#8: #polodenim

Dear Ralph,

I went through a period in my life where I thought I’d never wear jeans again. I know this sounds crazy, but it is true. I thought if I forced myself to wear only chinos, wide-wale corduroy, and wool pants it would force me to be a better dresser. It forced me to dress a certain way, but a better dresser it did not make.

But another reason for abandoning denim was a rejection of it as an idea, fuelled by nothing short of disgust at online denim fetishists and the cult of selvedge and raw denim. There is something buried deep inside of me that bristles at this sort of arcana, an initiation of knowing that is really just a way of making consumerism seem like something other than consumerism. A post from Put This On neatly sums it up:

“When you pay for selvedge, you’re buying a symbolic message that you care, and a message from the manufacturer that they do, too.”

I guess I just couldn’t get past the fact that jeans, the whole appeal of which is rooted in utility (read: not caring), could so easily become a way to express ideas that are about as well thought through as signing up for an organic food basket delivery system online.

So when I went back to wearing jeans (it was inevitable) I made a decision that they would be button-fly 501s, off the rack, never tailored. To continue with culinary metaphors, this is sort of like foodie culture embracing chicken wings; it is not a principled movement, but a gut reaction away from ideas that have so saturated the culture as to seem vapid.

I’m not a zealot about it, though. So when I see your Varick Slims on sale, in white and off-white, I’ll take the plunge. And guess what, it turns out that I do have a lot of specific ideas about jeans that I thought I could avoid having by deciding to buy only 501s.

For instance, I like 501s better than the Varick Slims because yours, as promised with slim in the name,  have too low a rise and are too tapered at the leg. But where your pants have Levis beat hands down is in the details. I’m not talking about the details people normally mean when they talk about clothes (cut, construction, choice of materials) but in terms of labelling:

They might be the most intricately labeled article of clothing I own.

It is funny how things work out sometimes. I just finished reading a book called The Authenticity Hoax for some research I’m doing for a project that has nothing to do with clothes. In it there is a great section about Levis and the cult of authenticity that can be summed up like this: claiming authenticity is a pretty sure way of showing that you don’t have it.

It is a great book, lots of food for thought, but just as I was reading the last chapter the Polo Instagram started #polodenim and I started thinking about your jeans. If I had to guess (I don’t) I would estimate that more time was spent on designing the label of these jeans than on the jeans themselves. How many meetings were devoted to just the name Varick? How long did it take to name off-white ‘Sailcloth’ or optic ‘Hudson White’? They are, after all, just pants.

But what is odd is that it doesn’t bother me. Odder still, I actually kind of like it. I should be outraged that these pants have the word ‘authentic’ printed on them four times. But unlike the obsession with looms and edges, this aspect of Polo, the ‘genuine authentic’, seems more like play than like the cultish devotion that seems to animate Japanese denim hounds.

I think the fact that a level of insincerity is inscribed (if not literally printed) in every article of clothing you make is what draws me to the brand. It is your fantasy of certain modes of ‘authenticity’, but it is fantasy first. The reason why Polo is so great is because it doesn’t have to be authentic. Even when it literally screams the word from the label, it just has to be Polo.



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