The Skinny On Big Jeans

vintage levis blank stare blink

Fashion is an endless cycle that moves so fast it makes me dizzy. Hems go up up up, then back down, then slightly up, then back to the ground. Blue is the new black. Then it’s not. Platforms are out. Then in. Then out. Then in if they appear on a sneaker, but not on a boot.

And then the Wall Street Journal declares:  “Is This The Beginning of the End for Skinny Jeans?”

Coming from such a well-respected style source, this must be so!

Skinny jeans came out of nowhere back in the early 2000’s and have enjoyed record staying power. I remember buying my first pair back in 1981, on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley*, during my freshman year in college: bright red, tight, zippered ankles. I combined them with an English Beat T-shirt and pointy-toe flats to reflect my obsession with the new wave music I blasted from my ’72 Volkswagen bug.

Me, in vintage Levi's from The General Store. Top vintage Balenciaga from Cris.

Me, in vintage Levi’s from The General Store and vintage Balenciaga jacket** from Cris Consignment.

When they did re-appear during the last decade, the look was different, and thanks to advances in lycra, easier to squeeze into. This flex factor has been key for those of us who’ve logged more years on our rears. So stretchy are these skinnies that they tread on legging territory, thus the term “jegging”. But too much of a good thing, in this case the beloved lycra, has lead to shapeless skinnies going sloppy, and sloppy people squeezing too much skin in there. They’ve gone from cool to fool, not to mention becoming an integral part of the hipster uniform.

What to do, what to do.

Enter the opposite end of the spectrum, another look from our past that’s poised to knock skinny jeans into a big fashion don’t: vintage (or vintage looking) faded, slouchy straight-legged Levi’s. The kind that feels like flannel, soft like old PJs, big enough to allow air to circulate freely between your skin and that velvety denim, riding a little higher to safely secure the Muffin Top.

The General Store, The Sunset, San Francisco: vintage treasures.

The General Store, The Sunset, San Francisco: vintage treasures.

I won’t regurgitate the Wall Street Journal article here; I urge you to read it as it’s a great piece full of photos and places to buy the perfect pair of imperfect pants.

I must warn you that as easy as this new/old style of jeans is to pull on, they are tough to pull off. Worn too high, too tight and too pegged you’ve got yourselves some Mom Jeans. Worn too baggy with sneakers and you’re just sloppy. And because they’re lycra-free, a huge crutch for us all, there is no give. That’s right, they won’t give us an inch here and there, but rather, will pinch and push that fat up and over the waist band. Hoover Dam they are not.

In order to find that perfect pair, you need patience and an eagle eye. Go to your favorite thrift store and grab a stack to try on. You’ll figure out pretty fast what sizes and styles work best for your figure. And please, don’t freak out over the sizes — old-school Levi numbers run very small, especially the way we want to wear them — body skimming and loose. My new favorite spot in San Francisco is The General Store, pictured above. It’s out in the Sunset and has a great selection.

Once you’ve got yourself a pair, styling them is fun, but challenging. Because they are slouchy, go for something sleek and structured on top, with a heeled shoe on the bottom. I wear mine with Birkenstocks when I run around the neighborhood, which I know is hugely unflattering but that’s just me. For my ghetto selfie above, I am sporting Acne heeled clogs, which transforms the silhouette from slobby to sophisticated.

Oh, and the best part? Vintage jeans are cheap. At least they can be.

So blast the Cure through your headphones and loose yourself in the jeans’ racks of your local thrift store.


*I didn’t actually attend UC Berkeley. Not smart enough. But I did take BART to the area constantly to see bands and shop.

•• Since today was one of those days I didn’t leave the house which means no bra, that Balenciaga number was stiff enough to hide that fact. At least I hope.


4 Responses

    1. Paula

      Thanks Theresa! I can’t wait to see what you come up with. And since you are a mom, it’s only fitting you enter into “mom” jean territory. xoxo

    Colleen Bailey

    P–I love these slouchy jeans, but for we women short(ish) of stature , hard to find a pair which does not make me look as though I have no waist, no hips. Alas, the line between hip and frump is tricky. Peace and welcome back ladies.

    1. Paula

      Hey Colleen! Thanks for writing. I know, this type of trouser is tough to pull off, however, you are so svelte that you can for sure. Sarah Jessica Parker is short and slim like you, and always looks cute when she wears slouchy jeans. Roll the hems and wear with a heel. xoxo

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