Hey, bro. So, look, I’ve got some bad news. You know how you just spent like $200 on Japanese raw denim jeans, because every style publication in the world told you this was the absolute best thing you could possibly do with your money? And how you convinced yourself that you liked wearing jeans that were so stiff they cut into your stomach and rubbed skin off of your knees? And how you’ve finally gotten good at that weird, extremely straight way you have to stand so that they fall right? And you know how you’ve been taking incredibly good care of them to make sure they last forever — washing them by hand in the tub, or freezing them? Funny story: they’re out of style, throw them away.
The latest thing is stretch denim! This is weird.
“Stretch” is of course not a kind of fabric, though everyone always just calls them that. According to the experts over at Denimology, stretch jeans are actually made using “elastane, a stretchy, synthetic fiber, also known as Spandex, or Lycra.” They’re typically one to three percent elastane. So, just know that you’re basically walking around in cotton Spandex when you wear stretch jeans.
Stretch denim used to be for a few specific groups: people in insanely skinny jeans, women in jeggings (you remember jeggings), and people whose ample physique was not to be restrained by typical garments.
Now, however, putting just a touch — just a touch! — of stretch into jeans is pretty common among a range of retailers. The cool kids at Uniqlo do it, so do the backyard dads at Polo, and even the brand preferred by every late-40s director of marketing, 7 for all mankind.
Add to this list Levi’s, who’ve just released their first stretch jeans for fall 2016. It’s the first change to the fabric of their 501 line over their entire 140-year history. For stretch! The question is: what is stretch doing?
“If you pick up a pair, you won’t see that they are stretch, you just see a pair of 501®’s. That’s important. We wanted to make the technology invisible. But the minute you try them on, you’ll feel the difference. It’s subtle, but you’ll feel it,” said Jonathan Cheung, SVP of Levi’s® Global Design in a press release announcing the change.
It’s a pretty weird comment, right? He’s basically saying, “You won’t really notice it’s there, so don’t freak out, but also you’ll notice something, so this isn’t pointless, we promise!”
This is because the thing about stretch jeans is that you really don’t want to know it’s there. Too much stretch gives them a weird feeling (you could call this feeling “stretchy”). Just the experience of touching overly stretchy jeans is weird and disorienting, like picking up a piece of plastic printed to look like wood. Your fingers immediately tell you it’s not wood, but then your eyes are like, ‘are you sure?’ and your senses get into a fight and it’s extremely tiring.
What stretch is supposed to do is make jeans more comfortable, more flexible, and more wearable. These are all laudable goals! But look, I live in Brooklyn, where we’re weirdly attached to the idea that everything has to be 100% whatever the hell it is: the most coffee-y coffee, the most beer-y beer, and the most stabby stabbings. If raw denim if a double IPA, then stretch denim is a fucking shandy. If you’re okay with that, well, I guess that’s fine. Enjoy your life of compromise!