By quick count, I own about eight pairs of jet-black high-waisted skinny jeans.
If they look identical, it’s because they basically are. I won’t even pretend to consider this excessive. Firstly, because it follows the totally practical rule of clean-underwear rotation—a week’s worth, plus one in case of emergency. But mostly because, despite the existence of many other kinds, there’s no alternate style that I will ever consider wearing.
Okay, that’s hyperbole. I’ve dabbled with other types of jeans, of course. Like that time when I was 10 years old and had just learned about hippies and free love via My Girl 2. I clung to a pair of Limited Too bell-bottoms like they were a security blanket.
Through my teenage years, with the knowledge that a wider-cut jean would balance out my heavier thighs and large butt, I stuck to a pair of light-wash, low-rise jeans with what I always thought was a slight flare. (A review of the photo evidence reveals that these were basically bell-bottoms.)
But in 2005, during my second semester at Barnard College in Manhattan, I began noticing the girls of all sizes who got off the L train from Williamsburg in second-skin denim. I couldn’t believe how great they looked—as naturally cool as The Kills’ Alison Mosshart manages to be even on an off day. Why was I still wearing lame flares, purchased from the mall in my tiny Baltimore County hometown, when these rebellious New York women were flaunting what they had with DGAF attitude?
I marched right over to Urban Outfitters and bought a pair of $39 black BDG skinnies with a bit of stretch. They completely reshaped my denim philosophy. All of a sudden I looked like … one of them. My spinning-top-shaped figure (wide hips, matchstick calves and ankles) was transformed into something a bit longer and leaner, like an optical illusion. Popular opinion was wrong: Pear-shaped girls could wear skinny jeans and look pretty good doing so. After that, it was black skinny jeans or no jeans at all.
Once the staple for iconoclasts and the counterculture, they are now embraced by both Hedi Slimane and Michelle Obama. They’re so versatile, I call them my Rorschach pants. Whatever I want them to be, they’ll be: With a blazer, a tucked-in Equipment shirt and edgy shoes, I’m ready for my most formal day at work. With Keds and a vintage Cosby sweater, I’m ready to hang at my favorite bar in Brooklyn.
I discovered my latest go-to pair in 2010: J Brand’s Maria Power Stretch high rise, when I can afford them (BDG or Cheap Monday when I can’t). Before the first wear, I take a new pair to NYC’s Denim Therapy (denimtherapy.com) to get them altered at the calf and ankle until they are so fitted I have to take off my jeans to get a pedicure—if I can’t see the definition of my calf muscle, I tell the tailor to go tighter.
I’ll wear them until the thigh seams give and the denim is tissue-soft. And if, after a long run in the weekly wardrobe rotation, they can’t be repaired, I’ll order the same ones again, in the exact same black for maximum slimming effect. (I once tried “washed black” instead of “black” and could barely get dressed in the morning.)
I’ll admit: I’ve tried other styles recently. In 2007, I found a pair of wide-leg jeans that spoke to me. I put them on one time and swiftly realized that as a 5’3" pear, I could wear them only with demonically, unsustainably high heels. Those jeans ended up in the Goodwill bag almost immediately.
Since then, in the name of personal evolution, I’ve given all of the big trends—boyfriend jeans, mid-rise, straight-leg, slouchy-leg, Dad jeans, Mom jeans—at least a quick dressing-room spin. I learned the following: Low-rise jeans will get me arrested for indecent exposure; mid-rise relaxed-fit styles make my thighs look heavy, though they are amazingly comfortable. And yes, culottes are the chicest comfort pants in existence. I tried on a great pair by Rachel Comey that had such wide legs, they resembled a denim hoopskirt.
While my dalliances with different shapes and washes happened on a whim, they were on my own terms. I was never told that it was time to start looking elsewhere. Until recently. After this year’s fall fashion week, trend forecasters started predicting that the skinny jean—my foundation, my permanent “in”—was officially on the way out.
According to Scott Morrison, founder of 3×1 jeans, “Today’s super-stretch skinny has proved itself to be a staple in every woman’s wardrobe, but it’s always exciting to find something new—even if we’ve been there before.” Now, he says, “there’s something really sexy about a woman who wears non-skinny jeans. In my lifetime, the classic definition of ‘a gorgeous girl in jeans’ was Brooke Shields, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford or Claudia Schiffer, all of whom wore classic 100 percent cotton or comfort-stretch denims in the ’90s.”
He’s right. In current street style and on the runway, the ’90s are back, and what were we wearing back then with our Clinique Black Honey lipstick? Relaxed flares, boot-cut or straight-leg jeans, not skinnies.
In a panic, I went so far as to actually purchase a non-skinny pair—boyfriend jeans, which friends promised were as flattering and versatile as a pair of my old reliables. I’m closer to 30 than to 20 now, and that’s part of embracing adulthood, right? Gaining some distance from the dressing habits of your younger self? (Thankfully, or else I’d still be wearing 95 percent Hot Topic.)
I took them for a test run one Saturday, meeting friends at a winery in Red Hook. It was the kind of early spring day when I just wanted to look and feel laid-back. So I put on my new light-wash boyfriend jeans, a pair of Keds and a T-shirt. I felt breezy, classic, all-American, like Christy Turlington in 1998. But my boundary-breaking high was quickly grounded when a friend remarked that I looked “different! Kind of little-kiddish!” I’d aimed for model chic and landed on Gap Kids. That was the end of that experiment.
Those boyfriends now languish in a drawer next to my stack of in-play black skinnies. Some mornings, I think, Maybe today I’ll wear you, boyfriend jeans. But then I put on my familiar pair, evaluate how great I think my legs look and never go back. Sure, they’re not as au courant as other styles, but why reinvent the wheel when the wheel works, is slimming and prevents me from looking like a prepubescent boy? Let the rest of the world bounce from boyfriend to straight-leg to denim culottes—I’ll be in these jeans until J Brand discontinues the cut and eBay runs out of backstock.