By Kimberly Lawson
It’s amazing how the face of the denim industry has changed so quickly. Not so long ago, Calvin Klein and Guess were the highly sought after labels, and prices of $70 a pair were nothing to wink at. Nowadays, CK has been replaced with Seven for All Mankind, Rock & Republic, Antik, and True Religion as the reigning jeans makers. And no longer does $70 buy you a top of the line pair of jeans; try double that, at a minimum. Call them designer jeans, or premium denim, a pair of these will break your budget at an average of $150 to $200 per pair, and well over that price on many occasions. So when is a pair of jeans worth your entire monthly clothing budget? Most who bow down at the alter of designer denim say when they fit just right.
Charlotte Underwood, for example, has a penchant for all things designer. Her label of choice is 1921, which averages about $160 per pair. “They didn’t fit as well as my 1921’s.” she says in comparison to jeans from American Eagle, a reasonably priced chain store. The 19 year old student from Boston, Massachusetts continues, by saying, “The cut wasn’t as good, the coloring wasn’t as good, and the pockets on the back made my butt look weird. The waistband on the 1921’s isn’t that tight, eliminating love handles”. As for the high price tag, she adds, “They’re kind of expensive, but I’d prefer to have a few pairs that fit well, compared to a lot which don’t.”
I would agree that those are all very good reasons for spending a little bit extra on a pair of jeans, but at the same time I can’t help but wonder if designer denim lovers are somewhat influenced by psychological pricing. In case you’re not familiar with the term, psychological pricing is when designers up the price of an item so buyers think they’re getting something high in quality; whether it truly is better than the competitors product is debatable. And for every person who sings the praises of Seven for All Mankind, there is someone else who believes these brands are only charging extra for the name. They may have a point, but upon asking a textile professor at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising about the quality of designer jeans, I was surprised when she told me that most of the time the quality of denim actually is better! Ms. Young went on to say that certain weaves used in denim making, such as a ring spun yarn, will always warrant a higher price tag since it is more expensive to manufacture. Thankfully, this also makes the designer jeans more durable, so consumers get the most out of their money.
There are also certain treatments and washes for denim that can also up the cost. Take hand grinding and sanding for instance. If you purchased a pair of designer jeans with this feature, that means someone took the time to individual craft all the little holes and abrasions in your designer jeans by hand, with a special tool. It also means your pair, technically, are one of a kind. This type of labor doesn’t come cheap, therefore justifying the price, to an extent, at least. But above all the technicalities, its hard to deny (or resist, in many cases) the seductive qualities of a designer label.
After thinking long and hard about this subject, I finally decided it would be best to actually give these high priced garments a try before passing judgment on them and the people that love them. So I took a trip to a little Los Angeles boutique called Planet Funk, where they sell just about every line of designer jeans known to man. I grabbed a pair in my size from five of the top brands; True Religion, Rock & Republic, Frankie B., Joe’s Jeans and Charlotte’s favorites, 1921. I would say my shape is pretty close to average for an American female with curvy hips and thighs that don‘t always make shopping for jeans an easy task. Needless to say, the fit of these jeans did little to flatter my figure. Rock & Republic seems to cater to Amazon women with their standard 35“ inseam, and I can‘t imagine adding on tailors fees to a $250 article of clothing. Frankie B. jeans are perfect if you fancy plumbers crack; these jeans are cut so low they barely covered my derrière, not to mention being skin tight throughout the thigh. The only brand I was impressed with, and would ever consider buying, were the 1921 designer jeans. As Charlotte said, they have a great fit and are super comfortable.
Honestly, I can’t put anyone at fault for splurging on something expensive once in a while. Every woman knows jeans are one of the hardest pieces of clothing to shop for, and fit is crucial. Designer jeans seem to be a great solution for some picky shoppers with an eye for detail. But with new labels popping up daily, its important to know exactly what you’re paying for, and more importantly, exactly what you want. No matter what name is scribbled across your rear end, or how high or low the price tag is, it’s the perfect fit that matters most.
Written for Stomp Fashion in December, 2006.