Vogue Is Wildly Out of Touch

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 10 2012 12:10 PM

Is the Denim Bubble Inflating Again?

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Denim at the Diesel Fall/Winter 2012 preview last month.

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Last week, Vogue Daily, the online arm of the famous fashion magazine, featured “Denim under $500” in their “Steal of the month” column. Granted, Vogue has never been a bastion of practicality, and the “Steal of the Month” has always seemed like a grudging concession to recession-era economics. But long gone are the days when one could even pretend $400 for denim was “a steal”—and to use this feature to hock the uncharacteristically expensive version of something that is, for the most part, relatively inexpensive wildly misses the mark, and veers toward the downright offensive.

Even taking into consideration the best and most luxury brands, I’d be hard-pressed—without Vogue’s help, that is—to figure out where to buy jeans for half a grand. And I’m no stranger to the world of premium denim. For a few years in the boom days of the early aughts, I was, in fact, something of a premium-denim fashion victim. I shopped at stores with names like The Denim Lounge. I had an encyclopedic knowledge of back-pocket design—I even trotted this knowledge out at parties, as if it made me seem interesting. (Sigh.) I snapped up rhinestone-encrusted, pocket-embroidered, contrast-stitched, artificially distressed jeans like they were going out of style. 

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Unfortunately, for me, they were. By 2006 or so, the premium denim category was so saturated and prices so bloated that the phrase “denim bubble” was knowingly deployed by observers of the fashion market. (Michelle Leder had seen this coming, writing on the subject for Slate in 2005.) Then, in 2008, when the recession hit, the bubble burst. There are few good things to say about the recession, but at least we were liberated from the tyranny of $300 bell bottoms designed by a former Spice Girl.

In the place of all that overly-designed, overpriced denim, a few quality brands emerged, offering their wares for significantly less money. (On the more expensive end, I’m thinking about brands like Madewell and J. Brand; moving down the price scale there’s Blank NYC, Urban Outfitters, and others.) What these brands had in common was a focus on simplicity over frippery—an unadorned, un-branded look that was a breath of fresh air after half a decade of overly complicated denim. It’s not that absurdly expensive jeans no longer exist (I know a really great resource if you’re in the market for a pair!), it’s that those of us who care about great fit, progressive pocket placement, and the right ratio of spandex to cotton do not have to spend several hundred dollars.

When I open Vogue, or go to Vogue.com, I expect to see beautiful images, flights of fancy, and grist for aspirational day dreaming, not real-world shopping tips. But if the magazine’s editors insist on applying their keen sartorial judgment to regular-people clothes—and I applaud the impulse—they shouldn’t treat the task as an afterthought. Show us the $500 version of the $10,000 dress that you know best, Vogue. Don’t waste our time telling us about even more items that will break our shrinking fashion budgets.

Julia Felsenthal is an assistant at Slate.

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