This realization hit the other day while sorting laundry.
There were sweatshirts and tees that I wear for tops, as well as half a dozen pairs of solid color leggings. Plus, there was a pile of my new favorite pants—patterned drawstring pajamas just right for yoga. Khakis, one black and the other olive green, already hung in the closet.
But there wasn’t any denim.
Those who didn’t come of age in the 1960s probably can’t know how odd it is to not own a single pair of jeans.
I was a teenager in the middle and latter part of that decade, and almost until its end, girls could wear only dresses and skirts at school. But in ninth grade, the dress code loosened: we were allowed pants on Fridays. Still, jeans weren’t in the mix—they were considered low brow and not appropriate student apparel.
That changed in just a couple of years.
A photo in my high school yearbook for my junior year has a class president striding toward the camera in bell bottom jeans and a denim work shirt. I got my first grown-up jeans around the same time, basic Levi's that were the darkest of indigo, retrieved from a neat stack at a discount department store. Wearing them in class, they made me seem way cooler than I was, and somehow, officially part of a new generation determined to bend tradition.
I’m sure I had more than a few pairs of jeans while clowning on the road and in college, first at UCLA and then San Jose State, but mostly I remember the long jeans skirt bought at a flea market in Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco. It boasted a triangle cutaway in front with a Technicolor cartoon drawing of Dopey, one of the seven dwarfs from the classic Disney movie. I loved that skirt.
My other friends mostly wore plain jeans; they were cheap and lasted for years. I’m sure that none of us knew this college uniform was invented neither for fashion nor protest. Instead, jeans were designed for purely utilitarian purposes: California gold rush miners in 1850 needed the sturdiest of pants that could withstand hard work, ground-in dirt and very little chance of tearing. Thus, denim trousers were born.
But by the time I graduated from college, in 1979, jeans were high fashion.
I’d moved to New York City that year to be a magazine writer, and women there wore the wildly popular Jordache brand, made of thinner fabric than my first jeans, and costing an outrageous $50 per pair.
Started by the four Naccache brothers in Manhattan a year earlier, these siblings had taken notice of the European denim market, where jeans were worn not for work, but for fashion. The brothers’ timing was on target: at the height of Jordache’s success, during the 1980s, the company was raking in an annual $300 million in wholesale income.
But what I recall most about my jeans then was the absolute necessity of having perfect straight creases down the middle—two in front and two in back.
My best friend Jeanette taught me how, using large sheets of damp newspaper and a hot iron. I did this so often that my ironing board was on permanent display in my Brooklyn apartment.
The decades passed, which included returning to California and finding a career in Hollywood—writer for a public relations outfit whose biggest client was the Cannes Film Festival; reporting for the West Coast bureau of a British movie trade publication, and becoming a producer for a variety of reality television shows about ghosts, unsolved murders and UFOs. I worked long hours at all of these jobs, and found myself wearing jeans less and less.
Perhaps this was because I was growing more contented in my skin, and to that end, found that comfort was now the main dictate for my clothing choices. I was especially weary of those jeans that saw me sucking in my stomach and holding my breath to get them on. Wearing airy drawstring pants and loose skirts was just easier.
Last year, the end finally arrived.
I donated the one pair of jeans in my closet—which I hadn’t put on in more than five years—to a thrift store.
These days, the closest I come to wearing denim are jeggings, which hug my body in all the right places, but are also comfy and stretchy.
One should never say never. But I’m happy to report that the denim train has departed from this Girl Clown station—and most likely, isn’t going to return.
Do you remember your first pair of jeans?