Elizabeth Day: My life in jeans – it’s complicated

J Alfred Prufrock famously measured out his life in coffee spoons – a line that, whenever I read it, has me questioning what the difference is between a coffee spoon and a tea spoon. I’m pretty sure this piffling piece of domestic trivia is not what T S Eliot intended when he wrote his seminal modernist poem, but there we have it.

If Prufrock had coffee spoons, I have a different metric. I can measure out my life in pairs of jeans. The top shelf of my wardrobe is full of them: row upon row of denim in every shade of blue visible to the naked eye and the occasional grey or black outlier. I have bought white jeans (and never worn them for fear of looking like a superannuated extra from The Only Way Is Essex). I have bought red jeans (and worn them a lot until someone pointed out I looked like an Old Etonian off to shoot some pheasants on his country estate). I have ripped jeans (which I still wear even though whenever I put them on some wag will comment ‘what happened to your jeans?’).

I have bought jeans that cut off at the ankle and jeans that flare out over my shoes, high-waisted jeans and skinny jeans, roll-ups and culottes. Every single time I go clothes shopping I think that this will be the day that I find my perfect pair. Every single time, I return disappointed.

Jenny Brough

Still, I continue the quest, like some obsessive medieval knight scaling the walls of French castles in a futile attempt to find the Holy Grail. Growing up reading women’s magazines in the 1990s, I was taught that every stylish woman worth her salt was meant to have ‘the perfect pair of jeans’ in her wardrobe that she could throw on at a moment’s notice and either dress up with a natty pair of black heels and maybe a stylish blazer, or dress down with trainers and a Global Hypercolour T-shirt. This was the mantra of my adolescence. I grew into womanhood knowing that if I could only find the ultimate pair of jeans (and perhaps the ‘perfect’ white shirt that was crisp yet unstructured and quite possibly French), then everything else in life would fall into place.

But there is no such thing as a perfect pair of jeans. Jeans are, by their very nature, an exercise in compromise. They are hardwearing and comfortable and generally affordable. They are mass-produced, which means that if you have a body type that happens to fall either side of the national average, you will have trouble finding a pair that are as flattering as the mythical ones in your head. I have long legs (cue the tiny violin) and most high-street jeans barely reach my ankles, while the waist cuts into my stomach and the crotch is hiked up uncomfortably high. On the rare occasion that I spot a ‘longer length’ jean, they tend to be so ridiculously overlong that they continue well past my feet where the denim flaps around like loose sausage skins (Topshop Tall is the notable exception here. Thank you, Topshop).

And yet, despite the perpetual disappointment of jeans, I keep buying them and I keep wearing them. Why? I think it’s because, as women, we are constantly told how necessary it is to have a ‘capsule wardrobe’, so that we can grab anything off a coat hanger (as long as it is a shade of black, white or beige) and it will go together. The perfect pair of jeans is a necessary part of this armoury.

But all this does is encourage a collective lack of imagination. Clothes should stimulate individuality not extinguish it.

Maybe I don’t have to wear jeans at all. Maybe I should be wearing leopard-print skirts and wildly patterned trousers. As opposed to measuring out my life in the clothes I’ve been told I must own, maybe I should begin to measure it in what I most like to wear instead?

This Week I’m…


With Sanoflore Essence Merveilleuse Regenerating Anti-Ageing Night Oil. It leaves skin smooth and refreshed and smells delicious.


A Marks & Spencer button-detail fit-and-flare skirt in cornflower blue. So pretty and a steal at £29.50. Plus – it has pockets!


Line of Duty, with Vicky McClure as DI Kate Fleming (above). Either it’s become more complicated or I’ve got older and can’t keep up.