Mending Project: Lee’s Denim Jacket

It’s a little embarrassing to admit that some of my strongest memories of my last year at university are of trips to its town centre to go thrifting. Highcross, Leicester is home to a wonderful little pocket of charity shops and boutiques, no doubt thanks to being a ten minute walk from two universities at once. When I think back to my time spent in Leicester I remember my senses; the smell of rain hitting the pavement, the sound of crooning guitars in my headphones, and the feel of running wool between my fingers. I remember the smell of musty old military coats, and the warmth of a cup of coffee after trudging through the cold. The clothes I bought are souvenirs to help me hold on to those memories, and this jacket is one of them.

I bought this jacket from Dollymix Vintage, one of my two favourite stores in the area, which houses an eclectic mix of clothes. You can tell just from walking in to the place that they have a real love for their stock, with such a distinct identity to their collection. It’s a mixture of aged denim, old wool suits and boarding school blazers, silk scarves and knitted ties. The whole store feels like a cabinet of curiosities. I snagged this jacket due to noticing the symbol on the reverse side of its care label:

For a period in clothing history before mass production led to traditional American brands moving production overseas, companies like Levi’s and Lee’s would display symbols for the Workers’ Unions that produced their clothes. Dating vintage denim can be a somewhat esoteric process, due to these companies not providing information to consumers on how to identify the age of their products. However, there are tells if you know what you’re looking for. In this case, a ‘Union made’ stamp dates denim jackets to the 1970s at the latest. It’s worth keeping an eye out for, since vintage denim is a highly valued commodity for collectors. It’s also fun to know that the clothes you buy have a little bit of history attached to them. It’s hard not to romanticise the idea of owning a denim jacket that was made in America, by Americans, something now lost to the march of industrialisation.

But I digress.

I’ve poured plenty of hours into this jacket so far, which at the time of writing this article I have owned for roughly a year. Naturally, it’s gathered some wear and tear in that time, on top of being in less-than-perfect condition when I bought it. I don’t mind too much, as readers of my other articles will know, because I like seeing the patina of my things develop the longer I own them. The jacket has sprouted some beautiful honeycombs across the arms, which kind of remind me of ripples on the surface of clear water. The sleeve cuffs have suffered the worst of it, with the edges slowly unravelling and exposing long wisps of white yarns. While I do love to hand repair my clothes, I felt a little conflicted about mending this jacket; it felt somehow profane, like I was appropriating a piece of history. After deliberating over the morality of mending a jacket that I own and had paid for, I decided the best path forward was a long patch to cover the cuffs completely. Repairs are just as much a preventative measure for future problems as they are an answer to current ones, so adding patches would hopefully reinforce the rest of the cuff and slow down further damage.

You can see a little more sashiko influence creeping into my repairs here. The geometric pattern helps the repair look a little more deliberate, and covers a large surface area with thread to keep the mend strong. I started experimenting with using dental floss as thread with this jacket, after reading about it in an article about Punk patches. For one, I like to feel like I’m a little punk, and two, dental floss offers a good middle ground in weight between embroidery floss and standard thread. Plus it’s satisfying to burn the ends off once you finish.

As of this week, Autumn has finally arrived in the United Kingdom, meaning jacket season has arrived along with it. This jacket is a couple sizes too big for me, being a 40″ chest draped on a 36″ figure, but this just means it’s easier to squeeze extra layers under it. I’ve taken to wearing sweaters, to give a blend of textures and keep me extra warm. But the great thing about vintage denim is its versatility. A mid wash is an easy colour to pair with almost anything you can imagine, which is what has helped to give denim its status as a workhorse fabric.

The faded indigo of the jacket gets along well with a more understated autumnal palette.

Additional Resources:
Fortune – Vintage Levi Strauss Jeans From the 1800s Sell for Nearly $100K
Youtube – #188 Valuable 125 year old Levis and other rare jeans from the 1800s found buried in a mine! (tw Claustrophobia)
AP News – Vintage denim: 125-year-old Levis sell for nearly $100K
Heddels – Lee Storm Rider Denim Jackets – The Complete Vintage Guide
Medium – Getting Started with Boro Denim Repair

By William

A third year Graphic Design & Illustration student currently studying at De Montfort University. I enjoy creating both physical and digital design and dabble in various creative outlets in my spare time.

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