do I own two pairs of $130 Lucky Brand Jeans, purchased on sale two years ago for $80 apiece, because I yearned to express aesthetic egalitarianism.
I’ve never been one to think deeply about clothing, a subject better left to James and Ann Friedman, who ought to be hired by a glossy New York magazine as co-fashion bloggers. Indeed, I only have the opportunity to comment on the subject when stodgy, bow-tie wearing conservative pundits go so far awry that I feel comfortable begging to differ. In that spirit, let me assure Mr. Will that the thing most of us would prefer, as we purchase our Levis or Calvin Klein’s or Lucky’s, or whatever other jeans are out there, is that whatever denim we can afford also happens to make us seem more attractive to the opposite sex — and if any of us could pay a premium for the assurance that our blue jeans would make us appear relatively more attractive than anyone else to the opposite sex, we would.