Dive Into Denim

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This spring, denim styles are reviving the trends of the past with a contemporary edge.

By Kirsti Correa | Photos by Jody Tiongco

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Comeback stories are headliners. In traditional tales, legendary sports games and polarizing political races, the underdog frequently upsets the competition, bringing onlookers to the edges of their seats until a victor is determined. Perhaps one of the most interesting comebacks of our generation presents itself in the form of a fabric: denim. Season after season, denim does just that—it comes back.

Instead of taking a seasonal hiatus, denim boosts its reputation by reinventing itself, leaving us in awe of its everlasting spirit. In reality, the denim “trend” actually defies the definition of a trend, which refers to something that’s ephemeral—something that will soon be collecting dust in the back of a closet. Denim entered the U.S. as a utilitarian uniform in the 18th century, and it’s since become a global staple that defies both geographic and social divides.

“Denim is cyclical,” says Dana Marron, co-owner of local boutique Laguna Supply. “The trends from 20 years ago are back. … If you hang onto a denim piece long enough, then it will eventually come back.”

From colored and white jeans to denim tops, jackets and flattering boyfriend silhouettes—reminiscent of the decade most remembered for popularizing grunge—the denim styles of yesteryear have met their matches in today’s trends.

Ocean Blues

It’s safe to say that denim suits the city of Laguna well. A surfery-sophisticated setting combined with the fabric’s too-cool attitude makes for a fashion statement unique to the coastal city. “There is a relaxed ease when wearing denim in a beach town,” says Robin Chretien, founder and designer of luxury denim brand Robin’s Jean. “I think the Lagunans have invented a cool, laid-back style, which can be casual yet stylish at the same time.”

Both an artist’s community and a walking town, Laguna calls for comfortable and creative wardrobes. A pair of solid, cropped skinny jeans is functional enough for sandy toes at Main Beach and stylish enough to pop in and out of the boutiques of downtown Laguna. “I’m impressed with the women who walk into my shop,” Dana says. “I think the Laguna Beach woman has really got it down.”

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Jeans are styled dressy yet casual at Taim Boutique.

Comfortable temperatures and breezy days give the quintessential Lagunan the freedom to wear denim in a variety of creative ways. Whether the staple shows up in an airier fabric, a lighter color or a shorter silhouette, denim is a mainstay of coastal fashion. “I think Laguna has a unique perspective on denim,” says Kendra Pearce, owner of Taim Boutique on Pacific Coast Highway. “We’re close enough to LA to pull off really trendy denim [and] we’re artsy so we can pull off fun, unique denim, but we still love our classics. … You’ll find a little bit of everything here, and nothing looks out of place.
“We wear denim all the time, so we know how to make it dressy and casual,” she continues. “Locals wear denim in every way you could imagine. We see [them] wearing skinny jeans cuffed for a casual look, tucked into boots when it gets a little chilly and with heels for drinks at [The Rooftop Lounge].”

Boyfriend Material

Given Laguna’s casual spirit, it’s no wonder that a pant synonymous with comfort in the 1990s has native ties, according to one local trendsetter. Laguna-based personal stylist Leslie Christen says when she was a student at Laguna Beach High School in the late 1990s, jeans from a vintage clothing store called Locals Only, owned by Southern California artist and retail legend Jim Olarte, were must-have pieces.

“He stocked men’s Levi’s, the original boyfriend jeans,” Leslie says. “They had the perfect low-rise, beachy feel [that you could] wear long or shortened for cutoffs. They were perfect. … He was a pioneer for the trend.”

Today boyfriend jeans are back again, and while Locals Only has since closed, other Laguna shops are reintroducing the trend to shoppers. “Laguna Supply always does a great job of stocking the new ‘it’ brands and styles for denim,” Leslie says. “Their customers can always rely on walking out with great pieces.”

Laguna Supply carries a wide range of denim brands including Mother, J Brand, Rag & Bone, Genetic and Current/Elliott. “Mother is the softest denim out there,” Dana says. “[Their jeans] are languid and comfy. People like them because they feel like you’re wearing sweatpants.”

Taking denim’s traditionally relaxed vibe to a whole new level, boyfriend jeans are best worn distressed in a medium blue wash for an effortless look that hearkens back to the days of Kurt Cobain. Deemed a Laguna staple by Taim’s team of stylists, Mavi’s boyfriend jeans are one of the more popular versions of the trend for their fit and understated look. “Skinny jeans are still reigning supreme, but you can’t beat a great pair of … boyfriend jeans,” Kendra says, adding that Taim plans to carry different varieties of the style through spring.

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Loose Skinny jeans by 6397 at 11th Moon

Located on the corner of PCH and Legion Street, 11th Moon offers a fusion of skinny and boyfriend jeans made by New York-based women’s brand 6397. The label’s Loose Skinny jeans feature a fit that’s a tad snugger than your typical pair of boyfriend jeans, but the comfort level is just as impressive.

From the Top Down

Denim has not only taken over the scene from the waist down, but it’s also inching its way upward. From a chambray (a plain weave fabric that looks like denim) shirt to a timeless jean jacket, the ways to embrace denim up top are endless.

“Laguna is so denim-obsessed that it’s not just about one piece—you have to have the perfect denim item for each category from jeans, jackets and shirts,” Dana says. “ … It’s funny because everyone has denim in their closet, but they’re still searching for the perfect pair.”

A versatile garment, a chambray button-down shirt works as a blouse or a light jacket when worn open over a T-shirt or tank top. After a day spent splashing in the water, it also transitions well as a bathing suit cover-up. While the piece has been spotted in stores for months, its multifaceted appeal makes it a wardrobe game-changer. It’s capable of crossing seasons, and it has paved the way for old trends to make a comeback in sleeker incarnations.

Denim on denim, in particular, has been considered something of a faux pas ever since Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake donned matching head-to-toe denim ensembles for the 2001 American Music Awards. Still, time heals most wounds, and the late-1990s trend is slowly reappearing in a fashionable way, thanks in large part to chambray.

To ease your way into doubling up on denim, pair a chambray top with crisp white jeans. For a bolder look, wear a blue jean that’s a few shades darker or lighter than the chambray top. “If you’re wearing denim on denim, make sure the materials aren’t the same heaviness,” says Rachael Dickens, founder of OC Style Report, a Laguna-based online fashion portal designed for Orange County locals.

Chambray is a lightweight fabric that’s ideal for springtime, but when the wind blows a little stronger in Laguna, consider opting for a heavier denim jacket. A perfect evening accessory, a jean jacket looks best when worn over a sundress with wedges.

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Simple Boutique offers denim styles for everyone, from skinny jeans to relaxed fits.

While the 1990s version of a denim jacket is a classic to work back into your wardrobe, updated garments incorporate more current trends like leather piping or elements of retro-inspired motorcycle jackets. “[Lagunans] are more sophisticated and they already know what’s out there, so they want to see novelty items,” says Marsha Gannon, manager of Simple boutique in Laguna. “We [have] a great denim jacket from Citizens [of Humanity] … and a shirt from Joe’s Jeans that’s chambray but with stripes.

All in the Details

Denim is breaking the boundaries of conventional patterns this season with jeans that merge contrasting pieces of fabric into one silhouette.

Pot Patch Skinny Jean
Pot-Patch jeans by Robin’s Jean

“People really want to see something new and a little bit more trendy around here,” Marsha says. “We always have basics like skinny, [cropped] and boyfriend jeans, but we always bring in novelty pieces. … It can’t be too crazy, though; people still prefer items that are easy to wear.”
Patchwork jeans offer a unique way to mix up—literally—your standard pair of blues. Robin’s Jean, for instance, carries its own version of patchwork jeans for men and women. “Everyone [has] a way of customizing their own jeans, and I brought that feeling back with the Pot-Patch jeans,” Robin says.

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Boyfriend jeans by Mother, at Laguna Supply

In addition to patchwork, Robin’s Jean has introduced another interesting element into its spring line. The men’s Motard, or motorcycle-style jean, features knee pleats that allow maximum movement and comfort, Robin says.

In order to achieve a perfect fit, Pete Surprenant, owner of North Menswear on Glenneyre Street, suggests purchasing a pair of raw, selvage denim jeans. “It’s a commitment because you can’t wash it for three months, but anything that takes time and effort usually ends up being more rewarding,” Pete says. “When you buy raw denim and break it in, it tailors to your body better. … The quality of the raw denim is unmatched—and it will last a much longer time.

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North Menswear specializes in raw, selvage denim that forms to the wearer’s body over time.

“For a long time, denim came with treatments and washes to make it look like it’s faded, but if you do it yourself, it gives you more of an authentic look,” he adds. North Menswear carries several versions of raw denim, the shop’s most popular brands being the Nashville, Tenn.-based Imogene + Willie as well as Left Field and Williamsburg Garment Co. “The Barton jean by Imogene + Willie is great,” Pete says. “It fits well and the legs are super straight; there’s no nonsense. It’s a classic, timeless piece.”

Melrose Place boutique, owned by Johnny Alper and Gila Leibovitch, stocks a large assortment of jeans for men, and manager Eddy Rubin says that every man should have at least seven pairs of jeans in his rotation in a medley of different washes and styles: medium blue, dark blue, black, distressed, “rock ’n’ roll,” an earth tone and rustic gray.

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Melrose Place boutique’s managers advocate that men have at least seven varieties of jeans in their arsenals.

“The three pairs every girl needs are skinny black jeans, a clean-cut trouser and a medium blue boyfriend jean that’s a little distressed,” Rachael says. “They’re the three jeans that allow you to have diversity in your denim.”

There’s no secret to finding the right pair—it’s just a matter of trial and error. “Try everything, and be open to everything,” Rachael continues. “If you find a brand or style that works for you, then stick with it and buy it in different colors, prints and trends.” LBM

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