Finding the Perfect Pair of Jeans
Finding the Perfect
Pair of Jeans
And what to do when you lose them forever
August 2010, a full decade ago this month, I decided to move to Chicago, leaving Florida after twenty-two years. I had visited once (obviously during the summer since no sane person visits in March and elects to stay) and knew a few things I'd be in for. Others, not so much.
People seemed tall. Very tall. And finally, the weather was different. Not always cold (we'll get there), but I learned these things called seasons actually existed outside of sitcoms and “Lexus December to Remember” commercials. The most foreign concept was the idea of swapping closets since summer staples would gather dust when coats and down started their seasonal circulation.
About a month in, my closet's glaring omissions came to the forefront. With an intern salary and grim weather forecast in the future, I had to hunt down an affordable pair of jeans to get me through the first non-tropical winter of my life. Based on a some observation, I was about to be living in them.
Soon enough, I found myself amongst the big-name stores on the big shopping street, Michigan Avenue, hoping to replace my one pair of "going out" jeans from college when Google Maps pinged the most obvious choice into my palm—Levi's.
I've always hated the way pants broke on my shoes. I'm 5-foot-10, which isn't exactly tall, and I feel like the extra fabric below my shins makes me look shorter. Traditional denim cuts gave off a “don't worry sweetie, you'll grow into them” vibe and I was determined to graduate to something leaner and cleaner looking. Among the display-clad walls and buzzing salespeople I found my answer: The Matchstick fit.
They were perfect. The 33x30 felt like a godsend and I was out the door for well under $100—the only benchmark of what I considered affordable. My wallet, keys and iPhone quickly etched their outline. My hand-rolled, half-inch cuff hit my Clark's chukkas and low-top Vans in the perfect spot like some sort of optical illusion. And the less I washed the Matchsticks the better they fit. I truly thought I might be set, from the waist down, for the rest of my life. But, fast forward a few years when it was time to re-up, and I found myself asking a question other Levi's purists were pondering: where did my beloved Matchstick go?
Turns out I wasn't the only one who had their denim rug pulled out from under their feet. These affordable jeans are still sought after on both eBay and Grailed, two viable options depending on your sharing-pants-with-internet-strangers comfort level. Fortunately, I connected with Janine Chilton-Faust, Global VP of Men's Design at Levi Strauss & Co., who let me know I wasn't unique in missing the style, and had an explanation—or better yet—a recommendation on where to look next.
“The Matchstick was a favorite among many” she said. “Developed around 2006, when rises were low, it was built with a straight outseam and anti-fit shape (proprietary to our beloved 501) with a straight leg.” Fine, I was late to the Matchstick party, but why did they have to take away something I just learned to love? That had a logical answer, too.
It turns out that the sourcing of the denim simply changed as Levi's expanded. “The Capital E line was known for its selvedge Italian denim, beautiful indigo and construction that gives an authentic, yet more modern look. The fate of Capital E collapsed around 2011 when Levi's went truly global and combined all the premium lines from Japan, London and San Francisco.”
So I had some closure, but what really helped was the next iteration of denim that replaced the Matchstick, and has been my saving grace since my rear right pocket blew out eight years ago. The 511, or more specifically the 511 Slim, has been my benchmark since. And Levi's head of design confirmed it as my next best option, with a majority of the jeans' best qualities passed down like an evolutionary gift.
Ten years later, I've adjusted. A quick trip to the tailor to get my leg tapered an inch and I may as well be sliding my original Matchsticks back on. Technically it's not the same, but it's as close as I'll get without hunting down anything pre-worn. I now own ten pairs, including a few color duplicates knowing someday I'll be just a pocket-rip away from needing another pair that's somewhat worn-in. I discovered what works for me, and why mess with a good thing?
If Levi's decides to send the 511 Slim Fit jeans to a farm upstate, I'll be well-stocked for a while. Now I just need to make sure I don't need more than a 33x30 for another decade or so.
511 slim flex, $89.50 by Levi's