Dou­ble the Denim

Au­thor MAR­LON JAMES re mem­bers the first time he saw denim on denim DONE RIGHT—and how he’s COPIED IT ev­ersince

Esquire (Philippines) - - STYLE -

Denim on denim is swag­ger in ex­cel­sis. A don’t-try-this-at-home mis­take that I al­ways make at home, where ev­ery­thing looks cooler in a bed­room mir­ror. The first time I tried it, on a Satur­day in Kingston in 1985, I looked like the one jack­ass in Ja­maica who wasn’t aware that Hal­loween was an Amer­i­can hol­i­day. Of course I was doomed to fail. At 14, I was cool but had no groove, and denim on denim was over be­fore it even be­gan.

The prob­lem was that denim on denim al­ways walked that line be­tween cocky and tacky. Es­pe­cially ’70s denim on ’70s rock stars: open shirt, hairy chest aroar, that trouser-snake hip shake. The look needed a se­ri­ous coun­ter­bal­ance of cool to pull off. En­ter Marvin Gaye. I didn’t even no­tice him un­til my beat-mak­ing friends started sam­pling Trou­ble

Man. But the record that caused trou­ble in my wardrobe was Let’s Get It

On. Just like that, there he was, dressed

in denim on denim, a bold-as-fuck fash­ion move on his bold­est-ever al­bum. It made per­fect sense—if you were go­ing to tell Amer­ica that she sure loves to ball, you had bet­ter come with se­ri­ous stylis­tic at­ti­tude. He looked like he wasn’t even try­ing, which was the hard­est part to pull off.

Usu­ally the rule with denim on denim is don’t, and if you do, at least mis­match. But that was a rule for mere mor­tals, and there’s no mere in Gaye. Not only did his shirt and pants match ex­actly, but he punc­tu­ated the look with a red ski cap on top, like a pe­riod. Shirt open, the color of his tank top wasn’t far from the color of his skin, and it oc­curred to me that the se­cret to denim on denim was the non­denim de­tails. That ev­ery bold state­ment needs a comma and a pe­riod—a pause (muted tank) and an end point (at­ten­tion­grab­bing head gear).

Fast-track to 2005, and I’m head­ing to a Brook­lyn gallery. I’m walk­ing down Clin­ton Av­enue, com­bat boots hit­ting the pave­ment, denim boot-cut jeans and denim cow­boy shirt, both the same shade of blue. The comma: a gray T-shirt. The pe­riod: a red­green-and-gold Rasta cap to pack in bushy dread­locks. Com­ing through the head­phones: Marvin Gaye.

Shirt by Levi’s Vin­tage Cloth­ing.

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