Who was your first true love? Mine wasn’t human.
Originally written 12/11/11
MY FIRST REAL LOVE was denim. And by that, I mean the first object in life I became utterly obsessed over and whose mere presence inspired me to do dumb, irrational, and at times amazing things in life. The same kind of love that causes you to burn paychecks, ignore the advice of friends and family, and eventually end up looking back with as much regret and humiliation as personal satisfaction.
You may have fallen for a human. If you were lucky, it was the neighbor next door. I fell for cotton looms dyed blue, stitched in sweatshops oceans away, and marketed to consumers as something more than defense against the elements of weather.
Of course this love didn’t spark upon my first impression of denim. Like many famous romances we hated each other at first. Jeans were jeans, not denim. You bought a pair before every school year and called it good. Nothing good could happen by caring about what pants you wore…unless you wore the right pair. In my middle and high school the trends were wearing baggy jeans, to appear like you didn’t care about social norms, or to wear women’s jeans, ironically to also appear like you didn’t care about social norms.
I fit in neither demographic. That was by choice. To me, t-shirts with vintage prints of 1960’s rock band logos were important. These t-shirts revealed what I cared about in high school – bands your parents listened to. Bands who inspired the ones playing on the radio. A deep appreciation for music…deeper than yours. All understood with a passing glance at my chest.
Jeans were an afterthought. Something I felt the need to replace every school year. Something my Mom felt the need to replace every school year. They weren’t cool and nothing about them allowed me a passive aggressive opportunity to prove I know something you don’t.
They loved them.
But they didn’t love me.
THE IMPRESSIONABLE FRESHMAN
At the end of my freshman year in college I decided to rush for my brother’s fraternity. I’d spent the entire school year bottled up in my dorm room playing video games and barely making it to class. As much as I’d been grateful for the amount of time college allows freshmen to dedicate towards World of Warcraft AND and their major – I was lonely. I had made no friends outside my dorm cluster and the even worse, none of them were female.
I knew of Animal House. I loved Old School. I liked alcohol. I wanted women.
Being the brother of the Vice President made me a shoe-in for membership. I had learned the fraternity was new on campus, less than five years old, and they were diverse. For the first time in my life I met Asian Americans from the Seattle area. Growing up in eastern Washington provided no such social amenities. And along with the Asians in the fraternity, there were even classic bros that fit the stereotypical anglo-saxon-frat-guy.
But one of those other guys, he for sure wasn’t from around here. He changed my life.
PJ was from Greece. The best way to describe him is to write a laundry list of things that a gentleman supposedly doesn’t do:
- Smoke Camels
- Smoke weed with freshman
- Wear sunglasses indoors
- Bleach the tips of your hair
- Wear excessive product to create a faux-hawk
- Wear a sweatband like a wristwatch
- Wear a wristwatch next to the sweatband
- Grow a soul-patch
- Wear a belt buckle of two opposing pistols
- Be known for saying “Go fuck your mother”
- Actually saying “Go fuck your mother”
- Wear $180 designer denim made in Italy
In retrospect, I met the alpha douchebag. He was the former Vice President and one of the founding members of the fraternity. He sounded like Mickey Rourke. He wasn’t terribly attractive, tall or too much in shape. He had acne scars. He wore a little too much cologne.
He looked badass.
Despite his exterior, I knew he was a good guy and he respected me because Chad was my brother, to whom he thought was “a pretty cool Asian guy.”
I was naive back then about appearances. I didn’t pinpoint all 12 points from above until much later. Seeing PJ in person was for the first time in my life witnessing a persona fully formed.
Every part of his look and demeanor was congruent. Any addition to his wardrobe or habits was a logical extension of his personality. All the pieces of his appearance would fail if taken individually but placed together created something of value – style.
It made sense. He knew it. The brothers knew it. I definitely knew it.
More importantly, women loved it.
PJ changed my life at one of the rushing parties in the spring of my freshman year. I was with my friend Kevin and we were drinking in the main chapter room. Everything was fun until I noticed one woman was there, Jenny. Facebook had just been rolling out at UW at the time and Jenny was my #1 FB creep.
She was the first Asian woman I’ve ever been attracted to, and I didn’t even know her. I just knew of her through Facebook photos and her profile. She liked obscure indie bands and creeping through her photos revealed she really got into partying when she entered the dorms. This was attractive because her high school photos portrayed her as an innocent band girl.
I was a band guy in high school. I was getting into partying. Even more, she wasn’t even fully Asian, she was half-korean and half-caucasian. Perfection!
Kevin pointed out it was her. She was such a big deal in my life even my friends knew of her. We were drunk and advanced with whatever liquid confidence I could muster.
The best way to describe the next five minutes is to again, brainstorm a list of things a gentleman supposedly doesn’t do.
You get the idea.
PJ then interrupted my nuclear bomb attempt of courting Jenny. I guess he had talked to her earlier. He only needed to ask a single question.
“Hey Jenny, do you want to drink upstairs in my room?”
No response, no nod of approval. She just followed him.
I was heartbroken. I went to the corner of rejection and continued to drink by myself at my own house’s party. Kevin went to the bathroom.
Kevin came back to update me on where they went. He wanted to figure out if I at least still had a chance. He said they went into PJ’s room and within minutes were already making out.
In retrospect, that’s not style, that’s fuckin’ swag.
Days, then weeks passed as I mulled over the consequences of that party. I didn’t know what happened nor the causes of PJ’s success. So naturally I couldn’t be bitter, jealous, or angry about anything. I could only be intrigued.
Later as I joined the fraternity I would realize the value of having your own room and not being a guest at the house. Women were attracted to a notion of privacy and entitlement that only a live-in could offer. I would also come to realize the value of having alcohol in your room, to offer to women at any time. They always appreciated free drinks. It wouldn’t be until five years later that I realized PJ’s trump card wasn’t any of the above. He simply asked Jenny to switch to a different, more intimate location. I would learn that having the balls to ask that simple question is a hallmark of pick-up artistry and him giving her the option of moving closer to a bed attracted her so much more than whatever music I believed us to share in common.
I’m getting way ahead of myself here. Again, being ignorant at the time led me to believe there was something more than personality and experience at play with Jenny’s departure. Something superficial needed to be the key because I sure as hell couldn’t buy any of that swag. I couldn’t buy his coarse voice or naughty one-liners. Probably couldn’t buy his stupid belt buckle either.
But I could buy his pants.
TALENT BORROWS, GENIUS STEALS
Diesel became famous in the beginning of the 21st century for producing denim that sold for hundreds more than any other pair of jeans. They were Italian, came in a lot of different colors and fades, and most importantly had embroidered back pockets that let everyone know you were wearing Diesel jeans.
Their jeans had a lot going for them in the early 2000’s. Much of the value they brought to the table was a slimmer profile, higher quality cotton (those holes you get by the back pockets, wallet fades and crotch holes? Didn’t happen here), realistic looking washes, and a low-rise fit. Compared to rest of the market that was still reeling from an appetite for bagginess, holes, and paint splatters, Diesel’s pants were a gift from the sartorial Gods. They were also boot-cut and not that skinny, two trends that have fallen out of grace with America, but back then it felt so right and refined – just like how it only feels smart today wear dark indigo skin hugging straight legs to a club. Almost a complete reversal.
PJ wore a pair labeled the Zathan 772. They originally cost $180. Check them out here. I believe them to still be one of the finest washes ever created in denim. The picture doesn’t do the pair justice. All around the fading looks real, not like white paint poured on to replicate age. The jeans were slim for their day with a slight bootcut. Every part of the edges were frayed as if you’d been partying in them for years. Even though the pants were skinnier than the rest of the market, the pockets were angled so you could still place your hands in there effortlessly and large enough to store a cell phone and a wallet without stress. Guys that bought girl’s jeans couldn’t say the same.
Beyond that Diesel’s were low-rise. That meant the length from the top of the jean to the crotch was shorter than other jeans, so they sat lower on your hips. The beauty effect is that of elongating your torso (making you look taller) and the shorter crotch length made your legs look longer (making you look slimmer). The fact that low-rise slimmer jeans also have less fabric than your old Levi’s made you look in-shape and confident enough to wear pants that fit you. More than that, Diesels baller status instantly transformed you into a guy who looked like he regularly got paid…and laid.
Hell, they even smelled like awesomeness. Diesel must have figured out consumers love new car smell and created the new denim smell scent. It worked.
When PJ walked around, I always noticed his jeans. They fit him! He was about 5’9 and not flabby, so clothes that skimmed his body instead of inflating it created a very attractive silhouette. Having such a bomb pair of jeans gave him the luxury of trying less in other areas of clothing. PJ didn’t need perfectly tailored collared shirts. Regular t-shirts were fine because his jeans were so clutch. $40 Converse sneakers worked seamlessly as well. What’s better is the fact it’s perfectly acceptable to wear the same pair of jeans every day or every other day.
It was a smart investment.
He looked more in shape than he was. He looked taller than he was. He looked cooler than he actually was. All from a pair of jeans.
In high school, I learned of clothing’s ability to send discreet, social messages. In college, I learned of denim’s empowerment of the average Joe. Granted, I still didn’t know why PJ was so cool. But my freshman naivety drove me to marginalize his persona into a single product, something I could easily access and purchase upon will. Something to ease my insecurity and lack of confidence as fast as PJ had wooed Jenny.
Something I could copy for my own gain.
I wasn’t cool my freshman year. Sometimes I still don’t know what being cool is. But PJ was cool, had charisma, and snatched up the woman of my fantasies right in front of my own drunken face. Since I didn’t have many friends growing up, I learned to internalize my life experiences instead of discuss them with others. Simply put, I made everything that happened in life relate to ME. And whatever I said was the final word because there was no audience but myself.
Makes you pretty stubborn too.
Smart people say getting the woman will change a man’s life for the better. Those wiser will admit not getting the woman will change a man’s life even more.
I wanted to change, to become popular and get women. I liked how PJ carried himself. He was laid back, funny, insightful, had great taste and aside from the witty “Go fuck your mother” jokes, very respectful of others. He was the first person in my life to show me that clothing doesn’t necessarily express who you are but rather provides a means to present the best version of yourself. I grew up most of my life hiding behind clothes picked by my mother, a size too big, and a style too unflattering. I hid behind archaic logos of bands that weren’t even popular in their heyday.
First learning that buying a pair of Zathan 772’s can transform you to your most attractive self was the start of a loving relationship with denim and later fashion that will require so many more stories to complete.
One day going through photos of our fraternity I stumbled upon this picture that for sure was taken years before I joined. I didn’t figure it unusual until I spotted PJ in the background. At least what I thought was PJ.
He looked chubbier, less happy, less confident, and with normal non-Jersey Shore hair. He still had the over-sized sunglasses, sweatbands, and questionable jewelry. He still smoked.
“Those jeans? He didn’t have the Diesels!”
My style icon was nothing more than a mess of ideas. He had yet to find his identity and pull all the elements into something tasteful that would attract others.
The most shocking part of this story was the date on the photo.
Just a mere year before I met him.
He was a senior when he found his love for denim – I would be a freshman. Four years ahead of him. To that, I am eternally grateful he gave me a sartorial advantage I still possess to this day.
Anyone can change. It’s a choice.
You just need to really want it.