Ireland is a denim nation, says Fashion Editor Marie Kelly. Here she explores her own, and the country’s, love affair with this unassuming wardrobe staple.
I’ve often heard women say they’re too short to try ankle boots, too broad to wear boatneck tops or too skinny to go sleeveless, but I’ve never heard anyone say they couldn’t wear a pair of jeans. Denim is the most democratic of items, anchoring the wardrobes of politicians and pensioners as much as models and school-run mums. They are utterly non-exclusive, worn by all social and economic groups, and embraced by style dissidents as well as fashion fanatics.
They’re also something of a window into your soul. If I was to write my memoirs, the denims I wore in my teens, twenties and beyond would be as strong a signal of my personal and sartorial growth as any set of photographs – memories are woven into every seam and rivet: from the 501s I wore at 18, with their tiny but vital red bag, which gave me the best-looking bum I’ve ever had, but more importantly positioned me firmly alongside my peers – as a shy teenager, I was more comfortable being recognised for my sameness than my individuality, and that subtle red tab was the ticket.
But at 23, living in London, and feeding o the energy, excitement and style of the city, I was looking for something far more sophisticated than the standard American Dream jean. I bought my first pair of premium brand denims in Harvey Nichols.
Lose straight-leg, indigo denim Earl jeans had no red tab or obvious logo. Their subtlety was confirmation of my newfound confidence. In the luxuriousness of the Knightsbridge store, watching the sales assistant meticulously package my prize, I felt as if the world, or the UK capital at least, was my oyster because the right pair of jeans is like a gateway to the best version of yourself.
Those Earl jeans were the beginning of my high-end denim habit. They were followed by 7 For All Mankind (bootcut… eek!), Stella McCartney (ankle-zip skinnies I shoehorned myself into) and J Brand (cropped flares, high-waisted flares, straight-leg!).
Despite being a fashion editor, I’m not easily seduced by clothes. I have a particular aesthetic and budget (the recession cruelly broke my designer denim habit, but happily I discovered for the first time how amazing Zara jeans are), so I shop accordingly. But yet… put a pair of Mother skinnies in front of me or some M.i.h crops, and suddenly I come over a little bit crazed, wide-eyed and agitated, a little like my Yorkshire Terrier when I teasingly dangle his lead. ere is nothing more fulfilling (in fashion) than finding the perfect pair of denims. Hunting them down is nothing short of a marathon task, so it’s not surprising that the adrenaline rush on landing that elusive perfect pair is similar to how I feel after a 10k run – instantly thinner and slightly euphoric. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. According to research, on any given day, one of two people around the world is reaching for a pair of jeans.
Fashion has always been both a means of self-expression and a tool for social jockeying, but denim is different. It’s much more likely to encourage female camaraderie than sartorial competitiveness, because each one of us favours a different cut or crop, prefers one wash over another and looks toward a different retro reference. ere’s a veritable pick ‘n’ mix of denim in stores these days, and just as one woman’s palate will lean towards lemon bon bons while another will stick strictly to liquorice, the jeans that make your best friend look sensational could just as easily hang limply on your hips and add bulk to your bum.
After the gratuitous competitive dressing of the Celtic Tiger era, Irish women, in particular, appreciate the draw of denim – its practicality, comfort and accessibility, of course, but the sense of community it encourages too. Nailing denim has nothing to do with how much you can afford to spend – celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker swear by Topshop’s Baxter jeans, just like you and me – and now that skinny jeans are no longer the barometer of cool but more of a bog-standard staple, it has nothing to do with how easily you can squeeze into pinch-tight denim. Getting denim right requires far more imagination and personality. And those are two things Irish women have never been short on.
Look at 68-year-old Linda Rodin. I can’t think of a finer denim muse. From Derek Lam flares to button-up vintage Levi’s, the beauty guru and Instagram star has been wearing jeans since she was six years old. Embracing the denim renaissance of the past two decades, Rodin looks better than ever. And that’s the other wonderful thing about jeans: as each of us matures and understands both our body shape and unique style, denim, in all its guises, becomes the sartorial solution to almost every fashion quandary, and the cornerstone of our wardrobes. As Yves Saint Laurent said: “[Jeans] have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity …” What woman could resist coming back for more?