Shopping jeans: Prices and politics

Jeans-shopping with my son, I thought of picking up a pair too. I wondered, Should I upgrade to a hip, high-end label or stick with my mid-priced favourites?

I polled friends on their jeans price point, which ranged from $25 for no-names bought at Winner's (our TJ Maxx) to $250 or more for designer brands. Most were in the middle, paying $75-$120 but watching for sales. One woman said her sister turned up at a hiking lodge in Alaska in $500 Balenciaga jeans, but she's an outlier. 

Several women buy theirs at thrifts, paying $10-$20 for, as one said, "someone else to break them in".

Zipping up, high and low

The boy and I chose a venerable Montréal institution, JeansJeansJeans, which is exactly like "Say Yes to the Dress" but for denim: they carry least six dozen labels, from mid-to-high end, all marked down.

He vanished to the men's side. A pleasant, gimlet-eyed woman sized me up by pulling my coat aside and looking at my butt; she asked for my criteria (straight leg, higher waist, dark wash), deposited me in a curtained, mirrorless  fitting room (no champagne) and told me to "vait".

In this vast warehouse space, jeans hang like a Christo installment on overhead racks, as well as floor carousels. You do not touch. She pulls them, handing six pair at a time through your dressing room curtain.

Lois (which she pronounced "Loyz") fit best, but I found several other options at good discounts, for example, $80 Yoga Jeans, usually $120 locally. 

Some women figure the higher the price, the higher the booty. But I could find no correlation between price and fit among the mid-range brands—just a matter of pulling on pants till the mirror tells you you're cute.

I asked for an upgrade and was handed a stack of "premium denim":  $200+ jeans from Rag & Bone, AG, Naked & Famous, Seven.
Rag and Bone skinnies
The Rag & Bone high-rise (that term is relative) skinnies were both substantial and supple. Did I want them? Yes, yes! But I deferred a decision (they are always on sale) and took son, who got Levis, for a nice restorative pint.

Props to the saleswoman for telling me the $65 Lois looked as good as the three-times-as-much pair.

Prestige jeans' price equals a piece of real jewelry, and much of the status attaches to fabric: raw, selvage, heritage: there's a whole taxonomy. 

But I remember my first pair of riveted, cardboardy Levis ca. 1960 ($16) worn in the bath to shrink-fit; I don't need an reunion with the Ghost of Denim Past. And, despite Anderson Cooper's endorsement, I like to wash mine.   

A few days later, I checked out a few lower-end chains (Reitman's, Smart Set, H&M). At first glance, the jeans looked pretty good, but those chains cut for their main market, young adults. These are Your Daughter's Jeans and they let me know. Many were too low in the rise, delivering a simultaneous wedgie/moon. It was here, too, that I found the dreaded "leg twist".  

Fitting the grown woman

Talbot's Heritage ankle jean
I'm currently wearing two brands that cater to the grownup market: Talbot's ankle jeans and NYDJ Marilyn straight legs

Talbot's promise Babe Paley but deliver June Cleaver; the company once known for well-made classics has dropped the fork. Their jeans, though, fit me neatly, and good for them for using the same quality denim for Misses, Petite and Women's lines.

NYDJ's treatments (overdyes, coating), almost Photoshop-effect cut and vast range of sizes (Misses, Petite, Plus, Tall and Short) earn devoted repeat business. I thought my first pair were pricey, and now say, Worth it.

Politics in blue

Lucky Brand "Sofia"
I'm also aware of the political issue of where jeans are made. 

Here's a link to 10 American Made Denim Brands, not all of whom carry women's styles. 

Lucky Brand (owned by the conglomerate that owns Liz Clairborne) is one of the most widely-distributed, however, only part of its line—the Made in America (MIA) range—is produced in the US.The Sofia straight leg, is one, around $130.
Montréal's Naked & Famous makes its jeans locally, of Japanese fabric, but other Canadian companies (Parasuco, Silver) manufacture offshore. 

Shockoe Classic Denim
To buy peace of mind with North American-made fabric and production can take the price point further. The curated Made Collection sells Shockoe Denim Classic Jeans, $185, as well as other stuff that looks straight out of my brother's closet, ca. 1955. 

They're made of denim from Cone Mills, America's oldest denim maker, and hand-sewn in Richmond, VA.

So, it's a balancing act: style, status, cost, conscience. And then there's the three-way mirror, where my vanity trumps my politique every time.

How much will you spend on denim joy? Do you splurge or settle? Does provenance matter?



My jeans come from a variety of shops...g21 skinny from Walmart to Seven For All Mankind and a few thrift shop finds. For me fit trumps everything else...well except I could never justify $400.00 plus Balanciega jeans.

Montreal has so many more interesting shops than we have here in Victoria. It must make it a bit more difficult choosing when you have so many options....but I would like to experience that just the same.
LauraH said…
These days I'm taking a jeans vacation, just needed a break from the heaviness, I guess. Your adventures in jeans land were fun to read and "dropped the fork" made me laugh.
Kristien62 said…
The most I have paid is around $100 and that was with a gift card. I am fussy about jeans, I like them dark, soft and straight.Preferably ankle length so I don't have to shorten them. And I wear them until they die.

You had me laughing thinking about you wearing them in the tub to get them form-fitting. And I, too, have had the belly-baring, moon-showing kind (inadvertently) which I tried to cover with long tops. But I still felt naked. They're gone!!
Northmoon said…
I recently visited Over the Rainbow in Toronto - a long time jeans specialty store. The sales girl swamped me with jeans, bringing more brands and sizes than I could keep track of the fit etc. Most were in the $160 and up range. I got overwhelmed and left without buying anything.

Last pair I bought were second hand Citizens for Humanity, I think they were $60 or so. Narrow leg, nice fit but they have strange bleach marks on them. Not sure if it was a home distressing attempt or if they came that way. I'm looking for a pair that are as comfortable in a plain dark wash.
materfamilias said…
Quite honestly, at this stage, shopping efficiency is another factor for me. As in, I go to a shop I trust, get someone to hand me jeans fitting my fit, style, fabric, colour/wash parameters, and when I find the right pair, I generally buy them. And yes, that does often mean landing around $200 (either side of). I probably buy 2 or 3 pair a year, wear them lots, and don't mind the price. I imagine that when I have more shopping time, less income, post-retirement, my tactics may change. Meanwhile, what a comprehensive guide you offer. And that must have been a fun day, shopping with your son, breaking for a pint. . .
Bishop & Bagg, perchance?
RoseAG said…
I don't usually pay so much for jeans, but if I like a pair and want to wear them to work I will always have them dry-cleaned, which keeps them looking nice. If I added in the dry-cleaning fees I probably am paying more than $100 a pair.

Jones New York has good cuts for my figure, which includes athletic thighs, so I will often shop that brand. I imagine gals with more apple-shaped figures would think they legs and seat in that brand are too baggy.

I'm going to check out the girlfriend jean (a new name than Mom jean) because I like straight loose legs and can get a better fit closer to my natural waist.
Anonymous said…
Duchesse, Your sense of humor kills me. I love it.

My favorite jeans have to be mid-rise or higher, and either boot-cut or straight leg. I try not to spend more than $45 per pair. Banana Republic consistently has 40% off sales and that is when I buy.

I can't wait for the natural waist cut to come back without the "mom jean" look, and at a good price point. It instantly removes muffin-top, any rear end flashing while squatting or leaning over, and elongates the leg.
Anonymous said…
As a denim lover, I've tried many different styles and price points. I've bought great ones at Michael Kors (great fit and really wore well), Joe Fresh (inexpensive, quality not so great) and mostly at Talbots. I'm a true Missy fit so Talbots jeans usually fit me well. Also, I always search the sale rack as some of the more "on trend" styles aren't popular with the core customers and end up discounted. Two years ago I purchased a gorgeous, sexy (yes, at Talbots) pair of dark wash, slim-flare, trouser style jeans at a deep discount. These are my going out jeans and everyone always remarks on how great they look and are quite surprised when I tell them that I bought them at Talbots. I'm so glad that more figure flattering styles are trending again and will be easier to find -- so long skinnies, hello slim flares!
Eleanorjane said…
I have always seemed to have fewer pairs of jeans that most people (even when I wore them every day for Uni).

At the moment I've got two pairs and neither of them are traditional demin. Both stretchy and 'skinny' in shape - one cobalt blue and one coated black-coffee brown. They're both cheap - from H & M and Dorothy Perkins. H & M do have ridiculously tight trousers - I had to go up two sizes.
Duchesse said…
hostess: We do have many shops but I haven't the energy to search endlessly and the cuts in most are for young women.

LauraH: As a relatively newly-retired person I'm wearing jeans more than ever, and also coloured cords.

Kristien 62: I love 'your' jean and always gravitate to that style too. Long jeans drag in the endless winter or rain, here.

Northmoon: I know that store well! (If not for jeans for a fistful of jujubes!) You can get overwhelmed by young, eager staff but if Joel still works there, he does not do that.

materfamilias: Excellent rationalization;) If you really want to max efficiency, you might find a brand you can get shipped to your door, in a stack.

lagatta: Vices & Versa.

RoseAG: Wow, I could not keep paying like that. I wash them in cold water, in laundry soap made for darks, inside out and air-dry... works very well to keep the dark wash.

RoseAG/Anon@12:27: What IS a mom jean? I thought it was the high-waisted jean with pleated fronts and slightly pegged legs- the one that makes you look beamy even if not. But now I see 'boyfriend" jeans called "mom"- ??

I do NOT get how the muffin-top-inducing jean ever got into production. There are not that many 0% body fat young women on this planet.

Anon@1:44: I know those Talbot's jeans! Slim flares look great for work, much more polished. Their 'trouser cut' jean is also a good cut and though they d/c'd it for a few seasons seem to have brought it back.

Once you find your style there, I like that there are sales (and sometimes sale + free ship) and you can order, because jeans shopping is fun only if I am thinking of something different or out with someone. Like bras, you need one style/brand that always looks good.

Anonymous said…
I am tall, so struggle to find jeans long enough. I used to buy FDJ (French Dressing Jeans) - barely long enough, with wide thighs. I now buy Second Yoga Jeans [made in Canada]: straight, mid-rise, dark wash with a generous 34+ inch inseam. Worth the $120 price - wish they cost less. I occasionally buy cords/velvet jeans at Long Tall Sally; but my preferred 35 inch inseams disappear fast. // I also wash jeans inside out in cold water, tumble low for 5 mins to remove wrinkles, then air dry. Anna
Duchesse said…
Anna: Talbot's Misses Long jeans are 35 inches.

If you do not live near one: they ship to Canada and occasionally have free shipping offers. The jeans often go on sale; full price are around $90 USD. They also have cords and velvets in season, may be worth checking out.
Tiffany said…
I really dislike shopping, so when I find a brand that fits (low or high end), I'm a repeat buyer. Paige fit me just perfectly, so I buy them online whenever I can find a sale (otherwise they can be rather pricey here). But I've also bought really cheap ones in chain stores that have done the job - especially good when I know I'll be wearing them in my art teacher incarnation ...
Susan said…
I just don't wear jeans as often as I used to. It probably has a lot to do with living in Dallas where dressing up is more common--even to the grocery store. The jeans I still have fit well, but just don't seem as comfortable as I require these days. My favorites are quite old now and from a company called Doncaster.
une femme said…
"Talbot's promise Babe Paley but deliver June Cleaver; the company once known for well-made classics has dropped the fork." LOL! Duchesse, this is one of your best bon mots yet!

I'm quite fond of my Eileen Fisher jeans which provide a good bit of comfortable stretch without either that rubbery feel or bagging out over time that I've found with some other brands. They also have a rise just where I like it: right below the navel and don't gap in the back, even with my rounded derriere. (Just checked the ones I'm wearing on the blog today, can't find where they were made but know EF is conscientious about manufacturing practices, and does make some items in the US.)

Another brand that I've recently discovered is AG, which offers a few styles in Petite lengths, and has a wonderfully soft, broken-in feel. Along with NYDJ, they are also made here in Los Angeles.

I also have one Citizens of Humanity pair of bootlegs. They are my priciest pair at $185 but for the fit and look of these, I was willing to bite the bullet (and take advantage of Nordstrom's free hemming).

Duchesse said…
pseu; My NYDJ's are made in the USA but according to their Facebook page, someone says they were shocked to check label and see theirs were made in China (or is this a troll?) I did some research, according to one site they were all made in US till 2012, with some now made in China.
sisty said…
Pants in general, and jeans in particular, are so much about the correct fit that I wouldn't put an arbitrary upper limit on how much I'd spend. Good think for me that I've discovered Kut from the Kloth, which fit me beautifully (at the size and shape I am now) and are deeply discounted at Nordstrom Rack. I paid less than $30 for each of the two pairs I have.

For me (again, at the size and shape I am now) jeans MUST have a higher rise, up to the natural waist (or higher), otherwise I get a muffin top. And I disguise the rise by wearing tops untucked.
Mardel said…
I'll pay for what fits and looks good, but I think $400 or more is considerably more than I would consider. I bought a pair of $200 jeans two years ago for the first time, and I've worn them constantly ever since. they changed my thinking. But having lost weight this spring, I needed new jeans.

I honestly don't care about brand names, but I am particular about the fabric and how a garment looks on me. I have friends who swear by Talbots and Anne Taylor Loft jeans and I'll probably check out both. I now have three pairs of jeans, which will cover most of what I need, although I might look for another pair or two in different styles, since I wear jeans a lot:

DKNY Soho bootcut, which I've worn off an on for years, they are mid rise, don't bag out, and are often on sale. I've never paid more than $25 for them and this pair cost me $22.

A pair of Kut from Kloth slim boyfriends, which cost around $60.

And then my extravagant pair. a pair of J-Brand Maria High Rise skinnies, that fit me perfectly, are long enough and look fabulous. I didn't think I needed another pair of $200 jeans, and I didn't think I would look good in skinnies, and they completely changed my perspective.

Only the J-Brand are American-made though.
I am a great fan of NYDJ. They are pricey in the UK but I have had several pairs that have lasted well. Recently I bought a couple of budget Marksandspencer pairs that fit very well.
Dr. V.O. said…
Duchesse, I agree with all: I'm always thrilled to find a new Passage post; your humorous interventions make my day! I am the semi-ashamed owner of too many JBrand jeans -- that they're made 30 miles from my home appeals so much, plus the consistent excellent fit of the mid-rise collection is beyond compare. I wore them when I visited you! I have systematically jettisoned every other jean I owned -- nothing fits better for me, so why tolerate bad fit?
Duchesse said…
sisty: Have heard so much good about Kut from the Kloth I will seek when in NYC soon

Jo: We too pay imported prices for NYDJ; sometimes they are on aale, but if not, I still think worth it.

Dr. V.; Simply must try JBrand on given yours and others' love, but could be one of those things like certain scarves that then wreck one for anything else.

Anonymous said…
I do pay a premium for country of origin--US, Canada, Europe, Japan--and have been happy with the quality. If jeans weren't one of the few items where it's even possible to splurge to ensure some fairness for producers it might be tougher. I was very disappointed when Lucky sold out. I try avoid brands that built their name by being MIUSA but haven't stuck with it. Levis sold out long ago, though I guess they have a boutique operation to cash in on heritage trends. Anyway, do consider Paige and AG. And take the advice to go tighter than you think you should. They do stretch.

The posts with the most