Levi’s Women’s Commuter Jeans: Form > Function

Posted on March 19, 2015

At a time when female bicycle commuters are seeing their greatest numbers ever, it seems only natural for a mainstream retailer to market to this new trend. The profile of a fashionable bicycle commuter is slowly being mainstreamed.

In October 2014, The New York Times wrote a story titled Cyclists Go Glam Into the Night featuring trendy commuting products like the Lightening Vest by Dargelos and a Riding Dress by Vespertine. These bespoke companies seem to be driving a trend that first garnered global attention 2011 when Levi’s introduced their men’s commuter jean line. Cycling and commuting enthusiasts lauded the versatility of a pant that you could both ride to and be at work in. And they were made readily available both in local bicycle shops and national retailers.

Levi's Commuter

Only Levi’s didn’t bother making a women’s version. Not until Spring 2015. And this is where the tone of the conversation changes. Form superseding function is not a new concept in women’s fashion. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I tried on a pair of Levis Commuter Jeans for women, only to find the back pocket does not hold my New York City standard sized U-Lock. And I can’t help but ask why these jeans are branded as a functional garment when they don’t meet a commuter’s most fundamental need?

Levi's Womens Commuter

In an October 2014 post titled ‘Why Don’t Commuter Jeans Exist For Women’ I examined the depth of the men’s commuter jean market compared to the slim pickings women were offered. What I learned is that women’s commuter jeans do in fact exist, but sadly they never meet the standards of the men’s version in terms of utility and forethought.

Renowned fashion forecaster Li Edelkoort was recently quoted as saying “fashion is dead”. It’s a big statement followed by an argument that explains the importance of individual garments. Edelkoort described the fashion industry as a “a ridiculous and pathetic parody of what it has been”. And Levi’s women’s commuter line is a most egregious example. Levi’s had the opportunity to introduce the world to an entirely new garment, to set the trend in functional women’s clothing. But they floundered. The Levi’s Women’s Commuter Jeans are nothing more than a semi-high waisted pair of skinny jeans with some reflective tape along the inseam. They pale in comparison to the men’s version.

When I finally had the opportunity to see Levi’s women’s commuters in person, I immediately became aware of the appropriate size of the back pockets. Even if the pockets don’t fit my U-Lock, the consumer should know they will hold a phone, a wallet, or any other pocket sized item. The size of these pockets stand out in stark contrast to the shrunken pockets on all other Levi’s denim, a trend that has rendered women’s jeans less and less versatile over the past decade.

Levi's Small Pockets

I am hesitant to celebrate the utilitarian pockets of the Levi’s Women’s Commuter. If we look at the trend of ‘boyshorts’, history will show us how these pockets will shrink in form and function as more and more women choose to wear said ‘functional’ garment.

Boyshorts are a functional women’s undergarment inspired by men’s briefs. Boyshorts initially appealed to women who wanted sturdy and comfortable underwear that they could be active in. But because form supersedes function in women’s garments, boyshorts turned into ’sexy boyshorts’, eventually devolving into products such as J. Crew’s very own Eberjey BoyThong.

J. Crew Eberjey BoyThong

Shrinking and pinking doesn’t just apply below the metaphorical belt, it’s always interesting to look at sports fan gear. The NFL refers to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month as ‘Pinktober’ and uses the entire month as an excuse to sell millions of shrunk down pinked up NFL products. Take for instance:

NFL Pinktober

But this doesn’t just happen in October. It also happens in March. Nothing screams SuperFan like a ‘Can’t Hit On Me’ Yankees shirt by Nike.

Yankees Women's Shirt

I may not be able to escape the blind eye retailers turn to their female consumers who like to get their hands dirty, but I can try to change it. And this is what my ideal commuter jean would look like if form met function.

  • A pocket or solution for a u-lock.
  • Pants that rolled up to prevent chain grease stains. The legs on the Levi’s Women’s Commuters are too skinny.
  • Material comparable to the men’s version.
  • A gusseted crotch.
  • Pants that don’t restrict mounting the bike.

And with that, I suppose I’ll just leave you with this Li Edelkoort quote:

This is the end of a system called fashion and we will have to invent new ideas. For now I think we are going to concentrate on clothes; celebrate clothes.

I’m just waiting on that perfect purposeful mainstream garment I can celebrate…

 

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What Others Are Saying

  1. sarah neider April 16, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    Hi Liz, I found you because after my dear mother in law died from too many falls, I decided to design a cane that she would use. Still working on that but in the meantime I found these Danish engineers.http://www.hovding.com/. They are working on a fanny packet hip air bag that is what I am really excited about and when I saw your article in the New Yorker, I thought of them. This bicycle helmet is the first design that they have brought online.

    Hope your spring is full of blooming,

    Sarah

    • The Girl with the Purple Cane April 16, 2015 at 6:06 pm

      Wow! I had no idea! I am fully aware of their incredible helmets. I’ll be checking out this hip airbag ASAP! Thank you for bringing it to my attention 🙂

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