Blue jeans were initially made for workers who trekked west in hopes of striking gold—literally—or making their living as cowboys and miners. Which means that they were specifically designed to withstand a certain lifestyle—one that involved hacking ...
Illustration by Alicia Tatone
RFID-blocking, screen-cleaning, slightly stretchy jeans for the modern-day worker.
Blue jeans were initially made for workers who trekked west in hopes of striking gold—literally—or making their living as cowboys and miners. Which means that they were specifically designed to withstand a certain lifestyle—one that involved hacking away at rocks, and shoveling coal, and guzzling whiskey, and not owning a washing machine for a century. And since then, we’ve hardly touched the iconic style. The latest and greatest development in blue jeans was the introduction of stretchy elastane, which has been around for decades but only gained mainstream acceptance with brands like Levi’s a couple years ago. Enter New York–based denim brand 3x1 and its collaboration with Joe Doucet, a designer known for rethinking objects for 21st-century life. The collaboration shamelessly goes after a new generation of denim customers who have lives that would be unrecognizable to the gold rushers and miners jeans were originally made for.
Which makes a certain amount of sense: Everything else we own is calibrated for 2018, but jeans aren’t. To accommodate this new way of life, Doucet and 3x1 added a couple of features that, novel as they are, seem like they can only be appreciated by the most tech-conscious among us.
Take the coin pocket, for example—that little pocket you’ve probably used to store more drugs than coins. 3x1 stretched the pocket out to fit a credit card, then lined the compartment with RFID-blocking fabric to thwart potential hackers. Other additions follow the same line of thinking: a pocket lined with a microfiber that wipes phones clean, and a reflective 3M strip that reveals itself when the jeans are cuffed. The strip is meant to keep walking or biking commuters safe at night. Of course, some tweaks are a little less tech-forward: The jeans also have a bit of stretch in them, “since most people are sitting today,” says 3x1 founder Scott Morrison. “We're definitely doing a lot more stationary things behind a computer.”
Just as interesting as what was added to the jeans is what was taken away. Morrison points to rivets—which were crucial for reinforcing jeans in the past—as something that just isn’t necessary anymore, thanks to developments in stitching technology. “The stuff that's decorative just doesn't really matter anymore,” he says. “It's not to say I don't like rivets, because of course that's a nice feature, but it just wasn't applicable here.” To create a true 21st-century jean, you have to do away with tradition. “I have this well-informed appreciation of history and denim's place specifically in American history, but I don't feel the trappings of having to retell that story when we make a pair of jeans,” Morrison says. The problem is many people, particularly guys, still have a deep appreciation for aspects of our clothing that are informed by tradition, even if they have no bearing on modern life.
Do we still need functional buttons on suit jacket sleeves—known as surgeon’s cuffs, because they were worn by military doctors who needed to roll their sleeves up when treating patients? No! Do those buttons have an interesting history that men still pay more for? Yes! The same is true for jeans. It’s a lot cooler to point to the rivets on a pair of jeans and talk about how they were needed to make the denim strong enough for a hard day’s labor than to get into how your pockets have microfiber that makes your phone screen clean and shiny so you can better see tweets. Men tend to eat stuff like provenance up, and not just when buying clothes: Storytelling bumps up the value of items like no-longer-in-production cars, watches formerly owned by celebrities, and liquor that’s made in small batches by one quality-obsessed recluse. A large portion of the #menswear era in the late aughts was fueled by guys’ obsession with history and authenticity. So, in that way, discarding the rivets feels almost contentious—and potentially bad business.
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I asked Morrison if he was concerned that guys want the history. “No, not at all,” he says. “For every customer that appreciates the detail, there’s another customer that finds it annoying and outdated. In the case of the rivet…many customers dislike them because they scratch your watch, your wallet, and even the sides of your car seat.”
And, sure, maybe these features sound dorky. But maybe I’m also being cranky for no good reason. Morrison’s reasoning can be disheartening for nostalgic types, but it’s ultimately undeniable: “Everyone has a phone and sticks their phone in their pockets, everyone's got credit cards.” And it’s true: Americans throw away $62 million in coins annually, so why should our jeans have a pocket specifically designed to carry the practically obsolete currency? Millennials are set to become the largest consumer base in the world as early as next year, and unlike generations before them, they’re not in love with denim. Denim companies would do well to court them.
Despite all the tweaks, 3x1’s jeans of the future still look like…jeans. “The 5-pocket jean is tough to beat,” Morrison says. “It's hard to perfect it when it's already been perfected.” It’s hard not to look at the features added to these jeans and consider the changes in our lifestyle that have happened over the past 100-plus years. But, for better or worse, these jeans do more accurately service their intended market—another group of people migrating west in hopes of striking it rich.
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