Double or nothing on denim: This season, it's all about singing the 'denim' blues

A model at Mint boutiques and fashion influencer Gail Gonzalez, 49, of Valley Stream, rock their denim-on-denim looks. Credit: @simplygailg

Way back when, Clinton Kelly, the celebrity fashion and lifestyle expert behind the early-2000s show “What Not To Wear,” deemed wearing matching denim-on-denim outfits “one of the biggest fashion mistakes a woman could make.”

“I was vehemently against it,” Kelly says.

Today, the former TLC co-host,  a native of Port Jefferson Station, admits that for both men and women, “Times, they are a-changing,” and doubling up on denim, once considered taboo, has “almost become a classic look.” 

Long Island retailers seem to agree, declaring full-on denim looks a must for the season — yes, Canadian tuxedos, aka jeans and denim jackets, are in. “This is the strongest I’ve ever seen it being shown by mass brands,” says Lisa Sanfilippo, the owner of the Clothesline Clothing Co. in Bellmore. Complete denim ensembles, “Never really happened before.” As for her customers, “Sometimes, they’re like, ‘I really don’t know if I can do denim on denim,’ but 95% of them who try it will say ‘I like it’ and come around.”

The Levi's label inside Bing Crosby's jacket — almost a permission slip to hospitality industry folks to allow denim. Credit: Levi Strauss & Co. Archives

How the Canadian tuxedo came to be

You’ve probably heard of, maybe even worn, the denim-on-denim ensemble.

According to Levi Straus & Co. historian Tracey Panek, the term was inspired by American actor/singer Bing Crosby, who was once refused a room at a Vancouver hotel because he was wearing denim.

In 1951, the company, made him a denim tuxedo jacket and presented it to him at the legendary Silver State Stampede rodeo in Elko, Nevada.

The inside label signed by the president of the American Hotel Association was almost a permission slip for him to wear denim any time.

According to Panek, “the wearer was to be received with cordial hospitality.” He apparently loved it. “Bing wore the jacket and a pair of 501 jeans to a movie opening.”

This wasn’t the only time a Canadian tuxedo made news.

In 2001, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake stepped out in head-to-toe matching denim looks on the red carpet at the American Music Awards.

Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake arrive at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles in January 2001 wearing all-denim ensembles. Credit: AP/Mark J. Terrill

Even high-end fashion stylists like Evan Stanton Elkowitz, 54, of Old Westbury, are feeling a seismic switch in how people perceive wearing denim. “Wearing it all in one outfit used to be one of those big fashion ‘don’ts.’ It was like 'ew,’ ” she says. Today, she’s all in calling it, “So chic. It’s also easy to throw on and you look so cool.”

For Gail Gonzalez, 49, of Valley Stream, a fashion influencer who posts under @simplygailg, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. “How about triple denim?” she asks, referring to one of her outfits by the Mavi brand that includes a denim vest, pants and jacket. No longer outré, Gonzalez says donning multiple denim pieces, “has become so mainstream that everyone is doing it. Not only does it take the guesswork out of putting outfits together but it’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye.”

Over at the Penny Lane boutique in Huntington, owner Gabrielle Sunshine is elated about the trend. “I couldn’t love it more. To me there is nothing more classic Americana.” A denim trench coat is the “new spring essential,” declares Sunshine. And she adds, “If you don’t have a denim maxi skirt in your wardrobe this season, you’re blowing it big time.”

It's not the maxi skirt that’s the hero piece at Mint boutiques in Mattituck, Westhampton, Southampton and Stony Brook. The new length is called the “midaxi” according to owner Joanna Mazzella, which, you guessed it, is a shin-grazing hybrid between the midi and maxi, often with angled seams and a high front slit. Mazzella is a fan of the overall denim craze. “People see the variety in denim — everything from basics to dresses, rompers, wide leg jeans and more — and say, “’Oooh, I need that,' ” she says.

How to do up double denim

Fashion stylist Evan Stanton Elkowitz, of Old Westbury, and Clinton Kelly, of "What Not to Wear" fame, show how they style denim-on-denim looks.  Credit: Clinton Kelly

For some, it may seem alien to pair a denim top and bottom. But stylist Elkowitz advises folks to “Play with volume. That’s the key thing when you’re wearing denim together. Pair a more fitted top with a wider or more generous bottom,” and in the reverse, a looser top works with a slimmer fit jean.” Beyond that, “accessories make the outfit,” she explains. “Denim-on-denim is sort of a neutral palette so throw on a scarf and change up your footwear with anything from a cowboy boot to a sneaker to a ballet flat.”

While Kelly prefers wearing “a darkish jean and a lightish button front shirt,” when he wears denim, he says, “the kids do it more matchy-matchy than I do.”

Sanfilippo agrees on the shade story. “If you have a denim top, you want it be a lighter shade saturation to work nicely with a darker pair of jeans, but there are exceptions.”

Mazzella likes to layer white T-shirts under a total denim style and suggests adding a belt. “These days they’re showing belts with more hardware and they break up the look and make it a little more interesting. It’s kind of a '70s revival and takes you back.”


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