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How much cotton required for a $600 pair of jeans?

Lordy, lordy. As my mother, who came through the deprivations of the Great Depression, often wryly observed, “Some folks have got more money than sense.”

A couple years back, I did a tongue-in-cheekish column about the growing numbers of people buying “premium” jeans, at prices ranging from $75 to $250, while the average price for a pair of “ordinary” jeans at Wal-Mart or other retailers was $20 or under.

Geez, those two-years-ago jeans were bargains; apparently all the inflation since then hasn't been at the gas pump.

In a New York Times article, “Who pays $600 for jeans?”, Guy Trebay acquaints us with a young woman who works for a Manhattan liquor distributor and indulges in “an obsession for foraging obsessively for the best, newest, most underground pair of five-pocket cotton trousers, hoping to unearth the holy grail — jeans made by a label never photographed on Jennifer Anniston.”

Thus, we are told, she was elated to discover “some import jeans, sewn by a London label so obscure it is barely available on these shores.” Some people, the article notes, “would consider the price, a hefty $375, a deterrent.”

Ahh, but not our status-conscious New Yorker, who says, “I don't balk at $500 for a pair of shoes. Why should I balk at that price for jeans that are special?”

Why indeed? After all, she explains, “I wear two pairs every day, and I'd much rather go out and find something unique that you're not going to see on every girl in New York.” Hey, toss in a $1,200 Prada handbag, a $385 Ferre blouse, and a pair of $1,250 Manolo Blahnik sandals, and you've got a nice work wardrobe.

While the price of premium jeans “has spiked so precipitously it is now in cloud-cuckooland,” Mr. Trebay writes, it is “more curious still (that) blue jeans have suddenly shed their proud proletarian roots and (have) turned into what retailers call a status buy.”

And that status comes with a price tag of $319 for Tsubi jeans; $359 for True Religion; $272 for Blue Blood; $275 for Chip & Pepper; $428 for Nudie; $625 for Evisu's limited edition (but hey, they have a hand-painted design that varies with each edition and are made from three yards of fabric that is dyed using vintage equipment), and on and on. Even Levi's, fer cryin' out loud, now has $325 jeans. What is this world comin' to?

“Far from being rarities, jeans with price tags of $200 are now everywhere, the retail equivalent of dandelions after a spring rain,” the article notes. This despite the fact many of them have had special treatments “that abrade, distress, and generally torture” the jeans until they have “just the right luxuriantly ratty patina of something that has been dragged behind a truck.” Not to mention holes and patches.

“Right now,” says the owner of Pittsburgh Jeans Company, “you could have a pair of jeans that cost $1,000 and people would buy them.”

All the while likely griping and moaning about all those evil subsidies to greedy cotton farmers…

TAGS: Legislative
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