There comes a time when your jeans just die. You’ve walked in them for miles, and a familiar tear begins to show itself on the inside of your upper thighs, where your thighs can naturally rub together with every move you make.
The tear is small at first — unnoticeable, you think. Soon, it gets larger. You see your skin through the hole. It’s time to say goodbye to your beloved jeans or hand over some money to get the jeans repaired. If you’ve experienced this problem, you’re not alone.
“It’s been the bane of my existence,” Alexandra Waldman, co-founder of plus-size clothing brand Universal Standard, said in an interview. “It’s an absolute constant, and it makes me feel very frustrated and very cheated. I always thought, ‘For heaven’s sake, is it really that hard to come up with something that would at least do something to increase the longevity of these pieces?’”
It’s a problem that affects not only jeans, but also many consumers’ slacks and leggings.
“I think it’s frustrating and disappointing,” blogger Katie Sturino, founder of Megababe, a line of anti-chafe and anti-sweat beauty products, said in an interview. “You have a pair of pants you’re wanting to wear and they don’t last you longer than a year.”
Let’s first break down why this problem persists for so many. According to Jonathan Cheung, head of design at Levi’s, the tearing is a result of stress you put on your jeans or pants when your thighs rub together vigorously as you move. That area of the pant’s fabric is experiencing the most stress, and so it pills and tears.
“If you think about it, that point right at the top of the inside of the thighs is often in motion, with abrasion from the top of your thighs rubbing together as you walk or cycle,” Cheung said in an email interview. “It’s also subjected to a lot of tension when you stretch one leg out, such as if you are walking up stairs or even bend down on one knee.”
It’s essentially similar to chafing — which, as Mic has previously reported, is a completely normal human experience that occurs when someone’s thighs, which may be larger or more muscular, rub together when they walk or move. But rather than your skin getting irritated, as it does with chafing, it’s your jeans or pants that are the victim of this friction. There’s nothing to be ashamed of here. It’s just your body being a body.
What makes this a little more annoying than chafing, though, is how expensive it can be to deal with. Sturino and Waldman have both taken piles of jeans to tailors to get the rips covered and the fabric reinforced, and even then they’ve seen not-so-great results.
“Every time you patch them up it creates more of [a] frictional surface,” Waldman explained. “It just continues to rub even more, and there’s that pilling that essentially becomes sandpaper ... It worsens when you add any sort of threading to correct it.”
You either have to throw out your pants or buy another pair at this point, so what are fashion companies really doing to combat this common issue?
Over at Waldman’s Universal Standard, fixing this problem became a priority.
“I can tell you we paid a lot of attention to it and came up with some pretty innovative fabric development,” Waldman said. “Even with our leggings, we tried a lot of different enzyme washes that allow the leggings to actually have a much longer lifespan than normal leggings. It was very important, and it was such a huge point of dissatisfaction for me personally that we made sure that when we created our jeans, they had a really long lifespan.”
In search of quality fabric for jeans, pants and leggings that can hold up to above-average wear and tear, Waldman and her team scrutinized everything from the way the fabric is woven and manufactured to the fabric’s makeup.
Waldman thinks more companies don’t invest in preventing this particular tear in pants in part because all the research and time — which was close to a year in Waldman’s case — that goes into quality fabric development ultimately costs a lot of money.
“I feel like it’s more a lack of thought that goes into production and testing the product,” Waldman said. “Especially when you’re talking about a cheaper product, there’s a reason it’s cheaper. There hasn’t been that research or extra care. Finding something that costs $29.99 that has all these amazing technological things built into them, that’s not very likely to happen.”
Apart from Universal Standard, some other mainstream brands are at least attempting to stall this problem. Over at Levi’s, they’re depending on a quality, heavyweight denim to stall this inevitable tearing and disintegration.
“It’s an approach that has worked amazingly well,” Cheung said. “Go into any good vintage store around the world and the thousands of vintage Levi’s that are decades old are a testament to durability. You can tell the jeans had a good, long working life with their previous owner and yet they are ready for a second life with a new owner. Today we still make jeans like that, and we rigorously test them for strength and resistance.”
Levi’s is also bringing in new technology, including stretch, in hopes of making its jeans stronger in this problem-prone area.
“Adding flexibility is a great way to prevent tears. It’s like athletes stretching to prevent muscle tears under strain,” Cheung said. “Flexibility allows the jeans to be pulled further before tearing.”
The brand Mavi also focuses on stretch to help prevent this issue in its denim.
“We use fabrics that have incredible stretch and elasticity to form and move with your body,” Ardie Ulukaya, Mavi’s Senior Vice President of Sales, said in an email. “We also offer a multitude of fits for people of various shapes and sizes. Fit is so important. Ill-fitting jeans cause more stretching and pulling, resulting in tears and fading of the fabric.”
Still, with so much innovation in fashion, this is a problem that’s yet to find a real, permanent solution nor some magic material that prevents tears and pilling in this high-friction area. There’s also no denim or pant brand that’s put this problem at the forefront of a campaign — a bit odd, considering it’s such a widespread issue.
Won’t someone please help us?