Vanessa Friedman Answers Your Style Questions
KATHERINE, NORTHPORT, ALA.
I am in need of new jeans. I haven’t purchased a pair since before the pandemic. I am looking for jeans that are in style and won’t be out in a year. What is the most sustainable approach to denim, in style, material and care?
The irony of finding the perfect pair of jeans is that its very discovery contains the seeds of its destruction. After all, once you’ve found your ideal jeans, you wear them, over and over again, until, no matter how hardy they are, you wear them out. And then you’re stuck with the horrible task of trying to replace them.
This often seems impossible, because even when you’ve bought what you think is a forever pair — like, say, Levi’s 501s — it turns out they, and your body, have changed.
Besides, there are now so many different kinds of jeans to choose from! Do you want designer jeans, fast-fashion jeans, cult jeans, jeans that claim to be sustainable, dressy jeans, distressed jeans, boyfriend jeans, skinny jeans, selvage jeans, boot-cut jeans, high-waist jeans, low-waist jeans, jeans with stretch — or what?
It can seem overwhelming. Especially because denim is highly destructive to the environment, thanks to the dyes involved and the quantity of water used (among other problems). That’s the bad news.
There is good news, however, or so says Maxine Bédat, the founder of the New Standard Institute and author of “Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment.” Coincidentally, Ms. Bédat had emailed me when on her way home from the COP28 climate conference, where she had run into the folks from Artistic Milliners, Pakistan’s first Fair Trade certified denim manufacturer — a company she said produces one in every dozen jeans sold.
“The single most important factor in clothing in terms of environmental sustainability is how many times you wear a garment,” Ms. Bédat said. In other words, the easiest way to offset the environmental impact is not by buying carbon credits but simply making sure you love a garment and wear it a lot.
When it comes to denim, Catherine Holstein, the founder of Khaite and a two-time C.F.D.A. winner of the designer of the year award, had this advice: “Ignore all sizing,” she said. “Just buy what feels comfortable.” Rather than shoehorn your body into whatever seems popular at the moment, or into the smallest size you can actually zip, select jeans based on what makes you feel good.
In terms of composition, look for jeans that are pure cotton (as opposed to cotton mixed with synthetic stretch), which makes recycling easier and, Ms. Bédat said, avoids the microplastic issue. Wash them rarely (Chip Bergh, the chief executive of Levi’s, once told me he never washes his jeans) and hang them to dry. If you are worried about bacteria, Ms. Holstein advised putting them in the freezer overnight.
So forget all about that “skinny jeans are in; skinny jeans are out” hoo-ha. And remember: You are the master of your own denim destiny.
Every week in the Open Thread newsletter — a look from across The Times at the forces that shape the dress codes we share — The Times’s chief fashion critic, Vanessa Friedman, answers a reader’s fashion-related question. Sign up for Open Thread at nytimes.com/newsletters.
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