Anyone who works in retail can attest that the combination of employee discounts, prolonged exposure to new clothes and promotion of those clothes to other people can encourage you to give most of your paycheck right back to your employer.
When I started working at a contemporary clothing boutique back home this summer, I was careful to not let the temptation get the better of my wallet. It would have been ridiculous, however, not to make use of a generous employee discount when it applied to brands like Free People, Ray Ban and Frye, whose items rarely go on sale.
The most I’d ever spent on jeans before was $55, but I figured if there was ever a perfect time to buy an expensive pair of jeans, this was it. After eyeing up all of our premium denim brands (7 For All Mankind, Hudson, DL1961, Joe’s, Kut from the Kloth), I decided to try on a few pairs of DLs because they are known for retaining their shape and are made from soft, stretchy fabric.
I fell for a pair of skinnies in a classic dark wash. They fit perfectly, flattered my figure, and were unbelievably stretchy and comfortable. I put them on hold to think about it, and after trying them on again a few days later, decided to bite the bullet and buy them at the end of my shift.
The original price was $178, but after my employee discount of 40 percent off our first pair of jeans, I only paid $107 — a steal for premium denim! Or so I was convinced until I got home and came down from the shopping high.
My frugal, Midwestern sensibilities kicked in, and I started to doubt the practicality of my purchase. What had I done? I could have bought four pairs somewhere else for what I paid! Had I been seduced by peer pressure hype, and the enticement of a “good deal”? I would soon find out.
Fortunately, my DLs lived up to their promise of not stretching out. I can wear them for three days (probably much longer if I tried), and not even the knees or waist bag out like they do in most jeans. They haven’t faded in the wash. I don’t have to pull them up all day. They don’t dig into my stomach. The seams don’t wrap awkwardly around my calves like some poor quality jeans do when they’ve been cut off-grain. They are almost as comfortable as leggings, and they make me feel so much more put together. I could rave on.
But, alas, they are still jeans, and life still happens. One of the first times I wore them, I brushed against something sharp at work and snagged the back pocket. It could have happened to any jeans, but the fact that it happened to the brand new pair I had splurged on made me want to cry at first. I carefully clipped off a stray thread, and the rest of the tiny snags were barely noticeable. The high quality fabric hasn’t run at all since, so I can barely tell anything happened.
In my experience, once you go premium, you never go back. My Wet Seal jeans that previously held the prestigious title of “favorite jeans” feel scratchy, stretched out, uncomfortable and cheap now that I’ve gotten used to higher quality denim. My DLs will probably be in my closet much longer than jeans I only paid $30 for, so their longevity also constitutes the higher price tag.
The term “premium denim” doesn’t have a standard definition, but it typically refers to jeans that cost over $100, are higher quality in fabric, construction and style and carry a brand name label associated with a specific desirable look. I’ve toured factories in Los Angeles where they make premium denim and was surprised at how much work went into each pair. Employees sanded, distressed and set whiskers in the jeans by hand. Each pair went through multiple labor intensive finishing steps to wash, soften, fade and treat the fabric to get the right look.
If you’re thinking about investing in a good pair of premium jeans, here is my checklist to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth:
- Make an informed purchase. Treat shopping for premium denim like shopping for a car; it’s an investment. Do research online, and ask friends and sales associates about the different brands and styles.
- Choose the right brand for you. For example, I like jeans that have a lot of stretch and don’t bag out, so I chose DL1961, but if you like your jeans to have a more classic denim feel and give a little when you wear them, you might want to try 7 For All Mankind.
- Choose a classic style. Sequins, rips and distressing are all fun, but if you’re investing in a high quality pair of denim, you want something you can wear every day for years to come.
- Try on many pairs. Don’t just put them on, look in the mirror and take them off. Sit down. Walk. Run. Dance. Keep them on for a while to see if they ride down or pull anywhere.
- Get them hemmed if you need to. Fit is extremely important, so putting a few extra dollars into making your clothes truly flatter your body is worth it. Some stores, like the one I worked at, even offer hemming for free.
- Take good care of them. Read and follow the instructions on the care label. Premium jeans are often made with performance fabrics and fiber blends that need special care. You don’t want to ruin or shorten the life of your $200 jeans.