You Might Actually Want This Book About How To Wear Jeans
Jane Marie talks to the author of ‘50 Ways to Wear a Scarf’ about her newest book
The neighbor girl wrote a book. Scratch that. The neighbor girl wrote another book. The fucking neighbor girl. The one who was so much younger than me that I could have wine at about a dozen holiday dinner parties before she could. The one who was enough of a goodie-two-shoes to actually graduate high school on time (unlike some of us) and then had the balls to apply to and get accepted at a great college. Where she majored in poli sci. And then, for fun, she started a blog where she’d draw her outfits every day. And then she goes and writes some books? About fashion? And they’re good! And people buy them, a lot. Ugh. Lauren Friedman. The nerve.
This week her second book, 50 Ways to Wear Denim came out this week and it’s pretty rad. In her first book, 50 Ways to Wear a Scarf, Lauren showed us step-by-step with illustrations how to tie scarves and wrap scarves and drape scarves in 50 different beautiful configurations. I have the book, but like any good coffee table book, it’s the perusing that’s the most fun. I don’t think I’ve actually worn any scarves in an interesting way since reading it, just like I won’t read the most important 1000 books before I die, because leafing through the pages feels like enough of an accomplishment.
Not so with this new book. Which is crazy because, like, I already wear denim almost every day, only without thinking about it. That was until I saw this book and all the great ideas in it and now I have FOMO on a shitload of cute outfits. Nevertheless, when she told me she was working on a book about jeans, I was like “THE AUDACITY! Who needs a book about how to wear jeans?!” So I asked her how this all came to be.
Jane: Okay, so what happened with the first book?
Lauren: It just did so much better than anyone thought it would, truthfully. It sold over 125,000 copies. And that’s just in the first year and a half. It sold at all the Paper Sources and a lot of museum gift shops. When I wrote that book I didn’t think about anyone reading it. I got so embarrassed the first time I opened it up, like, “Oh my god, these words are for everyone to see!”
Jane: Do you make a living from these books?
Lauren: I do! [Laughs.]
Jane: Who do you think you are?
Lauren: I know! It’s ridiculous. I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t write these books now. The craziest thing is they asked me to do it! I’m completely cognizant of the fact that I basically was handed a gift from on high. This is not lost on me.
Jane: How did that come about?
Lauren: It’s a crazy story. I moved to D.C. and I had a real job. My first job was as a desk assistant at the PBS NewsHour, and then I was an operations manager for a small nonprofit, and then I was a financial educator, and then I worked at a cafe as a barista and that led to being a chalk artist doing the menus. And somewhere along the way doing “real jobs” I started [my blog] My Closet in Sketches because I wanted to do something with my hands and start to tell the tale of this closet that was growing with me having a real job.
Jane: And you don’t have art training, right?
Lauren: I took art classes as a little girl, and my mom taught me how to draw in perspective because she’s an architect, so the raw material is there, but I majored in political science in college. I don’t think if I had majored in art I’d be doing this actually.
Jane: So how did you start the blog?
Lauren: I had this outfit that I wanted to remember and I made a quick sketch of it in my notebook and I looked at it the next day — and this was when fashion blogs were just starting to blow up — and I thought, “Oh, there’s nothing like that online. Maybe I should do this all the time?” So every single day I’d come home and dream up and outfit and make a name for it and a story for this woman behind it and then sketch it out. Doing that every single day I essentially taught myself how to draw professionally, in the midst of having these other jobs. So fast forward a year and a half later, it was Hurricane Sandy and I was partying at a friend’s house…
I was eating chicken and watching nature documentaries and I get an email from an editor who had seen a post on my blog about how to wear a scarf and she asked me to write and illustrate 50 Ways to Wear a Scarf. And I didn’t even believe it, like, “This is not real.” Like, “What!?” I couldn’t even fathom what was actually happening. And then I just had to fake it, like, “Okay! Someone asked me to write a book, I guess I have to do this!”
Jane: What’s your actual process? Teach me how to draw, Lauren. Over the phone.
Lauren: The process of writing 50 Ways to Wear a Scarf actually taught me how to draw. The artist I was in the beginning was different than the artist at the end. If you’re doing something like drawing hands over and over and over again, you’re just inevitably going to get better at it. My goal for 50 Ways to Wear Denim, just for selfish reasons, was I wanted to be able to look at it and not see the struggle that went into it. For 50 Ways to Wear a Scarf I colored in the original sketches. I see a lot of the erasing and changing that happened on each page so for 50 Ways to Wear Denim I have so, so many sketches of each look. I would use a light box and trace on top of it and I figured out how to make adjustments instead of being like, “Ughhh, I have to start all over and erase everything!” I figured out the less time I spend on it, the better it looks. It’s like my hair, the less time I spend on it, the better it looks. And it just takes a lot of practice to know when to step back and not over do it.
Jane: What else changed between writing the two books?
Lauren: Denim is not like a scarf, so it’s not a step-by-step book. How are you going to write a step-by-step book about how to wear jeans? It was a lot more complicated thinking about what the left and the right pages would be.
Jane: Oh, because with 50 Ways to Wear a Scarf it was like here’s a look and here’s how to execute it.
Lauren: Right. So it was this puzzle in my head just thinking about colors from look to look and poses from look to look and if I’m gonna use this accessory on this page then I can’t use it on this page. I had this list on the outside of a folder that was just random shit, like “Bouclé! A bunny! Saturn!” Just all this random shit that I wanted to make sure to get in there. Every look had so many decisions that went into it relating to everything else around it.
Jane: I found myself in the book.
Lauren: Uh huh!
Jane: Like, you know I wore a jean jacket to my wedding.
Lauren: Yes! You were the inspiration for that!
Jane: No I wasn’t.
Lauren: Yes! You were! I’m so glad you found it. My friends are gonna find themselves in here because I saved a lot of pictures of friends on Facebook and Instagram wearing things that inspired me.
Jane: You know what I don’t have? A jean skirt.
Lauren: Why? I feel like it would tick a lot of boxes for you. I got mine at Old Navy. I also got my overalls there. Their design director used to be at H&M; they’re doing really good stuff lately. Unless you’re getting really, really good denim, all the other shit is basically the same.
Jane: Where are your favorite places to buy denim?
Lauren: Levi’s for sure, and surprisingly Old Navy is a good thing for me. And I like Urban Outfitters, their Girlfriend Jeans. I wish I were more of an expert on the high level brands, but that’s just not where I spend my money.
Jane: Do you ever think like, okay, everybody already wears jeans. What do I have to add to this conversation?
Lauren: Oh yeah. It’s almost like, “Why does Lauren think she has an opinion about this?” Mostly, I made a commitment to denim in the same way I made a commitment to scarves. I really tried to make everything that I put in there relevant to someone else. I really wanted everything in there to reflect something useful or meaningful. So I did a lot of research beforehand. I studied the history of denim and how to make denim. I don’t think I’m an expert any more than anyone else who wears jeans is. But, you think it’s just this thing that sits in your closet and then when you start to talk to people about denim, everyone actually has this sort of passion about it? So I almost felt as if I were writing on behalf of everyone. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, I was called by the inspiration gods to make something for everyone.
Jane Marie is a freelance writer and the music supervisor at This American Life.