After the goldrush

Hannah Betts finds a way to live with her pet hate — denim jeans


This article is taken from the July 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

Jeans — in July? Great Scott!” I hear you cry. And, yet, the dismal fact about denim is that it is such a platitude people will wear it anytime, anywhere. In sweltering Naples come summer, it’s what the locals will be sporting, while Brits in linen topple like dominos.

The only period in which everyone did ditch their jeans was during lockdown when — such was the collective slide into slovenliness — jeans were considered “too dressy” compared with the adult babygrows that were sweatpants. The only sane response to this statement being: “Ye mofoin’ gods.”

Actual Mom jeans (high-waisted, loose on the hips and crotch) are what the kids crave. I know, it’s bloody confusing

Accordingly, now some vestige of normal life has been restored, jeans have returned. On the catwalks, Loewe and Alexander McQueen appeared newly interested, along with Dior, Hermès and Dries Van Noten. Meanwhile, Valentino and Miu Miu are doing reworked Levis. Matches is stocking 50 per cent more jeans than it did last year, while Selfridge’s Denim Hall has been transformed into one of the lesser circles of hell.

It’s not that I hate jeans. Oh, wait, yes is. Think a banal, uncomfortable, unflattering to the point of self-harm, lowest common denominator, ’Boomer platitude. (I give you the case of Branson’s arse.) They are also notoriously difficult to get right — if one accepts they can ever be right — dating the moment you drag yourself into them. Plus they are incredibly ecologically unsound, consuming up to 1,800 gallons of water to make a single pair. And for what? Answer: to look like every other fucker on the planet.

“Am I wrong?” I asked m’learned friend, Times fashion director Anna Murphy. “You’re in very good company,” our oracle notes. “I once asked Miuccia Prada if she had ever worn a pair and she laughed in my face. Such has been the ubiquity of jeans over the last few decades that I often think ours might be labelled the Denim Age by historians.

Who would have predicted that such a particular item of clothing — tooled in its really rather peculiar specifics to suit the precise requirements of goldrush miners and cowboys of the 19th century — would become the modern uniform?

“Yet, it was denim’s frontiersman vibe that led to it being adopted as a symbol of youthful rebellion by stars like James Dean. And this — in a society obsessed with youth — brought jeans into the mainstream. Here was a one-stop way to look younger and cooler than you might actually be, to channel a bit of pseudo counter-cultural something-or-other even when embarking on the school run.”

“It pays to spend money, another irony given that we are talking about an item originally marketed at the working man. Why? Because high-street brands tend to use a cheap chemical wash to render their jeans “shop-ready,” that promptly washes off the first time you put them in the machine, leaving you with a product that looks very different. My favourite brand is Raey, which has a range of styles (£140,”

Skinny jeans have been the thing since the mid-Noughties. Indeed, so omnipresent are they that they have jumped the shark: Marks & Spencer flogs its jeggings (a jeans/leggings hybrid) at two pairs per minute, meaning skinnies are now only for your mom. Meanwhile, actual Mom jeans (high-waisted, loose on the hips and crotch) are what the kids crave. I know, it’s bloody confusing.

Obviously, I am only going to recommend jeans that don’t look like jeans

Current modes include: (ankle) cropped; balloon- or barrel-leg (high on the waist, tight on top, ballooning out on the leg, tapering at the ankle); the S.O. (or “significant other”, a woke take on the “boyfriend” jean, that is, roomy, slouchy, worn); and ripped (a feminist statement since Indian politician Tirath Singh Rawat equated torn jeans with loose morals).

Obviously, I am only going to recommend jeans that don’t look like jeans. The Fold’s impeccably-cut, denim culottes are a fabulous Forties kind of retro (£145). Land girlish in a rich, inky blue, they are heaven with a short-sleeved blouse, not least on lanky types.

For the less lanky, may I recommend the Marrakesh by M.i.h (Made in Heaven) jeans, a British brand beloved of fashion mavens (£215). Also available in deep indigo (left), the Marrakesh is a Seventies high-rise, kick-flare, and the brand’s best-selling style. The look is long-limbed, Halston-type sophistication, or rangy equestrian elegance à la Seventies Céline. In my most stilt-like heels, I can wear them with hem unaltered, swanning about at a fake six foot. My legs are rendered cartoon fabulous, my arse pert. I can’t walk, but what is mere mobility?

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover