It’s Jeans for Genes Day on Friday, but there’s one person who won’t be wearing the ubiquitous garment, even for charity, and that’s the Examiner’s Head of Content, Andy Hirst. A member of that rare species – People Who Hate Jeans – he was called to account for his prejudice by fashion writer HILARIE STELFOX who was given the task of showing him the light
IT rapidly became an item of office gossip, discussed around the water cooler.
“Andy Hirst doesn’t wear jeans. Ever.’’
This scandalous fact had been revealed, or should I say confessed, in the morning news conference.
And the consensus of opinion was that there must be something wrong with our Andy because absolutely everyone wears jeans. Even Prime Ministers and members of royal houses.
It was decided that, as Examiner fashion writer, I should do my utmost to make my colleague see the error of his ways.
I would take him shopping and use my powers or persuasion to get him to see how wonderfully stylish, versatile and comfy jeans can be.
But before we set out on our denim quest, I thought it prudent to gather ammunition and information from other male colleagues.
I polled the sports department and the photographers. Did they wear jeans? They looked at me as if I was mad. The photographers even get to wear jeans for work when they’re lying behind the goalposts at football matches.
How many pairs did they own? Huddersfield Town writer Dougie Thomson was proud to admit to having 10, while others rattled off lists of designer labels.
Photographer Paul Welch said he has four ‘good’ pairs and another three that he wears for gardening and painting. Everyone had more than four pairs and several colleagues said that jeans were their default garment when not at work.
Oh, and they all thought Andy was insane not to like them.
I took him to House of Fraser in Kingsgate where they have several concessions and in-house brands, all selling jeans. There would be plenty of choice, I reasoned, and no way for him to weasel out of his modelling engagement.
Menswear assistant Chris James was assigned to help us in our quest.
“We sell more jeans than any other type of trouser,’’ he said, thereby confirming Andy as a fashion oddball.
Certain brands appeal to different age groups. “But Levis,’’ said Chris, “go from teenagers to the older end – men in their 60s – who are still buying them because they have always had a pair of Levis and trust them.’’
We picked out three pairs of jeans – smart, high-end designer and trendy – and pushed Andy into the changing rooms where he complained about the button flys and the discomfort of denim.
I was curious to know what he wears when not at work. Surely not the suits that he favours Monday to Friday? “I like those combat-type outdoor trousers that have lots of pockets in them,’’ he said. “I need lots of pockets for all the things I have to carry for all the kids.’’
Andy has four children aged from four to 16.
“I like the way these trousers dry off quickly if it rains – unlike jeans,’’ he added. “And they’re comfortable to wear.’’
The funny thing is that Andy actually suits jeans. He didn’t look like some middle-aged denim-clad men (Tony Blair springs to mind) who appear to be trying too hard to be ‘cool.’ And the only garment he looked uncomfortable in was the leather jacket which, I thought, gave him a certain James Dean/young Marlon Brando appeal.
But my mission failed because he is determined to continue his ‘loathe affair’ even after hearing an interesting potted history of denim jeans.
And, I suspect, the experience of being made to wear so many pairs will deter him from any further revelations in the morning conference.
ANDY SAYS: I DON’T quite know when my loathe affair with jeans started.
After all, we were best buddies in the 1970s when I was young and carefree and actually owned jeans and a denim jacket.
Even worse, I wore them together but, thankfully, never ventured as far as Denim aftershave.
But, as the years passed by, I discovered other, non-jeans clothes and grew to like them more.
So much so that well over two decades have passed without denim touching my body.
My wife, Ruth, bought me a pair of jeans many years ago in the first months we were together and I recall looking at them but never quite wearing them.
Where are they now? Who knows? Possibly in some charity shop somewhere or, more likely, in a landfill site.
I never thought it was odd, freakish even, not to wear jeans.
And that’s probably why I let slip during an editorial conference one morning that I didn’t wear jeans. Not at all.
The reaction was one of stunned silence. I began to wonder if I’d said something worse like “I drown cats”, but no.
All I’d said was I didn’t wear jeans.
After the silence came the questions – that’s journalists for you. The most obvious one was why?
Well, the material can be heavy. When denim gets wet it stays wet and clings and, of course, that can always lead to localised chaffing.
They laughed at me, not with me.
And so the challenge was thrown down to get me back into jeans.
I was marched off to House of Fraser with Hilarie who did her very best to turn me into some kind of ageing James Dean, then a sailor looking for his yacht and finally a man about town in a checked shirt. Mmmm casual.
As for the jeans, I found something else I didn’t like about them – the fly had buttons instead of a zip.
It sure was fiddly to do them up – but that’s denim for you. It was tough enough in the well-lit changing rooms. It’d be even more of a struggle after a few drinks in a nightclub.
Not, of course, that I go to nightclubs, but I’m certainly not telling the editorial conference that.
And so, after trying on jeans ranging from the ‘cheap’, as Hilarie put it, at £45 up to the far more expensive pair, had I been converted to the ways of the denim?
Sadly for retailers everywhere, no.
Yet I remain open-minded and may try another pair on in 20 years’ time.
Cotton denim jeans were worn by Italian sailors as long ago as the 17th century and may owe their name to the fact that the Genoa-based navy of the time wore them as part of their uniform. The word denim probably came from Nîmes, the French town famous for making the cloth.
The original distressed jeans were those washed in the sea by sailors – a combination of salty water and sunshine bleached the fabric.
Denim used to be dyed with natural indigo but is now more commonly coloured with cheaper, longer-lasting artificial dyes.
Levi Strauss, one of the best known jeans labels, was founded in the 1850s by a German immigrant of that name (he was originally called Loeb but changed his name to Levi) who went to California hoping to make his fortune by kitting out the Californian gold rush miners and their families.
Denim jeans remained work wear until the 1950s when American teenagers adopted them as a symbol of rebellion and youth. The rest, as they say, is history.
Jeans for Genes, a fund-raising day launched 14 years ago, supports 10 charities working with children and families affected by genetic disorders. Check out www.jeansforgenes.com