On Denim Cut-Offs

Who says they can’t be “chic?”


I was wearing a pair four-year-old vintage Levi’s, high waist denim cut-offs (from those resplendent days when they still clocked in at only $28 at Urban Outfitters) when I received a release that read, “BREAKING: Denim Cut-Offs, Back in Style.”

“BREAKING: There is Weather Outside,” I really wanted to retort.

My shorts were paired with a light green blouse and blue high heeled sandals. Just an hour earlier, I’d selfie’d the shit out of the look for Instagram to which someone replied, “chic.” After that comment, the flood gates opened for an army of angry refuters, stampeding over to correct the previous commenter’s imprudent error. No one even mentioned my camel toe. It was astounding.

“Since when are denim cut-offs chic?” read one. “Finally, someone said it,” read another. “This is awful,” echoed a third, and the dialogue continued.

The conversation had me thinking about three things. First, the age-old, million dollar question: that which defines chic. Second, I wondered when it was that denim cut-offs accrued so much flack and third, why it seemed so damn erroneous to identify denim cut-offs as chic in the first place? In considering the first question, I looked to the most reliable Queen of The Written Word I’ve come upon, Merriam-Webster.

Her definition(s) looked as follows:

1: smart elegance and sophistication especially of dress or manner : style <wears her clothes with superb chic>

2: a distinctive mode of dress or manner associated with a fashionable lifestyle, ideology, or pursuit <wearing the latest in urban chic>

3: a faddishly popular quality or appeal; also : something (as a practice or interest) having such appeal <the transient tides of academic chic — Irving Kristol>

My own interpretation is still circumventing a school of thought that highlights how difficult defining an all-encompassing word can be. When considering Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent, I still wonder if the backlash toward his second ready-to-wear collection was essentially a testament to the state of denial we’re in. Maybe people chose to hate the clothes because they did not like the woman he was depicting. The fact of the matter is, though, that plaid-loving, messy-hair-don’t-care, Bowery hotel dwelling, aspiring paladin of rock and roll exists. And in excess. You know what else? She probably really is as cool as she thinks she is.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe chic is a word that adopts new meaning with every style transgression we experience. What was chic, say, five years ago, may not be anymore and what is right now, certainly won’t be ten years from now–which brings me to the chameleonic nature of a pair of denim cut-offs.

While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, in matters of our denim cut-offs, chic is in the style of the wearer. Who’s to say that the same pair of, say, some highly elegant white  Celine wide leg pants can’t look absolutely, positively Jane Birkin-esque on one person and violently offensive on another–right? In matters of the shorts, I understand that it’s almost unnatural to consider chic in conjunction with a garment predominantly designed to assuage the effects of grotesque heat but think about this. What you want to do with the shorts is entirely in your style Cosmo. That gives you the power to assign them any adjective you’d like.

Of course, the response to what we wear and how we wear it will never sway unanimously in one, definitive direction but that’s the beauty of fashion and style and taste and all the fuzzy stuff that makes us one of a kind. For this particular look, I wanted to achieve my own most recent interpretation of chic–which I believe is a combination of ubiquitous, every day, utilitarian clothes with outstanding, dramatic, slightly frivolous pieces–case in point: this vintage Isaac Mizrahi blouse. Maybe in that first Instagram shot, the shorts didn’t look as good as they could have but today I submit I feel like I’ve achieved enough “chic” that I can’t wait to beat it out of myself so I can try again.

Wearing Levi’s shorts, an Isaac Mizrahi blouse and L.K. Bennett pumps. Rings by Eddie Borgo and Pamela Love, photographed by Naomi Shon.

To read another story on the versatility denim cutoff, in five different looks, click here!

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