How genes affect jeans and the perfect pair of Levis

by Brian Clarey

I’m a bluejeans kind of guy.

I don’t mean that as a metaphor: I’m not rough and tumble; I don’t like open spaces; and I don’t really know how to do anything with my hands. I can’t build things or even fix them, unless the problem you’ve got is a dangling participle or something.

No, I’m a bluejeans guy simply because I like to wear bluejeans. I always have, even through the late ’70s corduroy craze and the inexplicable infestation of pleated khaki that began around ’82 and still persists in some circles today.

And while I’ll admit to sampling liberally from the canon of denim choices over the years – I’ve worn Wranglers and Lees; carpenter jeans and fashionably stressed-out low-risers; I’ve even, God help me, worn acid wash – when it comes right down to it, there’s nothing better than a pair of Levis.

Not the phat-leg, not the button-fly, not the fancy-pocket or the bell-bottom or any of the low-slung, low-end imitators in the venerable line. Not the pre-washed or the stone-washed or anything made to look like it’s already been worn for a year. I’m talking about regular, plain old Levis. Stiff, raw denim. With a leather label on the waistband and a little red tag on the butt.

There is no real substitute.

I don’t know why, but nobody has been able to duplicate the classic Levi jean. Either the denim isn’t right or the cut is all wrong or the pockets are sewn in some weird place in the back.

And nothing wears down like a pair of Levis, except for maybe a properly broken-in baseball mitt. After a hundred wears or so the color fades just right; the seams give in just so; frays at the cuffs and pockets attest to the art of imperfection.

At one time in my life, when I was tending bar four nights a week, I was so expert and expedient at breaking in new jeans that people would want me to break in their jeans for them. I couldn’t do it, of course – you can no more break in a man’s Levis than you can lose his virginity for him. There are some things we’ve got to do for ourselves.

But bartending was a great way to break in a pair of jeans: lots of motion and potential for scuffing, occasional spillage to critical areas, cultivated wear at the pockets and cuffs’….

What I wouldn’t give for a pair of Levis trained to my own sweet hide right about now.

You see, in the last six weeks or so I’ve been experiencing a bluejean crisis and it looks like I won’t be out of it for another six months.

When I was a young boy my jeans always gave at the knees, usually after sandlot football games, bicycle spills or particularly aggressive rounds of an activity we called “mush” but is better known as “kill the guy with the ball.” But as I got older, a peculiarity of the male Clarey physique, one that can be described as “lack of buttock,” put the stress in my bluejeans across the hips. As a result, I’ve blown out the ass in every pair of jeans I’ve had since high school. Usually in public.

But because each pair of jeans is its own entity, with its own aging pattern and life span, this is something that generally only happens to me a few times a year.

This was a bad year.

It started out pretty good. You see, a pair of jeans grows more cultured and beautiful with each wash and wear, the fringes delicately unspooling until, inevitably, the center gives. But the moment before dissolution is not unlike the zenith of a sunset or the final throes of autumn’… they reach that state of near perfection and earned beauty that we earnestly strive for and rarely attain.

That’s how I started the year: with a fine rotation of jeans, each approaching its own brand of nirvana. For a few months I styled them’… with boots and blazers and rough leather belts’… basking in their faded glory.

And then the ass blew out.

It happened first on a trusty old pair of Levis, perhaps the last pair I seasoned behind the bar. I put them on one cold morning straight from the dryer, as warm and comforting as a cake your momma baked, and when I bent over for a sock or something a fault line opened along one of the rear pockets.

A month or so later another pair, this time a well-worn denim that was nearly black at the time of purchase, gave out in precisely the same manner.

And just last week I tore the butt out of my final pair of old jeans when I hopped on a newspaper box outside the office.

My wife says she’s never seen anything like it.

The long and short of it is that, as of press time, every pair of jeans in my collection is brand new, seams intact, stiff at the crotch and waist, the denim a uniform blue and the numbers on the leather waist tag clearly visible.

It’s gonna take me forever to make ’em look right.

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