On the final day of Paris fashion week,art director Sofia Sanchez Barrenechea wore what she had habitually referred to as her “crappy jeans”—old Levi’s, which she bought at a vintage store. Somehow, that day, they felt crappy no more. Pairing them with a structured crop-top, low-heeled boots and a polished handbag, she achieved a look that could survive even the French fashion gauntlet. “I started feeling like I could pull them off,” said Ms Sanchez Barrenechea. No doubt. In the past few months, many women on the leading edge of the fashion curve have been seeking out vintage (or vintage-looking) denim that’s derived largely from Levi’s iconic straight-leg, long-rise and pale wash 501 style—last popular in the 1990s. Even Vogue Paris editor Emmanuelle Alt recently wore looser, straight-leg, faded jeans—a shift away from her signature skinny crop.“It does feel new after a decade of skinny jeans,” said Laurie Trott, fashion editorial director of e-commerce site Piperlime, who’s been living in a pair of vintage Levi’s 505s—a straight-leg fit with a slightly lower rise than 501s—that she had tapered by a tailor. Ms. Trott wears them with Thom Browne for Brooks Brothers button-downs and low-heeled sandals. With such an otherwise tomboyish look, she said, “I like a high-waisted silhouette. It shows I have a waist and hips.”
The new direction is part of the natural cycle of fashion, when the pendulum inevitably swings away from a supremely popular style. Florence Kane and Jane Herman Bishop, founders of the denim blog Jean Stories, think the preference for the newly chic classic jeans over the ubiquitous “jegging” lies in individuality. “You don’t want to wear the same black skinny as everyone else in your office or all of your friends,” said Ms. Herman Bishop, whose favorite jeans are currently an old Japanese pair she found at Los Angeles vintage shop Mister Freedom and had altered at Denim Revival, a company that specializes in jean reconstruction. ‘‘You don’t want to wear the same black skinny as everyone else in your office or all of your friends.’’ And if that means adopting clothing that once belonged to somebody else, so be it. “Each [vintage] pair has a story because someone before you has worn them in a certain way or tailored them in a certain way,” said stylist Vanessa Traina Snow, who has a few pairs of vintage jeans, including her mother Danielle Steel’s old 501s. (“I mean, they really are ‘mom jeans,’ ” she joked.) She wears them elegantly with an oversize Céline sweater and pointy Manolo Blahnik pumps.
Since few women have the patience to sift through piles of used clothes, people like Ms. Traina Snow are doing it for them. Recently, the Line, the e-commerce site she co-founded, partnered with Manhattan vintage shop What Goes Around Comes Around to offer a selection of vintage jeans. The online inventory of Levi’s 501s was quickly snatched up, but you can find a similar faded, five-pocket style by 6397, a two-year-old denim brand, on the site. At the more mainstream end of the retail spectrum, Urban Outfitters’ Urban Renewal website features decades-old denim selected from dead-stock by its buyers. A pair of generously cut French workwear jeans is available for $398, for instance, but Jean Stories’ Ms. Kane recently snagged a pair of Levi’s 517s—a high-rise, boot-cut style—on the site at a more accessible price. “I’m a very lazy vintage- jeans shopper,” said Ms. Kane, who came across the site while working late one night. She wears her 517s with black pumps for meetings or flat loafers for a casually chic American-sportswear feel. Levi’s has shrewdly taken note of the kicked-up demand for these styles. (This isn’t the first time. The brand launched its Levi’s Vintage Clothing program, in 1996, with reissues of 501s because the jeans were so sought after then.) In January, as part of its main collection, the company will introduce the 501CT, with a slightly narrowed—but not-skinny—leg.
“Tapering was the second most requested alteration, second only to shortening,” said Levi’s senior vice president of global design, Jonathan Cheung. “It’s almost as if we crowdfunded the design.” Other denim brands are also looking to fill the need. Denim behemoth Citizens of Humanity has a faux-old Premium Vintage collection whose slouchy boyfriend-fits might please a 501-fixated shopper. The line’s women’s creative director Catherine Ryu scours Tokyo thrift shop BerBerJin, which has a huge denim stock, for ideas to keep things authentic. Some upstarts are getting in on the action as well. AMO, a label launching next spring, started by industry vets Kelly Urban and Misty Zollars, will offer five old-school styles with updated touches like a pitched-forward side seam that slims and lengthens the leg. “We wanted to create something that didn’t exist—something that looked vintage and cool but fit a woman’s body,” said Ms. Zollars.
“We picked the fabric because it literally looks like the Levi’s 501s we’re obsessed with. It’s an open weave with beautiful twill and a shade of pure indigo.” Meanwhile Re/Dun, a brand started by Sean Barron, who co-founded Joie, and Jamie Mazur, who founded denim flash sale company Underground Denim, also strikes a balance between vintage and new. Messrs. Barron and Mazur source old jeans from private dealers—anything with paint splatters and distinctive nicks or fades ranks highly—then resew the fabric into one of three contemporary (read: not quite so retro and high-waisted) silhouettes: “relaxed skinny,” “relaxed straight” and “repaired,” which “look like someone’s grandmother mended them at home with another piece of denim, thread and a needle,” said Mr. Barron.
For all that work, the jeans are still priced about the same as your skinny, spandex-boosted Acnes and J Brands—between $200 and $300, but 100% cotton jeans like Re/Dun’s or great vintage scores may be a better buy. Stretch denim will eventually sag, and any tears will curl up, not artfully shred and fray. And with a high-waist and looser leg, you don’t necessarily require that body-hugging, stick-to-your-hips stretch factor. “The skinny was designed to de-accentuate the butt, to make it look smaller and narrower,” said Jean Stories’ Ms. Kane. “I think now women are not afraid to accentuate their behinds, and real denim is going to do that. It’s a really nice change.” ( By Emily Holt from Online.Wsj.com )