They are not, well, messing around: as you can see at the Nordstrom website the not-mud on the ‘Barracuda Straight Leg Jean’ has been made to look dry, while a fresher layer of darker not-mud is meant to look like it’s just well splattered and settled on you.
The jeans are described by Nordstrom as “heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans in a comfortable straight-leg fit” that “embody rugged, Americana workwear that's seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you're not afraid to get down and dirty.”
This was too much for Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
The problem is, the jeans don’t signal that you are a decent paragon of manhood who’s done an honest day’s work. They are not a butch anti-fashion symbol. If you have bought them for $425, you will likely pair them with an article of clothing that gives you away as somebody who spends far too much money on fashion anyway, and who would never wear authentically muddy jeans. The only mud you’ve ever gone near is at the beautician’s. The mud jean is a ludicrously self-sabotaging men’s style piece.
Even taking into account farm life, or a rough-and-tumble rural existence, Nordstrom’s muddy jeans make it look as if the wearer has a kamikaze relationship to mud itself, throwing himself into the nearest bog or puddle at a joyous whim. They look like the clothing of a dirt addict, not a horny-handed man of the soil.
For some really strange reason, the fresher-looking non-mud on the jean is spattered over the wearer’s groin and ass. This guy really is a mucky pup, and this is scat porn fashion, rather than a nod to rugged masculinity. The jeans just look like they need to be washed.
It’s bizarre that Nordstrom, who famously ditched Ivanka Trump’s clothing line in February, would court such an absurd controversy—but, as so many people are exercised about it, they have clearly figured that any publicity is of the good kind.
But you wouldn’t see someone wearing a pair of ‘muddy’ jeans, and dream of horse-riding with them, or an honest life of lugging hay bales and rounding up cattle. You would just wonder why they thought wearing clearly fake mud-effect jeans was a good idea. It isn’t a seductive look. It’s a creepy one. It’s not manly or cool to look such a grotty mess.
Who is Nordstrom’s target market for them? You would not wear the mud jean in the city, because you would look ridiculous, and people would edge away from you. You would not wear them in the country, because people would know you were a total fake. In both places you would look like an ass.
That leaves the only possible market—and, hey, it’s a potentially large one—of fantasists and fetishists.
But the mud jean isn’t alone in its proud absurdity. So many jeans now are far too expensive, far too distressed, picked apart, bleached, ripped, and subject to every kind of material and color degradation and torture.
At least the mud jean hasn’t got holes, or inelegant deliberate tears and hanging threads. (Actually, this is a design oversight: if you’d been rolling around in the mud that much you would have tears in your jeans, right?)
The mud jean is just the latest incarnation of once a beautifully simple article of clothing driven out of its intelligible style boundaries by designers and retailers who recognize people with money, young people especially, will spend phenomenal amounts of money on an article of clothing that in a saner world wouldn’t cost so much money.
What do most of us, who would never dream of spending $425 on a pair of jeans, dread the most? Yes, shopping for jeans, the experience of which begins with the heart-wrenching survey of racks of the damn things in a denim shop or Gap or wherever.
The ever-changing classifications—you know you’re getting older when you are relieved to see the words “relaxed” and “straight” paired together in a jeans retailer—serve to confuse. Can you fit into those? Damn, they have your waist but not your leg size. Should you just buy them and turn them up? You can’t bear the idea of coming back here again…
Every shopping trip for jeans either ends in an urgent drink, or getting home, drenched in embarrassment-sweat, and throwing the shopping bag down, and looking at the new pair of jeans, knowing they are likely stiff, and not your easy style buddy at least immediately.
So, really, save your hatred for Nordstrom’s mud jean. This is the inevitable, overpriced outcome of a world of jeans that has long lost its mind, and whose various design and cost insanities show no signs of abating. Chinos, we’re coming for you.